Monday, May 07, 2007

SWEEP!!! v.2

Okay, the Cubs actually did sweep the series this time against Washington. I kind of got it wrong last time. In addition to winning five in a row, the Cubs have won 8 out of their last 10 and are playing very good baseball.

Of course, not everyone is happy. The blogosphere was ripe with criticism for the way Lou Piniella has managed recently. Lou has used the majority of his bench and bullpen in a few games. In yesterday’s victory over the Nationals, Piniella used all of his bullpen except Rocky Cherry and everyone on the bench except Henry Blanco. All of the moves left Daryle Ward in LF and Alfonso Soriano at 2B for the final inning. Some posters were outraged Piniella would allow so much defensive liability when the game is on the line. My reaction: So what.

First, we’re not talking about running amputees out to play the field (my apologies to any amputees reading this). Both Ward and Soriano are professional baseball players. True, neither player is the best fielder at the position they were playing, but they are both capable of fielding the ball.

Second, and this goes to a larger point I discussed last year when Dusty was shirking his management responsibilities, the manager is paid to manage the team. Piniella is just doing what he was hired to do. He is sending a subtle message to his players. The message: “We’ll do whatever it takes to win. I don’t care about your feelings. I don’t care about your preferred position. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the big leagues. If it will help us win, I’ll do it.”

In one sense, Piniella’s hand was forced. When pitchers come in from the bullpen and can’t find the strike zone, Piniella can’t just let them give up walk after walk. He has to make moves that give the team the best chance for a victory. So using up the bullpen is partly the result of the bullpen not getting the job done.

In a larger sense, Piniella is working on changing the culture of the team. Dusty didn’t like to show up his players or cause too many waves. The resulting message was, it’s more important to be “respectful” than to win. This message just reinforced the culture of the Cubs that winning wasn’t the most important thing. Pinella is trying to change that in both obvious and subtle ways.

If Piniella starts emptying his bench and using up his bullpen every day, then maybe I’ll get concerned. But the fact that he only did it a couple of times (not to mention that it worked) doesn’t concern me in the least.


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