Randy Wells must have the patience of Yoda. In 5 major league starts, Wells has pitched 32 innings, giving up only a total of 6 earned runs, 24 hits and 7 walks good for a 1.69 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. Based on those stats, you would think that Wells is 5-0, 4-1 or maybe even 3-1. But guess what it really is – 0-2. Yes, that’s right, he still hasn’t earned a major league win yet, and that includes games in which he has left the game where the Cubs have had a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead.
The latest debacle came on Tuesday night in the opener of the Cubs important 9-game road trip. For this disaster, I actually blame 3 people – Manager Lou Pinella and relievers Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg. First Pinella – Wells pitched a no-hitter through 6 innings and gave up the first hit of the game with 2 outs in the 7th inning to Chipper Jones. After Jones reached, Wells was just fine as he got Brian McCann to ground out to end the inning. With the Cubs leading 5-0 and Wells’ pitch count still under 80 pitches to start the bottom of the 8th inning, this should have been Wells’ game to finish off, especially given the tough luck he has endured over his 1st 4 major league starts. Wells served up a leadoff home run to Garrett Anderson, and then Martin Prado reached 1st on a weak grounder to shortstop and Derrek Lee’s fielding error. With his pitch count still at only 83, Pinella decided to take Wells out and bring in Carlos Marmol. Big mistake. Wells was about to face the last 3 hitters in the Braves lineup (none of whom had gotten a hit so far). And while Pinella probably felt like he would bring in his top 2 relievers to finish off the win without any problems, those to relievers – Marmol and Gregg have been so inconsistent this year, there was no assurance that these 2 guys would be able to preserve the 4-run lead. And guess what happened – these 2 guys blew it.
Marmol walked Jeff Francoeur amd got Gregor Blanco to line out to right field on a great play by Kosuke Fukodome. Marmol then hit pinch-hitter Greg Norton with a pitch (loading the bases) and walked Kelly Johnson to give the Braves an easy run. Marmol got Yunar Escobar to hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly to Kosuke Fukodome on another good play and retired Chipper Jones on a full-count pitch to preserve the 5-3 lead. Granted Marmol minimized the damage that he created himself, but if Pinella had left Wells in the game, I am confident that Wells would have finished the 8th with a 5-1 lead.
Now move on to the 9th inning. For once, Kevin Gregg actually got the lead off out. But when Gregg struck out Garrett Anderson, his off-speed pitch was very wild and allowed Anderson to reach 1st base. Gregg got Prado to fly out to center field for the 2nd out, but Jeff Francoeur stroke a 2-run game-tying home run off Gregg to tie the game at 5-5. Now I know Pinella said that the base runner should not have even been on base because of the quirky wild pitch, but he was and Gregg had to deal with it. Gregg has been downright awful for the Cubs, and Pinella needs to replace him as the Cubs closer. Gregg has a 5.24 ERA, a 1.66 WHIP and he has issued 13 walks in 22 1/3 innings. Not good.
Now I know Marmol isn’t much better – 23 walks in 24 innings and a 1.50 WHIP, but he’s only given up 13 hits and 1 HR (as opposed to 24 hits and 5 HR’s for Gregg in 2 less innings) and he does have that deadly strikeout pitch – 27 K’s in all. For the good of the time and for morale purposes, Pinella needs to make a drastic move, and that move should start with the closer. Gregg is not dependable and he cannot be trusted to hold a lead anymore. Maybe in a less stressful 9th inning role, Gregg will be more effective.
Well I have ranted enough. Pinella, Marmol and Gregg blew a perfectly phenomenal start from Wells… again. The game was over when Francoeur hit that HR off Gregg – it just took until the 12th inning on Chipper Jones’ walk-off single to make it official. The Marmol/Gregg disaster also ruined good starts from Alfonso Soriano (who hit a lead off HR), Derrek Lee who had an RBI double and a solo home run and Kosuke Fukodome and Mike Fontenot who each had 2 hits.
It would have been a great way for the Cubs to start the brutal 9-game road trip – especially after going winless on their last road trip, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. The Brewers and cards keep leaving openings for the Cubs to make a move in the NL Central race, and the Cubs keep making the same move in response – tripping over the own feet in defeat…