Lou Piniella gazes into the distance. Somewhere out there, Ryan Dempster is walking someone. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
There was little to disagree with about Lou Piniella's performance in the 2008 season. Most managers, even in wild successful years, have plenty of areas of improvement, and so did Lou: He could have committed to youngin' Felix Pie for more than a month. But other than that, there's not a lot to complain about, and anyway, with 97 wins, who wants to whine?
Now, though, it's time. Lou is not a perfect manager no more than the Cubs are a perfect team, and after the 7-2 loss that launched a thousand paid hours of psychiatric care, it's time to second guess the man. On we go:
-- Kosuke Fukudome. Piniella made a bold choice to start the Japanese import in the second spot last night -- Fukudome hasn't had a good swing since June, and throughout the second half, suffered through something much longer and more protracted than a mere "slump." It was ugly.
But Fukudome played well last night. Even when his bat is cold, he remains the consummate right fielder. What's more, his bat almost heated up -- he struck out once but hit three screaming ground balls through the infield, one of which he reached on. (It was ruled an error, but could have been a hit. Just sayin'.) It seems Lou is going to stay with Fukudome tonight. If Kosuke can maintain, or even improve, his play from last night, he could be a regular start until the Cubs, you know, completely blow the season.
-- Ryan Dempster. To be fair to the bearded Canuck, he's been a big reason the Cubs had such a great record at home this year. OK. Great. It would have been difficult to tell last night. Dempster's control was all over the place, and thanks to a murky strike zone, he seemed to be constantly readjusting, constantly trying to hit new spots. After loading the bases in the fourth, Lou should have been at the ready -- instead, he let Dempster do the same in the fifth and give up the James Loney grand slam that ended it all.
It's not as though the Cubs' bullpen fared much better, but Lou lost the game with Dempster. File under major oversight.
-- Sean Marshall. Not much else to say here. When Lou finally did pull Dempster, he went with the left-handed Marshall, who was just ... blah. Guh. Ergh. And various other monosyllabic noises expressing disgust.
Rough first start for Lou. Don't expect him to wait around quite so long tonight. Carlos Zambrano has a way of tweaking himself out of games, and if there's one thing Lou can't stand, it's a tweak.