You could second-guess quite a number of things that happened during the Cubs' 4-2, 13-inning loss to the Yankees Wednesday afternoon, so let's have at a few of them (not necessarily starting in order of importance):
- Would you have had Starlin Castro sacrifice after Anthony Rizzo led off the 10th with a walk?
- Or, would you have had Rizzo bunt Junior Lake to second in the 12th after Lake's leadoff single?
Yes, I know, the sacrifice bunt is usually a bad play, but when you're in the bottom of an inning in which a run wins the game, with nobody out it's generally a good idea to get a runner into scoring position with less than two out. I could go either way on those, but here's the one I really have to question...
Why was Jeff Samardzija lifted after seven innings? Yes, I realize there was a mini-flap after he was allowed to throw 126 pitches against the White Sox back on May 5, but his last two starts before this one were 69 pitches and 99 pitches, and this one was what appeared to be an effortless 95 pitches. Is Shark now being limited to less than 100? And if so, why? Are we playing these games as extended spring training again, or are we trying to win?
Shark might have thrown a complete game, and that might have been the only way he'd have come out of this one with a win. In his seven innings, he allowed four hits and two walks, only three runners got past first base, and apart from the hits, just four balls left the infield. When you have a starting pitcher that dominant -- and especially since getting him a "win" has become, for better or worse, important in some quarters -- why not give him a shot at finishing?
I can't really blame Hector Rondon, though he wound up with a blown save, his first of the yar. First, Rondon pitched -- in my view, unnecessarily -- Tuesday night, throwing 11 pitches he didn't have to throw, and in a pouring rain. This one wasn't totally his fault -- a throwing error by Darwin Barney allowed the Yankees to score the tying run in the top of the ninth, after Rondon had loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. So part of the blame to Rondon, part of it to Barney for that.
That sent the game into more than an hour's worth of extra innings, and now we get to the meat of second-guessing.
Can this team please cut ties with Jose Veras? It's clear to me that this signing was a massive mistake. Veras can't throw strikes and when he does, they get hit. He issued a walk, wild-pitched in a run and generally was just about as ineffective as he was before his disabled-list stint. He's not helping the team win games and his value as a flip candidate is zero. It's time for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to erase that line in the sand, admit they made a mistake, eat the contract, designate him for assignment and get a position player back on the roster. Other teams do this when they have made roster mistakes. I'd like to see this management team do that.
There were some entertaining elements in this all-afternoon affair that ended a few seconds after 6 p.m. CT on an absolutely gorgeous late-spring day. These are the afternoons we wait through cold winters and springs for and sitting outdoors watching baseball, even losing baseball, even 13 innings worth of not-great baseball, was great. Mid-70s, low humidity, unlimited sunshine, light breeze -- a perfect afternoon, apart from the loss. The weather resembles what you'd have in early March in Mesa, one of the few summer afternoons in Chicago where it's not sticky and humid, as it could wind up being later this summer.
We were treated to the sight of Derek Jeter having no fewer than four "final" at-bats at Wrigley Field, as he got standing ovations when he batted in the eighth, 10th, 12th and 13th innings; he made outs in all four of those at-bats, but did get one hit earlier in the game, as did Ichiro Suzuki, who went 2-for-5. So those of us present on this sunny afternoon can say we saw two future Hall of Famers get hits in the same game, something that's reasonably unusual.
The Cubs bullpen actually did a decent job keeping the game tied after the ninth-inning blown save; credit to Wesley Wright and James Russell for three scoreless innings, with four harmless singles allowed. Starlin Castro made several nice defensive plays to keep the game close. But the Cubs could have broken it open many times in the early innings, as they left RISP in the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings. That would have given Shark a breather and maybe not required a save chance in the ninth. I'll also question why Carlos Villanueva, who has not pitched in eight days, wasn't inserted into the game in the 13th instead of Veras. When you have long extra innings and you've used up most of your bullpen, why not go to a guy who could give you multiple innings? Villanueva was warming up in the bottom of the 13th, an act of pure optimism, in my view.
The bottom line, for me, is that this team can play nice games and win a few, as they did the past three days, but this year's edition of the Cubs is really not a good team. There are a few things they can do to perhaps get better, and one of them is get rid of Jose Veras.
But the Cubs now stand 1-9 in Jeff Samardzija's 10 starts, and have scored 20 total runs in those starts, which puts Shark 139th in run support among 142 qualified starters in the major leagues this year. Perhaps that'll change when he reports to his new team later this year. I'm convinced he's headed elsewhere. (This also means that the Cubs are 15-19 in games not started by Samardzija, a fact that makes little sense regarding your top starting pitcher.)
In the meantime, the Cubs now head away from Wrigley Field for almost a two-week break; their next home game isn't until Tuesday evening, June 3, against the Mets. They'll open a four-game series in San Diego against the Padres Thursday evening, with Jake Arrieta facing Eric Stults.
And, hopefully, Jose Veras subtracted from the 25-man roster.