"The James Russell Experiment" -- hey, there's another rock band name for you.
I really, really, truly hoped the Cubs and James Russell would show me that my lack of hope last night was misplaced -- that he'd step up and have at least one good major league start before returning to the role he's better suited for, being a LOOGY.
Unfortunately, Russell reverted to the form we've now seen four times after being decent for a couple of innings and the Cubs lost to the Dodgers 5-2. That means the Cubs have basically thrown away four games already this season, all four Russell has started; if they'd even been able to split those games, they'd be a .500 team right now and things wouldn't look so bleak.
Here are Russell's numbers as a starting pitcher: four starts, 14.1 IP, 25 H, 17 ER, six home runs, 10.67 ERA. At least he didn't walk anyone last night, and got saved from an even higher ERA by a somewhat generous scoring decision that made the Dodgers' last run unearned.
Can we put this to rest now? Not only was it a failure for the team, it was bad for Russell, whose development as a decent relief pitcher has now been stunted. Thankfully, since the Cubs have an off day this Thursday and another one next Thursday, they shouldn't need a fifth starter until the Giants series at Wrigley Field a week from this weekend. Surely, management can find a real starting pitcher before then.
Alfonso Soriano hit another home run last night. That's good -- he now leads the major leagues with 11 -- but it's also bad, because seven of the home runs have led off innings and nine of them have been with nobody on base. Neither of those situations, of course, are Soriano's fault, and I certainly wouldn't want him to stop hitting home runs.
Carlos Pena hit two more warning track fly balls last night, after coming within a couple of feet of giving the Cubs the lead on Sunday with a similar fly ball. It's tough to hit homers at night in Dodger Stadium -- although Soriano had no trouble -- but it makes you wonder whether Pena's power is gone. He has yet to homer this year; he has only one extra-base hit (a double); and he is currently 3-for-35 (.086) in his last 13 games.
Ugh. Here, let me give some praise for something good that happened last night: the bullpen once again kept the game within reach, throwing 3.1 innings and giving up just one hit. Jeff Samardzija, in particular, looked really sharp, throwing two hitless (and walkless!) innings with only 20 pitches. At last, Shark does look like he's figured it out. That gives the Cubs four solid relievers.
If only the starting pitchers could get the team consistently into the seventh inning. They'll try it again tonight in Los Angeles, likely in front of another very small crowd. The announced attendance in Dodger Stadium was 30,239, but even with the traditional late LA arrivals and early departures, there couldn't have been much more than half that number actually in the ballpark. The reasons for this have been discussed here and elsewhere; the Dodger franchise, I believe, will continue to be in trouble until Frank McCourt is no longer involved with it.
Now let's make that translate into a couple of Cubs wins before they leave town.