Star of the Game – B.J. Upton (.379 WPA)
Coming into this game, I was a bit frustrated with the result from game one, but felt like we still had a really good chance to win the series. That feeling was still there up until the 8th inning. Let’s talk about it.
Once again, we got a really nice outing from the starting pitcher, this time from newcomer Carlos Villanueva. If you remember, he was originally slated for long relief duty out of spring training until injuries caused setbacks for both Matt Garza and Scott Baker. As a result, Villanueva made the rotation out of camp and showed tonight that it doesn’t have to be a negative that it happened. All night, he was efficient with his pitches and worked into the 7th inning, which is all you can really want to see from your starters. If you can get through the 7th, even better, but I’ll take working into the 7th any day of the week. He left with a 5-1 lead and what looked to be a fairly easy night of work. Instead, things took a drastic turn. Before we get to that, I think it’s important to point out the job each of the starters did. Bill James created a way to evaluate starting pitcher performances called the game score, and while no stat is perfect, it’s a fun way to compare. In an article by John Dewan, he states that a good benchmark for a “gem” of a pitching performance is a score of 65 or higher or at least six innings of shutout ball. That got me wondering where our five starting pitcher’s outings fell on that scale. Here are your results, ranked in order.
Jeff Samardzija – (86)
Travis Wood (72)
Carlos Villanueva (62)
Edwin Jackson (57)
Scott Feldman (35)
That’s an average of almost 63. If we can get even close to that all year, this team can win some games. I know it’s hard to see past the end of the game tonight, but you have to be encouraged at how much different this rotation has looked compared to last year through the first five games.
Also encouraging tonight was the fact that the offense showed some signs of life and did their part to put Villanueva in a position to win the game. Last night we talked about some of the guys like, Anthony Rizzo, who have been struggling to start the season. A matchup against a less than dominant 5th starter was what the doctor ordered for the offense and while that’s encouraging, you also have to pin a lot of blame for this loss on the offensive output or lack thereof in the 8th. With the bases loaded and no outs, a chance to step on the Braves throat and essentially end the game, the Cubs couldn’t push anything through. I believe that gave the Braves new life from a mental standpoint and let the air out of the proverbial balloon for the Cubs slightly. As I type this, I have the Final Four game on. In college basketball, momentum is so huge in a game. If your team can capture it, you can turn things around in a hurry. Tonight we saw an example of that in baseball in the top of the 8th.
That brings us to the topic that everyone wants to discuss. Kyuji Fujikawa came into the game to pitch the 8th inning with a 5-1 lead. My thinking at the time was that he would be effective enough to keep it at a four run lead and turn it over to Carlos Marmol in a non-save situation. That would allow the pressure to be off and allow him to just have a positive outing to boost some confidence and take some of the heat off himself. Instead, Fujikawa called upon his inning Carlos for a Marmolian effort. He would enter with a four run lead and leave with just a one run lead and that’s only because he was able to induce an inning ending double play to keep it right there. Most are going to pin this one on Marmol, who did come in with the lead and once again failed to pitch effectively. Up until tonight, his lack of effectiveness had not cost the Cubs a game. Tonight that changed thanks to the bats of the Upton family circus. B. J. Upton tied it with a solo shot and Justin Upton, who has been on a tear to start this season ended it on a walk off. After the game, Sveum was asked the obvious question about what Marmol’s role is going forward. When asked what was wrong with him, Sveum replied “If I knew that I’d be a genius.” It’s no secret that Cubs fans and Cubs brass are frustrated. There really is no good answer going forward. What can you really do? Coming into the game, the obvious choice should a switch need to be made, was Fujikawa, but he completely wet the bed and looked awful. Can you really justify making a change and going to him after tonight? That’s a hard press conference to have, explaining that you’re switching from the guy that gave up two runs in favor of the guy that gave up three. That forces you to either stand pat, which doesn’t seem to be an option, or go with someone like Shawn Camp or James Russell. Neither option is particularly exciting. Camp scares the mess out of me when he comes in to the game and Russell is our main lefty out of the pen. That pushes Hisanori Takahashi into that role, which also scares the mess out of me. I don’t know what to do. To be honest, as crazy as it sounds, I leave Marmol in there.
It sucks to close this out like that. It stings and makes it a little tough to fall asleep. This was a series we could have won. Now it’s important to get a big outing by Samardzija tomorrow and come home with a .500 record.