Saturday, May 20, 2006

buehrle twirling, cubs spinning

just a quick bit to touch on the cubs 6-1 loss at the hands of mark buehrle to open the crosstown series.

greg maddux, uncharacteristically, got into it with plate umpire larry vanover over balls and strikes just before being lifted in the sixth. maddux issued five walks and didn't benefit from a few close ones -- but it is pretty difficult to complain when the other guy is tossing a two-hit, two-walk complete game on 105 pitches (though the cubs once again certainly seemed eager to expedite his efforts). and it is especially hard to complain about larry vanover, who kept the 11th-lowest era of any umpire in baseball last year. vanover is not a plate-squeezer, and buehrle proved it.

sometimes, you just don't have it -- but this writer suspects that all the losing is really eating at maddux. this team is now 4-16 in its last 20, and clearly spinning out of control. this could well be the worst stretch for any professional team maddux has ever pitched for. and the truth is that they've been a bit lucky anyway -- the adjusted standings have the cubs as the worst team in the majors by pythagenport measures at 15-24 coming into today -- two games worse than they actually were, better (arguably) than only pittsburgh.

for what it's worth, it's greg gibson behind the plate tomorrow for hill-garcia and paul nauert on sunday for the zambrano-contreras matchup. gibson is a bona fide high-era umpire -- few strikeouts, high hit rate -- and, working against rich hill, that only magnifies the sox's advantages over the feeble cub attack. could be a double-digit day for the sox. nauert is neutral-to-pitcher-friendly -- shouldn't stand in the way of what promises to be one of the best pitching matchups on the entire cub calendar this year and probably the cubs' best chance to sneak a win out of this series.

playing behind maddux, neifi managed to soil his fielding reputation yet again today by tossing an a.j. pierzynski grounder deflected off todd walker's glove past maddux, who was covering first, long after the sox catcher crossed the bag. nothing came of it in the end -- but ronny cedeno, for his part, could have reversed a jermaine dye bouncer in the fatal third to nail jim thome at the plate by a country mile. strangely, he double-clutched, froze, then mechanically tossed to first, giving up yet another run to make it 4-1 sox. maybe he realized that the cubs weren't going to score three anyway and so didn't bother -- but this team, whose defense was supposed to be better than this, is finding another facet of the game to come apart in. barrett, walker, jacque and pierre we knew would ensure this was never a great team in the field. but cedeno trails only rafael furcal among nl shortstops in errors and now neifi is getting in on the act. without derrek lee around, the cubs seem sometimes to be without a plus defensive player at any position.

that weakness today was highlighted by the presence of joe crede. a former southern league triple crown winner, crede has long been projected to hit -- but hasn't, and probably won't. his start this year is promising, but of course it's only six weeks. so what's kept him playing? crede absolutely shimmered around the bag today, flagging screaming liners and adeptly handling hot grounders with range and an strong, accurate arm. it seems many a weary year since this cub fan watched any cub player handle third base like that. crede isn't a great player, but he plays great defense and that is just fun to watch.

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