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Jason Berken Solid; Cubs Bullpen, Not So Much In 5-3 Loss To Reds

Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images

I don't get it.

I really don't get the obsession in modern baseball with simply taking pitchers out of games when the alleged situation calls for it.

Virtually no one, least of all me, expected much from Jason Berken when the Cubs picked him up on waivers from the Orioles earlier this month, to fill the rotation spot left open with the shutdown of Jeff Samardzija. Irony: Cubs rejects used to head to Baltimore on a regular basis. Now, the Orioles are likely heading to the postseason and we're getting their waived guys.

Anyway. Berken pitched extremely well Thursday afternoon, although: it was against a Reds lineup missing virtually every regular player. The only semi-regular who started was catcher Ryan Hanigan. So, a Triple-A pitcher against a (mostly) Triple-A lineup.

Six innings from Berken. Two hits allowed. A four-strikeout second inning, helped by a wild pitch, the first by a Cubs pitcher since the fifth inning on October 4, 2009, when Ryan Dempster did it. (I tweeted that Kerry Wood's 2002 four-K inning was the latest; I had completely forgotten about Dempster's. FWIW, if I've counted right, this is the 62nd time in major-league history a pitcher has struck out four batters in an inning.) 86 pitches thrown. So why on Earth wouldn't you let Berken at least start the seventh inning?

Berken threw 144 innings in 26 Triple-A starts this year. His Norfolk game log indicates he threw into the seventh inning in six of his last 10 starts there. What's the big deal, Dale? Let him start the inning! He's on a roll. Have a relief pitcher available if he gets in trouble.

Nope. By-The-Book Dale yanked Berken to start the seventh in a scoreless tie, and Manuel Corpas wasted no time untying the game, allowing five straight hits after a groundout; one out later, a double made it 5-0, and that was enough for the Reds to hang on for a 5-3 win and a series sweep.

Seriously. I like managers to think outside the box just a little, when the situation demands. Dale Sveum does not appear to be one of those kinds of managers.

Johnny Cueto matched Berken for six innings, and he too was lifted -- but that was for pinch-hitter Joey Votto, who singled in a run during that seventh-inning rally. That made sense.

The Cubs tried to come back, scoring single runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth. Alfonso Soriano, who didn't start, pinch-hit for Bryan LaHair with two runners on in the seventh and a chance to be a hero, but he hit into an inning-ending double play. In the eighth, Welington Castillo hit a home run -- you see the result in the photo at the top of this post. The fan who bobbled it eventually caught it -- a Reds fan, incidentally, who decided to keep the ball.

Jaye Chapman threw a 1-2-3 ninth; except for one bad outing, he's been quite good since his recall. I like what I see in him and he could be a key part of the 2013 bullpen. There's one good acquisition for TheoJed, anyway.

The announced crowd of 25,891 was only a little more than half that actually in the park (maybe 14,000), and it was the first announced crowd of less than 26,000 since October 5, 2001 when the Cubs and Pirates drew 24,786. It strikes me that the Cubs must have sold quite a few season tickets after the 2001 season, when they contended deep into August and wound up 88-74, although overall attendance dropped in 2002 before starting its rise with the 2003 division title. Total announced attendance this year is now 2,687,063 (35,828 average), and with just six dates remaining -- three of which will draw as low or lower than Thursday's -- total attendance will be the lowest since 2002.

Cardinals tomorrow -- the weekend may draw a bit better as St. Louis fans might head to Chicago for some key games in their wild-card chase, weather permitting -- and it isn't supposed to be pretty. Most likely, neither will the Cubs' play.