Wednesday, May 9, 2012

5/8/12 Atlanta Braves 3, Chicago Cubs 1

Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL
Game 2 of 3

Nick Devlin needs to watch more Cubs games! On a recent episode of the excellent Central Message Podcast, Nick (a Cubs fan) confessed to his Cardinal fan co-host Nick Selby (yes, two Nicks…that’s a great deal of #want) that he really hasn’t been watching the Cubs at all this year. Well, who can blame him? All of us have been told, and for the most part expect, that this season is going to be another losing season while new management works out the kinks in the current roster. See how I artfully dodged the “R” word? For what it’s worth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far…for a team that is supposed to suck, they are playing a little bit better than you’d think. This early on, we are still discussing all of this in terms of very Small Sample Size, but with the first week in May almost in the books, I would have thought the Cubs would be the worst team in baseball, and they aren’t.

Sure, there’s heartbreak…sure, there’s hand-wringing and sanctimony about this and that…sure, there are plenty of armchair GMs pleading for the callup of Rizzo and Jackson…sure, there is this Bryan LaHair guy who is riding a Small Sample Size tunnel into certain baseball damnation…but all that aside, I’m saying that if you are “ignoring” the Cubs this season because they are bad and you know they are going to be bad, you should still be watching. If for no other reason, than for pitching, particularly starting pitching. Set Chris Volstad aside (sigh) and as a Cubs fan, you’re seeing the best stuff you could ever HOPE for from Jeff Samardzija, the kind of Matt Garza you expect (even when the team is lousy), improved performance from Paul Maholm after a shaky start, and yes, the proverbial icing on the cake…the most wonderful Small Sample Size season start with the most bitter aftertaste for everyone’s favorite punching-bag pitcher, Ryan Dempster.
Okay, maybe not everyone’s, but certainly much over the past few years that my kids have learned to call him “Ryan Dumpster” under my influence, so much that over the past few years every time I see any pitcher throw 3-4 great innings and then completely fall apart, that pitcher morphs into a doppleganger of Ryan Dempster as seen through my eyes. But I’m not going to subscribe to this anymore; Ryan Dempster, you have my seal of Cub fan approval.

What is true, is that Dempster is enjoying the best season start as a start in his entire 14-year MLB career, with an ERA of 1.02 after tonight’s game. This season, Dempster has only started 5 games, due to his recent DL visit (where he usually would have started 7 or 8 by now), but if you remove his partial 2004 season and his 2006 and 2007 seasons as the Cubs’ closer, the best Dempster has done in terms of ERA but the close of this date (plus or minus a few calendar days) is 2.39 in 2000 with the Marlins (as a Cub, it was 2.72 in 2008). Where the bitter aftertaste lies is in the knob-worthy W-L statistic still oh so important in pitching performance metrics; in 5 games, Dempster has a 0-1 record and has only earned a whopping 5 runs in support of each of his starts, never pitching less than 6 innings and only allowing 6 runs total (4 of them earned). At age 35, he’s starting out literally on fire…but the Cubs are letting him down, and that’s where the Small Sample Size really comes into play. Sure, it’s early, but for the luvvapete, if the bats are there to support Samardzija, why not Dempster?

We can’t forsake the Cubs’ offense for Dempster’s W-L woes, not entirely. Tonight, the Cubs helped Dempster leave the game with a tie. In gruesome shades of the memorable Cubs home opener on April 5, there’s another culprit involved.

His name is KERRY WOOD.
The situation was different (on the 5th, Dempster was the pitcher of record with a one-run lead) but the question I’m still asking myself is, “Whither Kerry Wood?” I ask this philosophically, and in a manner as delicate as I can to avoid committing Cub fan blasphemy, but I will be more direct: what is the point? On record, Wood is more than likely just as effective in any given situation as the rest of the Cubs bullpen (Marmol: don’t even go there) but as recently as a month ago, we’ve seen this before. Kerry gets the ball in the 8th inning and wastes very little time in allowing the Braves to add 2 more runs on the board with only one batter retired in the process, and 2 getting free passes.

Oh, and HOORAY we are all supposed to be elated when Wood picks off Brian McCann at second base to abruptly end the inning and prevent more run damage, but the only emotion I’m experiencing is mental anguish. I’ve already said the Cubs are better this season than I expected; Wood’s hysterical manipulation of a lead (or the threat of a lead) is not very humorous, given the situation. I would rather laugh at Carlos Marmol (who is hilarious and does really look like a cartoon character) than see Kerry Wood at his worst, even at a time like this when the front office is adamant about the importance of “not winning.” It gets worse when after the pick-off, Wood throws his glove and cap into the stands in disgust on his way back to the dugout. I suppose somebody has to carry the “pout torch” vacancy left by Carlos Zambrano, who better than one of his beloved former teammates?

But, I digress...perhaps Nick Devlin was watching tonight, he does follow the Braves as he lives in the Atlanta area…so Nick, now that I have your attention: HEY, why is this the first time I’m hearing about this Randall Delgado fellow?
I can’t tell you how I missed him last year (I will rely on the old scorekeeper standby “wasn’t watching” in lieu of a reasonable explanation) but I’m watching him now. The 22-year old from Las Tablas, Panama (ah! I’m a fan of Panamanian Braves prospect Christian Bethancourt, so that’s two wacky Panamanians I know in the Braves system!) has been a little bit erratic in 6 games this season, but tonight he handcuffed the Cubs with a gruesome change-up; allowing only 3 hits, 1 run, walking 3 and striking out 5. So young, so good…so what?? We shall see!


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