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October 8, 2003

Prospectus Today

Lapses

by Joe Sheehan

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Stack dump, Cubs/Marlins:

  • Man, the Cubs swing at everything. After the top of the seventh, Fox showed a shot of Josh Beckett coming out for the bottom half. I thought, "what does this guy have to do to get pulled?" Then I checked the box score: despite six innings, seven hits, six runs, and five strikeouts, Beckett had thrown just 80 pitches.

    According to Keith Woolner, the Cubs had more swinging strikes than any other team in 2003. Dusty Baker definitely has the offense he wants; whether it's the offense he needs is another question. I get more fearful for Hee Seop Choi every day.

  • Mark Grudzielanek made an early run at being this series' Jose Cruz Jr. with two poor efforts in the ninth inning, one mental, one physical.

    On the first, when he bobbled a Luis Castillo ground ball and never did tag Juan Pierre, I don't understand why he didn't throw to second base for the force play. He had to know he'd blown the tag--great call by Fieldin Culbreth--and in that situation you must get one out. Not doing so was critical, because there's a huge difference between two outs and two on, and one out and three on.

    The next play didn't get the attention, but it highlighted the Cubs' main problem coming into this series. Ivan Rodriguez hit a line drive past Grudzielanek that, had he just fallen down from where he stood, he might have caught and at least would have kept in the infield.

    The Cubs don't play defense well. It hurt them last night, and it's going to haunt them in every game of this series.

  • Speaking of Rodriguez, when do you think word will get out that he can hit fastballs up and on the outside edge? Someone, somewhere, may wish to try a different approach. That, or kryptonite.

  • There was some criticism among BPers of the seventh-inning sacrifice bunt by Kenny Lofton that moved Damian Miller to third base after his leadoff double. I think the decision is defensible; remember, the idea that sacrifice bunting is a bad play stems from the rampant use of it in the early innings. Bunting to increase the chance of taking a one-run lead in the seventh inning is a fair idea, and a successful sacrifice in that situation moves the chances of scoring from 64% (runner on second, no out) to 69% (runner on third, one out).

    I think the context argued for it as well. Chad Fox isn't easy to pull, or for that matter, make contact against. Lofton was going to have a hard time moving the runner to third base absent a bunt.

  • They didn't show it last night, but the Cubs have a pretty good four-man bullpen. There's nothing wrong with the combination of Joe Borowski, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Remlinger and Mark Guthrie.

    Of course, Dusty Baker is carrying two pretty bad pitchers, one of whom he elected to use in the 11th inning last night. There is no question to which "Antonio Alfonseca" is the answer. I would have left Guthrie in, right-handed hitters (who he pitches well against) be darned. Alfonseca pitched poorly but caught a break when Miguel Cabrera crushed a line drive that Alex Gonzalez turned into a double play.

  • When Sammy Sosa came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth last night, I had two thoughts, both identical to the ones I'd had watching the end of Game Four of the Cubs/Braves series: 1) this is a bad matchup for him, and 2) I've never seen him do something heroic.

    Ugueth Urbina has been death on righties his whole career, and is the kind of power pitcher who can leave Sosa tied up in knots. Aside from that, though, I just could not remember Sosa having a moment the way, say, Barry Bonds had a few times this season, or Albert Pujols did. I'm sure he must have at some point before last night, but I couldn't recall one. Anybody?

  • I think the Cubs will tie it up tonight, primarily because I can't bring myself to predict that Mark Prior will lose. That, and I'm not entirely sure why Jack McKeon keeps acting like his #5 starter, Brad Penny, is actually his #2.

Yankees/Red Sox

I don't think I did it in this space, but in various radio interviews and other places last week I picked the Giants over the Red Sox in the World Series.

Half of that is gone, and I'm about to abandon the other half.

The Red Sox are in pretty bad shape coming into this series. They'll be able to use Pedro Martinez--who, let's face it, is the reason to favor the Sox over any team--just once in the first six games. That means too much John Burkett and Tim Wakefield. Derek Lowe is scheduled to make his two starts at Yankee Stadium, and outside of Fenway Park he's been lousy. They'll be without Johnny Damon for at least part of the series, which puts either Adrian Brown or Gabe Kapler in the lineup, and, more importantly, in the outfield alongside Manny Ramirez.

The Sox have lost Byung-Hyun Kim to either a shoulder injury or a lack of confidence in him; regardless, it puts them down a good relief pitcher, no matter what they, the media, or Red Sox fans think. (Kim sure has taken a lot of grief for having the audacity to watch Alan Embree give up the game-tying hit in Game One of the Division Series.)

Finally, the Yankees have two good left-handers in the rotation who will start three of the seven games, and Grady Little has shown no inclination that he can adjust his lineup for the fact that his #3 and #5 hitters against right-handers can't hit lefties. I expect that the Sox will have similar problems scoring runs in this series as they did against the A's, and it's going to be much harder for them to keep the Yankees down. The A's scored 18 runs in the five games. I think the Yankees catch that by the third inning of Game Four.

The Yankees ripped through the Division Series in much the same way they did in 1998 and 1999, with their starting pitching driving the game to the bullpen and leaving it for Mariano Rivera. If not for Bernie Williams' Corpse, the Yankees might have allowed just four runs in the four games. Williams' Corpse, and the awful middle-infield defense, are still issues. The starting pitchers, however, are throwing so well that it might not matter. If they can do the same thing they did against the Twins--take the walks off the table--the Sox won't be able to score enough to keep up.

Yankees in five.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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