Lou Piniella Screwed Up Yet Again; Mismanaged Playoff Rotation
Last year at this time I was criticizing Cubs manager Lou Piniella for his decision to yank Carlos Zambrano after six innings in Game 1 of the NLDS with the score tied 1-1, while Arizona elected to stick with ace Brandon Webb for another inning. At the time I criticized Piniella before the series ended, saying he was wrong for getting ahead of himself; he wanted Zambrano to be rested for Game 4, forgetting you must win a game in order to get to Game 4. Well, it struck me that the same mentality in this year’s playoffs doomed the Cubs yet again. It all would have been worked out had they listened to me last year when I said such a move was a fireable offense.
Anyway, Piniella ordered his rotation for the NLDS against the Dodgers to go Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Rich Harden. Now I’m not about to blame Piniella for his team booting the ball around the infield and not hitting for a few games, but I will blame him for not throwing his top two aces in games 1 and 2. To me, it is ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE to not throw Carlos Zambrano in Game 1 of a playoff series if you’re the Cubs. Plain and simple, end of story, no questions asked — you ALWAYS throw your ace in Game 1 of a playoff series whenever possible (and it was possible). Secondly, if your number two pitcher happens to be Rich Harden, who is filthier than Zambrano but just not as much of a “Cub” as Big Z, you have to throw him in Game 2. No questions asked once again. I don’t care how amazing Ryan Dempster was this year, I don’t care what his home splits were at Wrigley Field. If you have Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden in your rotation, you throw them in Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs respectively, unless your three other starters happen to be named Josh Beckett, Johan Santana, and Tim Lincecum. Last time I checked Lou’s other options were Dempster, Lilly, and Marquis.
I believe the James Loney grand slam off Dempster was the turning point in the series and that it wouldn’t have happened if Zambrano were in there. You must start the series on the right note. You can’t get ahead of yourself and out-think yourself regarding home splits in a short series — always pitch your ace first. With Zambrano in there following DeRosa’s 2-run home run, I honestly believe the Cubs go on to win the game, and the series. I truly believe that killed the entire momentum. Additionally, I really, truly feel for Cubs fans. As an Angels fan, I could be in a similar spot soon (team leads the league in wins, makes quick first round exit).
You know what though, I said it last year about the Patriots — you must take pride in your team’s performance during the regular season. The Cubs were the best team in the National League this year. There’s no denying it. They had a bad managerial move in the playoffs followed by some bad luck, but they were still the runaway top team in the league — that’s certainly something to be proud of. Additionally, if you’re a hard-core fan — and I know you are — you got to enjoy 97 victories during the season. The hard-core fans are there to support the team from April to October, enjoying each win equally. I still will have thoroughly enjoyed the Angels’ season from start to finish regardless of playoff outcome because I got to watch my favorite team win 100 games during the regular season. Call me a wuss who doesn’t understand the value of the post-season, but I truly believe the Cubs season was a success, and that the real fans got to enjoy a winning season.