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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Outrage You Can Taste

Yesterday evening, when Boston was down 5-0 to the Rangers in a game they eventually came back and won, I was delicately coaxing a friend and Red Sox fan back from the ledge, citing a tough April schedule, some unfortunate injuries, a predominant number of notorious slow-starters, and, most of all, the fact that it was only the 20th of April.

Ironically, this afternoon I find myself perched on the very same ledge following the announcement that the Cubs intend to move Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen upon the return of Ted Lilly.  That such a move is ASININE doesn't even begin to describe it.

First of all, Zambrano, despite a poor ERA, has not had a bad April.  He got torched by Jason Heyward and the Braves on Opening Day, but since then he has a modest 4.00 ERA, a pair of quality starts (in three chances), and an outstanding strikeout rate (25 K in 18 IP).  I daresay there isn't another team in all of baseball that would pull the plug on a pitcher showing that kind of stuff this early in the season.  Even including his ugly first outing, Big Z's strikeout rate is fifth in the major leagues among starting pitchers.

I realize that "Sweet" Lou finds himself in a tough spot.  His middle relief is truly dreadful and with Lilly returning he has to move somebody to the bullpen.  Superficially, at least, Zambrano has been the worst pitcher thusfar.  Tom Gorzelanny has only thrown nine total innings, but his ERA is 1.93.  Carlos Silva has made starts against the Astros (30th in MLB in scoring), Mets (21st), and Reds (17th), and thus is being treated like Jim Hendry's immaculate conception.  Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells have actually been legitimately good.

I sincerely doubt that Zambrano's tenure as a reliever will last particularly long.  Whether by injury or ineffectiveness, somebody will need replaced, probably in a matter of weeks.  Such would be the case no matter who was being moved.  It is never a disadvantage to have six competent starting pitchers.  It is ludicrous, however, to move the most talented and the most durable of the bunch into a role that he's neither familiar with, nor particularly suited to.  Zambrano's Achilles heel has always been wildness.  For his career he gives up 4.76 BB/9 in his first inning of work (his worst rate for any inning).  Does that sound like a guy suited to pitching in late and close situations?  The great joy of watching Big Z is usually that he gets better over the course of a game and that he seems to rarely tire.  These qualities are wasted in a reliever.

I didn't have the highest of hopes for the Cubs coming into the year, but I am still quite fond of this Pinella-era incarnation, despite last year's disappointment, as they've given us a pair of division titles and three straight winning seasons.  I find myself this afternoon, however, wishing the new owner would blow the whole thing up.  Fire Lou.  Damn sure fire Hendry.  Trade D-Lee and A-Ram and Lilly.  Release Soriano.  Release Fukudome.  Jumpstart the Starlin Castro era.

Somebody, I hope, will talk me down.  The season is yet young.

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