WTNYApril 12, 2004
Notes from a disgruntled Cubs fan
By Bryan Smith

I guess despite my favorite pitcher tossing an eleven strikeout game today, I wasn't happy with how the weekend went. Maybe I'm still upset with how the Cincinnati series went, but the Cubs really should have swept this series.

Sergio Mitre was not my choice to make the fifth slot in the rotation, but he pitched one helluva game on Saturday. He only throws two pitches, a big breaking pitch and a bigger sinking fastball. Steve Stone was noting that by showing his breaking ball early, hitters were biting for his sinking fastball, causing an exorbitant amount of groundballs. Great game Sergio, you definitely earned another start.

But flip to the top half of the seventh inning, when the Cubs are winning 2-1. Paul Bako leads off, and like Bako, grounds out to the shortstop. Up comes Sergio Mitre, with about 80 pitches under his belt for the night. I said to my friend watching the game with me, "This early in the year, you take out the rookie after six innings." I know the bullpen is worn down from the night before, but you don't take your chances here. Mitre gets out, but retires the Braves in order in the seventh, making me look like a moron.

And then comes the eighth. Mitre quickly retires the first two hitters, but up comes the Braves' hardest out, Marcus Giles. I was a fan of Giles years ago, but I damn near love the guy today. He works counts well, and he is by far a more difficult out than Chipper Jones, J.D. Drew or Andruw. After a Giles single, Dusty Baker brings in Andy Pratt to face Chipper and Drew. Andy Pratt? You mean the same Pratt that had allowed two walks in two-thirds of an inning the night before? Please no. Let it be Farnsworth (later the goat), Hawkins, or Kent Mercker. But not Andy Pratt.

Well, we lost. Between this and being shut out by Paul Wilson, it's been a frustrating season. Six games is a little early to be frustrated with your manager, but I'm quickly tiring of Dusty. Derrek Lee is quickly becoming my favorite Cubs position player, but why is he batting sixth? While Baker is getting better with the pitch counts, managing relievers and lineups is essential to his job. Yikes.

The next thirteen games are against Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti and the Mets. I have high expectations, and by that, I mean at least 9-4. It's time for this team to start flexing their muscle, and proving that unlike the San Francisco Giants with Jason Schmidt, one injury will not ruin this team.

To make matters worse, I've been reading/seeing the crosstown White Sox do well. Magglio Ordonez is on an insane hot streak, and the Sox are slowly convincing me they are good enough to win this division. I like that Ozzie stuck with Jon Garland through eight innings the other night, but they are a little short on starters. Arnie Munoz had a great start for them in AA the other night, so maybe they'll have a midseason replacement for Schoenweis.

And in the Yankees game Sunday, I was treated to the sight of Bubba Crosby, the only Yankee I currently like. Bubba had a great play in center running into the wall, and then stayed back long enough on a Danny Wright knuckle-curve to hit it to deep right-center. Crosby reminds me a lot of Reed Johnson in Toronto, and if given the chance, would likely produce similar numbers. But timing is everything in baseball, and in the long run, I look for Crosby to turn into more of a fourth outfield type.

Didn't get to see much of PETCO, but it looked nice. I'm waiting to get the full run-down by Hardball Times contributor Vinay Kumar. And a few notes from the weekend that I thought I'd throw at Rich Lederer: is that Victor Zambrano 3-0 and Andy Pettite on the DL?


Well, at least the game went better today. Oh wait . . .

Dusty Baker has led good teams to underperform in the regular season since at least 2001, although he has been making up for it in the playoffs the last two seasons. I watched the extra innings on Friday and thought Dusty did a good job managing the bullpen, although he lifted Moises Alou for Tom Goodwin in the extra innings when he could have left Todd Hollingsworth and his hot bat in the game instead. It was a good strategy to bring a lefty in on Saturday for Chipper Jones and J.D. Drew, although Dusty should have known that neither lefty on the Cubs roster (Pratt or Mercker) is a control specialist and this was the type of situation for which they signed LaTroy Hawkins. So Saturday was one game Dusty let slip away already. There is no good reason why Derrek Lee isn't batting cleanup, but with Jimy Williams benching Morgan Ensberg and Tony Larussa letting Tony Womack leadoff, the other teams worth mentioning in the division are also handcuffing themselves.