There is plenty of blame to go around for yesterday’s 5-4 9th inning loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Marlon Byrd went just 1-5 from the 3-hole, stranded a number of runners, and grounded in a double play with the tying run at third to end the game. Carlos Marmol gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in the 9th to blow. Starlin Castro made an improvident and wild throw in the 9th that allowed the winning run to score. And starter Matt Garza, though he struck out 12, did give up 12 hits.

As I said, plenty of blame to go around.

But what about manager Mike Quade?

As Quade ponders why the Cubs didn’t pull out this winnable game and series, he might also question his decision to give Alvarez a chance to put the ball in play at all. The Cubs led 4-3 with runners on second and third with one out. The book says with first base open you intentionally walk the hitter and hope Marmol induces a double-play grounder that sends everybody home happy.

It’s not a book Quade cracked Sunday.

Quade did cite percentages in explaining the move to stick with Reed Johnson in the ninth inning against Pirates right-handed closer Joel Hanrahan.

“Reed’s numbers are good against Hanrahan,” Quade said.

Perhaps, but after Johnson looked overmatched striking out swinging, it was impossible not to wonder why Quade didn’t pinch-hit a left-handed hitter such as Blake DeWitt, Saturday’s hero, or Kosuke Fukudome. Heck, Quade was the one who publicly second-guessed that decision at a postgame news conference that illustrated how long of a weekend it had been.

“I’m out of breath. You guys talk,” Quade said with a smile as he sat down. “We don’t have enough time to go through all the stuff. We had chances.”

Those are two interesting points, and things I imagine many of us were thinking about as the 9th inning played out. So lets’ look at whether Quade really made the wrong decisions.

First, pitching to Alvarez: as a preliminary matter, it’s not *always* correct to walk the guy simply because first base is open. Alvarez is a youngster, and Carlos Marmol is literally the most likely pitcher in baseball to get a strikeout. Then again, the guy following Alvarez – Matt Diaz – was 0-4 in his career against Marmol, with two strikeouts. And to make Quade’s decision look worse, following Alvarez’s two-run dribbler, Diaz grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Verdict? Given that Marmol is such a strikeout threat, and given that Alvarez hit a little dribbler that, in normal circumstances, would have been no issue, it was a fine decision to pitch to Alvarez. Walking the bases loaded is simply not a good idea with Carlos Marmol, a guy who is much more likely to walk in the tying run from there than to coax a double play ball.

Second, leading off with Reed Johnson rather than Kosuke Fukudome or Blake DeWitt: as I was watching the 9th unfold, and saw Johnson come to the plate, my first thought was “isn’t Fukudome still available?” So, my gut tells me batting Johnson was the wrong decision. What do the numbers say?

The Baseball Reference database has different numbers than Quade, because it has Johnson as a mere 0-1 with a K against Hanrahan in his career. I suppose that might be incomplete, so I’ll give Quade the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t reading the wrong stat sheet. But what I can’t give the benefit of the doubt on is the fact that Johnson has become brutally bad against right-handed pitchers over the last few years. Indeed, his career OPS against righties is now just .696. Combine that with Hanrahan, who is, himself, brutally good against right-handed hitters (last year, they had just a .589 OPS against him), and the decision is poor.

Verdict? I suppose I get that you don’t want to go down an additional player (Johnson had just joined the game for defensive purposes), but trying to come from behind in the 9th means you leave no advantages on the bench. Quade really should have sent Kosuke Fukudome up there.

So is Mike Quade to blame for the loss? Eh. Certainly not any more than the players who, you know, actually played the game. But his Johnson/Fukudome decision was probably a poor one.

  • Aaron

    And IMO-given Byrd’s day at the plate and his speed, and one out with a fast runner at 3rd, you have to safety squeeze in the situation. You tie the game and get the winning run in scoring poition. Listen, it’s the coach’s job to make good moves it the players job to execute. So if the right play is called and not execuded it’s not on the coach but the player. You walk a player with 1st open, you bring in the lefty, and you safty squeeze. Terrible bit of coaching…embarrassing actually.

  • Jeff

    That game was one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. The Pirates really only got 3 or 4 solid hits all game. 12 singles out of 12 hits and a lot of them were bloops, infield hits, or slap hits through holes because of guys covering bases. I would say it’s too early to start switching the lineup around. I don’t think Byrd should be hitting third, or Colvin hitting 8th, but Quade made these choices, he has to give them more than the first three games to prove him right. As long as he doesn’t get stubborn if the production doesn’t improve and spout all summer about how you have to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, I think he’ll be alright. The decision not to walk Alvarez is troubling, aside from Tabata, he is really the only guy that had swung the bat well in Pittsburgh’s lineup all three games, he should have been put on first.

  • Karen P

    Interesting. I don’t mean this in a sarcastic or critical way at all, but I wondered when the first criticisms of Quade would come. I hadn’t thought of this POV until I read this, and I can certainly see your point.

    Unfortunately I was unable to watch/listen to the game and had to rely on the gamesheet, but you definitely make a valid point: Marmol is a (almost always) a sure thing. Betting against him tends to make people look stupid. Since Quade didn’t really discuss the decision in the post-game interviews, I’d be curious to know his reasoning in the heat of the moment, if you will.

    That being said, the team didn’t seem too rattled today. I am gonna give Quade the benefit of the doubt and chalk this one up to a poor managerial decision that stems at least partly from inexperience. While I don’t plan on giving that grace all season, I think three games in is a bit early to reach for the pitchforks and torches. 😉

    • Ace

      Ultimately, the only move with which I disagreed was batting Reed Johnson rather than Fukudome. Not an indictable offense, and I can have a very short memory if Quade doesn’t make a habit of that kind of thing.

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