Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Game Notes 5: Opportunities Lost
Of course, there were plenty of offensive issues last night, and despite my belief that the lack of production is as much to blame for the ensuing debacle as anything else, I'm not going to spend time on that here. This time around there were two decisions that I really had an issue with, and by gum, I'm going after them.
Issue #1: Using Andy Pratt in the 8th with a man on and a one run lead against two of the best hitters in the Braves lineup.
If there's one thing we can glean from his minor league performance, and from what we've seen in the early portion of his tenure with the Cubs, it's that Pratt has control problems. He's shown them throughout his career, he showed them in game one, and he showed them last night.
I understand why Dusty took Sergio Mitre out of the game. Despite his wonderful performance to that point, he had already thrown 96 pitches, and Chipper Jones has owned him in his career thus far. I also understand why a lefty was brought in to face Jones. Larry has always been less effective from the right side, so it makes sense to turn him around in critical situations. However, when you have Kent Mercker available - no control artist himself, I admit, but still more effective than Pratt - yet choose to go with the shaky youngster, I have no choice but to shake my head and ask why.
Issue #2: Throwing, quite literally, 13 straight pitches on the outer half to Julio Franco.
I can think of no one in the Major Leagues more identified with hitting the ball the other way than Julio Franco. It's all he's ever done, and it's all he ever tries to do every time he steps to the plate. He even swings a big 36 ounce bat [Insert Favorite Big Bat Joke Here], which I can only assume is meant to help him stay back and drive pitches to right. Why, then, with a man like Kyle Farnsworth on the mound who can hurl the ball in the high nineties, would you not try to throw Franco something on the inner half?
Anyone in the buildings across the street who happened to look into our living room window during this at bat would have wondered why that man in the dirty old baseball cap kept yelling and gesturing so vehemently to his television set. When Franco hit the inevitable double to right, they would have wondered what the couch did to deserve such a beating.
I've said this before in one form or other, but let me reiterate that I have no problem with occasional failures to execute. These guys are all human, and while it might be frustrating to watch someone unable to accomplish their goal, I can live with that if they're trying to do the right thing. Hence, my problem during this at bat, when the obviously right thing to do was avoided repeatedly, and with unholy prejudice.
Perhaps the biggest shame of the night was how these unfortunate issues ruined a fantastic start by Sergio Mitre. Other than a rough patch in the first inning, he was on top of his game all night, going right after hitters and inducing ground ball after ground ball. When you see that type of performance from this kid, you begin to understand why Jim Hendry seems to be attached to him.
The problem is, he's young, and as far as we can tell from his work last year and in the spring, a little inconsistent. Obviously, the Cubs can't count on this sort of start from him every time, so when this outing is placed in the context of his role as Surrogate-Prior, the lack of ability to identify the appropriate course of action, and the way the Cubs shot themselves in the foot when they had a chance to capitalize on what could be a uniquely excellent performance, becomes exponentially more disturbing.
Hopefully, you won't find me spewing this sort of invective on a regular basis. Both because I hope the Cubs can manage not to make these kinds of errors too often, and because I would like to handle it better and avoid popping a blood vessel. In any case, let's hope a good outing from Wood and a shelling of Ortiz can get this team back on track today.