The Cubs spent quite some time Thursday afternoon, before batting practice, working on bunting and fielding drills, particularly Matt Garza, who has had a rough time in the field with simple throws to first base.
Then, apparently, new arrival Blake Parker must have had a meeting with Garza for a complete course on how to make those terrible throws, because in his second inning of work, he took a simple infield dribbler by Hunter Pence and nearly threw it to the same spot Garza hurled that ball a few weeks ago against the Brewers.
This time, though, the score wasn't 8-0. It didn't look as if it would matter; it made a 5-2 game a 7-2 game, and when Michael Bowden came in and gave Carlos Ruiz a double, scoring Pence, the game appeared to be over at 8-2.
Turned out the Phillies needed every single one of those runs to withstand a furious Cubs rally in the bottom of the ninth to win the game 8-7 and sweep the quickie two-game series.
Chris Volstad was different from the Chris Volstad we'd seen in his first few starts this year. Instead of one bad inning, this time he had two bad innings, throwing 58 pitches and giving up... well, a lot of hits, walks and runs, before Dale Sveum mercifully took him out of the game in favor of Casey Coleman, who actually did a nice job of keeping the Cubs in the game, throwing four innings and allowing just one run.
Cubs pitchers walked five. Roy Halladay threw 99 pitches through eight innings. Cubs pitchers threw 189 pitches in nine -- 90 more than Halladay. What's wrong with this picture? The Cubs' pitching staff leads the NL in walks allowed (149), just two fewer than the major-league leader, the Blue Jays. But Jays batters have walked 128 times, a bit above MLB average, while the Cubs are fourth from the bottom with 102 bases on balls.
You see the problem here, I think.
The score went 5-1 into the seventh, when Starlin Castro hit his second home run of the season into the left-center field bleachers. After that disastrous eighth inning I described above, Welington Castillo made it 8-3 with his first home run of the year.
The Phillies put someone named Jake Diekman into the game, and he started walking people, the Cubs' first two walks of the game. (See how walking can help you, Cubs? Not a difficult concept.) When Ian Stewart was hit by a pitch with two out, it loaded the bases. Castillo cleared them with a double down the left-field line, making it 8-6.
That's when the Phillies called on closer Jonathan Papelbon, who immediately gave up a line-drive single to Darwin Barney. Castillo scored and the tying run was now on base, but Papelbon got Reed Johnson to hit a sharp grounder to third to end it.
The ninth inning was, at least, entertaining, for the very small fraction of an announced crowd of 37,986 (maybe 29,000 in the house) that remained; maybe 5,000 people were around at game's end. The Cubs now are back to a .500 record (12-12) since the horrendous 3-11 start to the season, and as has been the case for virtually every one of the losses this year, it's bad relief pitching that has done them in. The Cubs could be making a change with Volstad, too:
Cubs starter Chris Volstad lasted only two innings while falling to 0-6. Sveum said he would talk to President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer and consider their options, calling Triple-A Iowa left-hander Travis Wood the "logical choice" if Volstad is yanked from the rotation.
Volstad would have to clear waivers before being sent down. Given his poor record and nearly $2 million left on his deal, I can't imagine he wouldn't. (And if he doesn't, the Cubs save the money.) It's time to do this, TheoJed. Travis Wood did well in his one start for the Cubs this season -- he couldn't be worse than Volstad, who now has the second-highest ERA, 7.46 of all qualified starters in baseball (ranking 117th of 118; only Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox is worse).
And now the White Sox come to Wrigley Field. You can still buy tickets in all price levels. It's likely to be the first Cubs/White Sox game at Wrigley that isn't a complete sellout.
Such is Cubs baseball in 2012. Friday's game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CDT.