Thursday's Cubs/Phillies game on WGN provided a nice opportunity to check in with my National League team. While the Orioles are experiencing a mild resurgence this year, the Cubs have virtually imploded. The Byzantine intrigue in the clubhouse has gotten plenty of press so we won't go into it here.
Photo via Chicago Cubs-Fan
"Don't tell me," said My Wife the quasi-fan, "they're already in last place."
"Actually, they're not," I responded. "But only because the Astros have been even worse."
On the field, the main issue has been starting pitching. The Cubs starters have the worst ERA in the majors. So, I went into Thursday's game with an eye on Randy Wells, the man of the evening. Could he get a quality start for the Cubbies and give them a shot at winning?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one's perspective), the weather answered that question early. Heavy wind and rain in the bottom of the third brought an hour-plus rain delay and an end to Wells's evening. Of course, he'd already allowed Jimmy Rollins's 3-run dinger in the second and was falling behind most of the batters he was facing. He had already thrown 53 pitches through 2 1/3. The bullpen pitched shut out ball for the 8 2/3 innings which followed the delay so perhaps Mother Nature was the true heroine for the Chicago side this evening, ultimately an 11-inning 4-3 win.
Among the Cubs' terrestrial entities, I'd say catcher Geovany Soto (pictured above) had the best game: 2-for-5 on the night with a double and a game-tying home run, more than making up for his three strikeouts. He also caught six different pitchers over 11 innings.
The lack of designated hitters definitely adds to the challenge of keeping a scorecard for a National League game. Between the rain delay and extra innings, the Phillies burned through eight pitchers on the night. They employed the double-switch, the National League's most exotic move, with reliever Ryan Madson and catcher Carlos Ruiz in the ninth.
I was born in the first month of the designated hitter era and have spent virtually my entire life in American League markets. Thus for me, the DH is the norm. Back when the rule was first introduced, Roger Angell was one of many who wrote in passionate dismay. After recently reading his book Five Innings, I've given the matter more thought. While I can certainly appreciate the purist perspective, the anti-climax when a pitcher comes to bat is undeniable.
Case in point: the Phillies managed to load the bases with two out in the bottom of the tenth. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to let reliever David Herndon take his turn at bat as there were no pitchers left to take the mound in the 11th. In the AL, there would at least have been a decent threat of a walk-off run. Instead, the end of the inning was essentially a foregone conclusion.
I see the counter-argument: more often than not, having to burn through the bench in such situations keeps the game from going on forever. The war of attrition is part of the sport and the lack of a DH does add an extra strategic wrinkle. It's just disappointing to see an offensive rally so thoroughly deflated.