Ever since the discussions began maybe two months or so ago, I’d given the same response when asked what I though about John Lackey’s potential for making the playoff roster: His propensity for allowing home runs is too big a risk in high-leverage situations. Though Lackey’s late-season performance added to the health of the rest of the rotation to make his presence necessary, there’s a right time and place to deploy him.
And the bottom of the 9th with a man on is what I’d consider a suboptimal situation. That’s not putting on my super-awesome hindsight goggles, either, as the move was beyond questionable in real time. Never mind that Brian Duensing had already gotten two outs in the inning or that he’d only thrown 21 pitches to retire five total batters. Never mind that Chris Taylor is a split-neutral hitter who actually has a lower ISO and wRC+ against lefties.
Now, I will grant you that Justin Turner absolutely obliterates left-handed pitching. Like, to the point that it would have been a fireable offense to leave Duesing in against the real-life version of Kris Kringle from Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Turner has a little more oomph than a stop-motion character voiced by Mickey Rooney, raking to the tune of a .484 wOBA and .206 wRC+ against southpaws.
So while going with a righty to face the ginger Dodger was a good idea, choosing Lackey as said righty was not. At all. Setting aside the fact that Lackey gave up 36 home runs in the regular season and is unfamiliar with a relief role — either of which alone should have been enough to rule him out — the Cubs had both Hector Rondon and Wade Davis in the bullpen. Even Buck Showalter thinks throwing Lackey was a bad idea.
The O’s skipper was drawn and quartered for going with Ubaldo Jimenez in last year’s Wild Card loss to the Blue Jays rather than turn to all-world closer Zach Britton. Anyone remember which lefty reliever opened that final frame? Hint: It’s a beautiful twist of baseball poetry. Yep, it was Brian Duensing.
Who knows, maybe Duensing is actually some sort of subversive trickster whose presence sucks reason and logic from the managers for whom he plays. Though highly implausible, it at least offers a bit of latitude for Joe Maddon and his decisions late in the game. There’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to these last two losses, but I still can’t fathom Maddon’s rationale for this recent move.
Even his explanation for it makes me want to punch things.
“‘Cause I really just needed him for the save tonight; we needed him for the save tonight,” Maddon told reporters after the game. “He had limited pitches, was one inning only.”
Dude, you can’t save a game if you don’t have a lead and you can’t get the lead unless you get another turn at the plate. A 1-1 game with the heart of the order coming up is no time to worry about the hypotheticals, and that’s not even considering just how bad the Cubs have been offensively.
“I don’t necessarily hold off for the save,” Maddon continued. “In the situation tonight, coming off of his last performance, the other thing you have to consider: understand, when you have a guy like that coming off the performance that he had, to warm him up and to not use him is equally as bad.”
I totally get not wanting to put Davis out there for just one out, but he had gotten two days of rest since that marathon (for a closer) effort against the Nats and could have gone the full 9th inning. Or Maddon could have gone to Rondon for an out, though he’d given up the game-winning homer Saturday. Lackey, though, man, that was just unconscionable.
The Cubs have collected seven hits and have walked twice in the two games in LA, which is downright pathetic. Two of those hits left the yard for the only runs they were able to score against Dodgers pitching, but what’s worse is how the Cubs followed those homers.
After Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run shot against Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, the next 18 Cubs were retired in order. Following Addison Russell’s solo shot to lead off the 5th inning Sunday, only two Cubs reached base: Jon Lester(!) singled three batters later and Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch in the 9th.
If you’re tracking, that’s two baserunners in 11 combined innings (both homers came with no outs in their respective frames) to end both games. Relying heavily on the home run is one thing, surviving on it as your only sustenance is like drinking unicorn blood.
Walks are bad
Remember that thing about the Cubs only drawing two walks in two games? Yeah, well, they’ve issued 13 of them. Hell, Lackey and Duensing walked two in the 9th inning of Sunday’s game alone and the Dodgers opened two separate innings with free passes.
Cubs relievers have walked six men in seven innings, not a great ratio. This kind of thing just can’t continue, though it really doesn’t matter when you only score three runs on the other end.
More news and notes
- The Bears actually won a road game Sunday, marking perhaps the first time in the last three years that it was more fun to watch them than the Cubs. Ugh.
- Former White Sox pitcher Daniel Webb died in an ATV accident over the weekend.
- MLB Trade Rumors’ Kyle Downing explores the trade market for Billy Hamilton.
- Several reports on the Atlanta Braves’ situation indicate that the scope of both their violations and the heads that will roll as a result are still increasing.