First of all, credit where credit is due:
Anthony Rizzo has more bunt singles today in his first two at bats than he has in his previous 285 games with the Cubs.— Chris Tunno (@TunesSTL) May 15, 2014
Anthony Rizzo bunted twice for hits Thursday afternoon, beautifully done down the third-base line. The second time, he scored moments later on a Starlin Castro home run, cutting what was then a 4-0 Cardinals lead in half. The Cubs could muster just one other run (on a bases-loaded sac fly by Junior Lake, another nice piece of hitting) and the Cardinals won the game 5-3 and the abbreviated series, two games to one. That means that since the Cubs last played a home game, they are 2-6, winning one game in St. Louis and one at the Cell.
Obviously, you don't want someone with Rizzo's power bunting his way on every time he comes to bat. But look at what those two bunt singles did:
#STLCards' shift vs Rizzo in 5th isn't as severe as first two at-bats. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) May 15, 2014
Now that is what you want. Just do it enough to spread out the shift, and possibly get Rizzo more opportunities to get hits to right field or right-center field. Rizzo flied to left-center in that fifth-inning at-bat, so he's definitely at least attempting to go to the opposite field.
That's all good. Jason Hammel's outing: not so much. It was the shortest, and worst, outing of Hammel's Cubs career, although five earned runs in 5⅓ innings isn't horrific; Hammel struck out six and settled down after Michael Wacha's single made it 4-0. All the runs off Hammel came in the second inning. The bullpen did a decent job of keeping the score close after Hammel's departure; Jose Veras, in his first appearance since his return from the DL, induced a double play to end the sixth inning. That reduced Veras' ERA from 15.88 to 14.21. Veras dug himself such a deep hole before his DL stint that he would have to throw 24 consecutive scoreless innings to get his ERA down to 3.00.
What has to change, I think, is the Cubs' backup catcher slot. John Baker went 0-for-3. Again. He's now hitting .063 for the season -- 2-for-32. Both of the hits came in this game -- so that means Baker has started nine games, eight of them without getting a hit.
Combine that with Hammel's 1-for-16 (after an 0-for-2 Thursday) and you are essentially playing seven hitters against nine (especially today, when the opposing pitcher had a two-run single). That's 3-for-48 at the bottom of the batting order next time Baker catches Hammel -- assuming the Cubs do nothing -- that's a line of .063/.113/.063 combined. Two automatic outs.
Yes, I know. Baker was familiar to Rick Renteria from his time in San Diego, one of the reasons he was chosen. Hammel seems to like to throw to Baker. But you simply can't give up that much offense. Maybe George Kottaras wasn't as good defensively, maybe there were other reasons they let him go, but now that he's been outrighted to the Indians' Triple-A team at Columbs, maybe it's worth a call from the Cubs brass to get him back, especially considering the Cubs are paying Kottaras this year anyway.
After Lake's sac fly, Nate Schierholtz had a chance to get the Cubs back in the game after Mike Olt walked to load the bases. But Schierholtz -- you probably guessed if you didn't know -- grounded out weakly to second base. I don't know what's wrong with him, but now it's been almost two months' worth of wrong. Rick Renteria could have used Welington Castillo, who was on deck -- probably a much better choice given Schierholtz' failures this year. Not sure what Rick was thinking there.
But also, the team could use another bench player, because your other alternative there was Darwin Barney. With a poor-hitting backup catcher and a short bench... this team needs another position player, and soon.
So the Cubs return to Wrigley for a five-game homestand beginning Friday, when the Brewers come to town. Jeff Samardzija faces Kyle Lohse Friday... and then it's Edwin Jackson vs. Matt Garza Saturday.
Matt Garza... hmmm, there's a hint for you, Anthony Rizzo. Bunts. Lots and lots of bunts.