James Russell, as the senior member of the Cubs' bullpen, usually sits on a folding chair facing home plate during games instead of on the bullpen bench. Saturday, a few of us in the bleachers noticed the entire bullpen staff had left the pen in the middle innings, and then when they returned, Brian Schlitter was sitting in Russell's chair, with Russell nowhere to be seen.
Hmmm, I thought. Russell's been the subject of trade rumors. Perhaps he'd been traded? (I didn't see any hugs, which is a clue.)
If only. Russell eventually returned to the pen and came into a tie game in the seventh inning, upon which he proceeded to allow a hit and a sacrifice bunt. After a stolen base, Matt Carpenter grounded to Anthony Rizzo, whose throw home was too late to catch Jon Jay for the lead run. Russell struck out Kolten Wong, then issued another walk and gave up a bases-clearing triple to Matt Adams. All of that was enough for the Cardinals to even the series with a 6-3 win in front of the biggest paid crowd of the year, 41,927, a few hundred more than Friday. The park was packed, with almost no empty seats, and the crowd was actually pretty well-behaved for a Cubs-Cardinals full house.
That didn't stop Cubs fans from booing former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who signed with the Cardinals Friday and was in their starting lineup Saturday. A.J. has always loved hitting at Wrigley, and he seemed to revel in the boos -- stepping out of the batters' box as they got louder. All that was missing was him raising his hands as if to say, "Come on, bring on more!" And A.J. had three hits in the game and drove in the Cardinals' fourth run of that disastrous seventh inning, completing their scoring.
All this was after Jake Arrieta labored through six innings. He started off the way Travis Wood started Friday's game, with control and command issues, and wound up giving up two runs, on a double by Adams. After that he settled down, sort of, though he still threw a ton of pitches. He gave up only three more hits after the first inning and struck out six, and at least kept the Cubs in the game while they scratched out one run in the fourth on a bunt single by Emilio Bonifacio, who then stole second and scored on a pair of groundouts, and tied it up when Nate Schierholtz, batting for Arrieta, smacked a pinch-homer, his sixth of the year. It is a sad commentary on the 2014 Cubs to realize, as poor a year as Schierholtz has had, he has the most RBI of any Cubs outfielder -- 32. For whatever that flawed stat is worth.
After the carnage of the seventh inning, Blake Parker, who had just been recalled from Triple-A Iowa, turned in his best performance of the year, two scoreless innings with four strikeouts. That's very good... but why is he here? Why would the Cubs, as they did earlier Saturday, send down one of their most effective relievers, Neil Ramirez? Here's the explanation:
#Cubs Renteria stressed Ramirez move is not performance-based, but simply to give him a breather— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 26, 2014
#Cubs Renteria says they talked about doing this since Spring Training. May do it with other relievers as well— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 26, 2014
#Cubs Renteria on Ramirez: "This is a very short breather for him. We want him to take a step back and regroup and be back with us."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 26, 2014
I don't understand this. Regroup? Regroup from what? He'd been doing quite well. He's not going to stop pitching, right? What's the point of sending him down? He's going to pitch at Iowa, right? Why would you do this with relievers who are doing well? It makes no sense to me, especially with someone who's saved games and been a decent setup man. Seems to me that this interrupts good major-league development. "A step back and regroup"? Someone explain this, please.
One possibility for Parker's recall: perhaps someone expressed a trade interest in him and wanted to see him pitch in the big leagues. That part, I could understand. Schlitter, who's been shaky lately -- maybe he's the guy who could be sent back to Iowa.
Anyway, it's done, and the Cubs will have a different bullpen look for a few days.
The only other offense provided by the Cubs Saturday afternoon was a home run by Ryan Sweeney, his second in as many days. Perhaps Sweeney is coming out of his season-long slump. That'd be useful, since he's signed through next year (with a buyout). Sweeney, if he could hit the way he had begun to before last year's injury, could be a useful bench player going forward.
The Cubs still have a chance to win the series Sunday. Adam Wainwright, one of the league's best pitchers this year, will go for the Cardinals. The Cubs have hit him hard this year, accounting for 12 of the 34 runs he's allowed. Kyle Hendricks will make his third big-league start. The game begins at 1:20 CT and will be televised on WGN -- that's not on original schedules. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.