SAN FRANCISCO -- Existential questions cross the mind after the Cubs' 8-7 loss to the Giants on Thursday afternoon.
- Is it better to get blown out 17-2, 11-4 or 18-1, as the Cubs have been on three occasions in the last two weeks?
- Or is it better to lose three out of four to a contending team, play hard and play them well, but lose all three games by one run?
- What about losing six games by one run since the first of August?
- Do you think Lou Piniella is considering staying in Florida instead of rejoining the team in St. Louis?
Enough of that. The Cubs did play hard and did play better baseball, but once again, it wasn't good enough. Let's start with some of the good, and since many of you have mentioned that I don't say enough good things about Starlin Castro, I'll begin with Castro's four-hit day. Starlin is hitting .422 in his last ten games and .320 for the season. If he had enough PA to qualify, he'd be second in the NL, two points behind the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez. The Cubs have played 115 games, which means 357 PA are needed to qualify. Castro now has 339 -- he should catch up in about two more weeks.
The other nice thing today was a Cubs comeback after Pat Burrell's grand slam clanked off the left field foul pole in the fifth inning. You could see that one coming after Randy Wells walked the bases loaded. Burrell had also homered in the previous inning; that one flew down a stairwell right next to where I was sitting in the first row of the left-field bleachers. (More on the bleacher experience after the jump.) The Cubs forced Bruce Bochy to use three relievers in the eighth inning and the big blows were an RBI double (!) by Koyie Hill, his second hit of the game, and Castro's fourth hit of the game, which tied it at seven.
And then Alan Trammell did something that drives me nuts, nuts, nuts. If the next manager of the Cubs does nothing else, he has to get away from the 12-man-pitching-staff-used-one-reliever-at-a-time theory that has ruined many Cubs games this year. (Please, Ryne, or whoever you're going to be. Eleven pitchers. Longer relief stints, and an extra bench player for flexibility. Thank you.)
Sean Marshall threw 13 pitches in the eighth inning and was cruising. His batting order spot had not come up in the ninth inning. Why on Earth couldn't you let him stay in there and face the Giants in the ninth? Yes, I am aware that three of the first four hitters due up were righthanded. To which the answer is, so freaking what??? Major league pitchers need to be able to retire major league hitters. Marshall has been one of the Cubs' best relievers this year and can easily go two innings.
Yes, I am also aware that Andrew Cashner is getting somewhat of a trial by fire, to see if he can handle situations like this. I really want to see Cashner succeed, but once he stopped throwing strikes after the intentional walk to Aubrey Huff, you knew the game was over, and indeed, it was; Marlon Byrd made an effort to catch Andres Torres' game-winning single that wound up on the warning track, but why bother? Caught or not, the game is over.
It was the Cubs' 29th one-run loss of the season. As I have mentioned, the record for such things is 44, by the 1968 White Sox. That's a lot more of these, but at this rate, the Cubs might get there by Labor Day. They have not won a one-run game since July 24 at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals, and are 3-13 since then (and 0-8 in one-run games since then).
A couple of final notes on my visit to AT&T Park, before I head home tomorrow afternoon: I found a first-row bleacher ticket outside the park at a below-market price. Odd seating chart: the first row isn't row 1. It's row "00", or "zero-zero"; behind that is row "0", or "zero", then row 1. So my ticket in row "00" is a really nice seat, except for one thing: vendors use the space in front of these seats as an aisle. This is patently ridiculous -- several per inning come by and block your view or step on your feet and utter a not-very-convincing "Sorry." A mention to nearby Giants security did nothing to stop this practice.
Xavier Nady's first-inning two-RBI double bounced right in front of me at the wall -- if you saw someone in a blue BCB shirt there, that was me. Aaron Rowand, chasing down the ball, had his sunglasses fly off his cap. You can see them in this TwitPic I took; they're the dark brown splotch right next to one of the footprints. After Blake DeWitt struck out to end the inning, Rowand ran off the field without them, despite shouts from the bleachers of "Sunglasses!" A Giants employee raced out on the field between innings to retrieve them.
The Cubs are playing better; as opposed to the sweep over the weekend by the Reds, at least all four of these games were competitive. That's about all you can hope for, and that some of the rookies (15 this year now, with Darwin Barney's MLB debut as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning) play well enough to establish themselves for next year. On to St. Louis, where I hear it's even hotter than it is in Chicago.