It has to break your heart, just a little bit.
The biggest problem with following a team this closely and caring as much as you do is that it could turn you prematurely gray. I'm legitimatey worried about this happening. True, I'm an admitted optimist, but that doesn't stop me from gritting my teeth. Averting my eyes? Out of the question. For better or worse, I witness the train wrecks with my eyes wide open.
Little known fact: Ron Gardenhire is just 22-years old. The stress has turned his flowing locks and trademark facial hair a snowy white. And yes, this means he's been managing a major league baseball team since he was a sophomore in high school.
Carlos Gomez' first home run of the season knotted the game at two, landing a temporary dagger in the top of the sixth inning. By this time last season he had five skyjacks, and even after going 0-for-6 was hitting .272/.308/.388. Clearly he's not taken the obvious step forward this season that we were hoping for, but here's the primary difference between Gomez and fellow 23-year old Delmon Young: Gomez doesn't look lost in the field, or at the plate. Over-matched? Sometimes. Inexperience? For sure. But he still looks like a young professional. Delmon's having issues across the board. Cmathewson picked it out in a post last night.
Scott Baker put together his third consecutive impressive start, going seven strong in Chicago. A sac fly in the second scored the first run, and even after a rough start to the fourth inning Baker was able to settle in and battle for the second and third outs of the inning and end the threat. He threw a lot of strikes, taking advantage of an aggressive and struggling Cubs offense and forcing them to hit the ball; 70 called strikes in just 98 pitches. Baker didn't walk a single man, scattering just five hits and matching that number in strikeouts.
On the other side, Ted Lilly was just as impressive. Gomez gave him almost all the trouble he had all day: a second inning double followed by a steal of third base, scoring on a great bunt by Nick Punto. The home run later gave Gomez one hell of a game, and made him one of the only offensive catalysts on the afternoon. Outside of Gomez, Lilly allowed just seven hits and matched Baker's walk total of zero. He was lifted with two outs in the eighth, having struck out six. Over Lilly's last four starts (28.1 innings), he's allowed just four earned runs.
I feel like I'm forgetting something...
Oh yeah, the train wreck. Jesse Crain came on to hold the game in the bottom of the ninth, getting a one-pitch out to kick things off. Things unravelled quickly. Derek Lee hit one hard to the left side for a single before Geovany Soto knocked what probably should have been a routine ground ball to Matt Tolbert. Even playing toward the end of the infield dirt, a diving Tolbert was unable to come up with the ball. Six years later, Young fielded the ball in shallow left. A hard throw made it a close play at third base on Lee, but he made it under the tag.
According to the play-by-play, it sounds like Young was playing extraordinarily deep in left field; warning track deep. Whether he made this adjustment himself or he was positioned there by his coaches, this move gave the Cubs an extra base and changed the game's aspect. An intentional walk of Mike Fontenot loaded the bases. Two pitches later Crain induced a bouncing grounder off Ryan Theriot, but it found space through the right side of the infield, and Lee came in to score the winning run.
Crain's season is killing the bullpen. He's continually put into high-leverage situations, even now, after he's proven that he's unable to handle that kind of situation. His line drive rates aren't the problem (16.1%), it's a number of other things.
- The walks have been on the rise every year since '06, and this season he's walking a sickly 5.71 per nine innings.
- He's stranding just 54.3% of his base runners. I'm not really sure how this is even possible.
- Crain's slider, which he'd been throwing about 25% of the time over the last two years with an average velocity of about 89.3 mph, is broken. He now throws the slider just 12% of the time, with an average velocity of 84.7 mph.
Something with Crain has to change, and quickly. I'm not opposed to giving him opportunities to work through this, but those opportunities have to stop happening with the game on the line. Over the last few weeks a number of bullpen arms have stepped up to the plate and started delivering results, meaning Gardenhire should feel free to change the heirarchy of his 'pen.
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Stars of the Game
#3: Luis Ayala (1 IP, K, .110 WPA)
#2: Carlos Gomez (2-for-4, 2B, HR, RBI, 2 R, SB, .077 WPA)
#1: Scott Baker (7 IP, 5 H, 5 K, 0 BB, 2 R, .192 WPA)
Causes of Premature Gray Hairs
#1: Jesse Crain (0.1 IP, 3 H, BB, R, -.357 WPA)
#2: Brendan Harris (0-for-4, 2 K, -.169 WPA)
#3: Justin Morneau (0-for-5, -.195 WPA)