Bullpen acrobatics

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Not from this game but...you get the idea. // Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

Maybe Wednesday wasn't exactly what everyone had in mind.  Both expectations coming into the season and those for just this game tonight led to surprises.

Game surprise: Jake Peavy can't spot anything beside his fastball?
Season surprise: Jake Peavy's doesn't have devastating slider?  And he and AJ aren't friends?!

Game surprise: AJ cranked an RBI triple?  Off a lefty?
Season surprise: AJ hit something?!

Game surprise: The Sox can't break it open against Doug Davis?
Season surprise: DOUG DAVIS IS IN BASEBALL!?!!?


Beyond Jake just having an exceptionally poor night command-wise, and
possibly not trusting his body enough to get the full snap on his
slider, I got nothing for you to explain what happened.  As for him
yelling at A.J....eh, they'll get over it, or already have.

As for Davis, the Cubs had all of their starters die on them, which sort
of put them in a pickle.  As for the triple he allowed to Pierzynski, a
slower pace is just what his bat craves, and apparently Kosuke Fukudome
sometimes makes bad decisions.

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Trib photographers apparently though it'd be funnier to just shoot angry reaction shots. // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

But what did perfectly follow the now dust-covered and discarded
template for the 2011 White Sox was the bullpen.  After Peavy stumbled
off with one out in the 5th, staked to a one-run lead with two runners
on base, Ozzie got 3.2 IP of scoreless work from none other than the
four guys (Sale, Crain, Thornton, Santos) who were supposed to carry the
load for the bullpen from the start.  The guys who were supposed to
carry the water all year long, while leaving the filler work for Will
Ohman, Tony Pena, and That Guy With The Beard.

For  Sale, Thornton...and recent--alright, let's just say everyone but
Crain, it's been a long road to consistency in 2011.  Even beyond that,
three of these guys had pitched the night before.  The work Ozzie did in
handling this situation, is as good of reason you can be provided with
to have confidence in his management.

Sale entered in the 6th with the intention of working multiple innings
as he's used less frequently and was the only prime reliever not used
the previous night.  Sale's control has sidetracked a season that was
supposed to be worth delaying his development for with high-leverage
work.  Instead he's been out there aiming fastballs far too many times
and struggling through mop-up innings. 

But on Wednesday, Sale threw first-pitch strikes to 6 out of 8 hitters,
and trusted his slider enough to use on half of his deliveries.  It
wasn't unhittable at all (no swinging strikes), but it changed up his
speed enough, and the backdoor hammer he threw to Soriano to end the 7th
was pretty far from a pitch to hammer.

As is typical Ozzie, he tried to steal an extra out with Sale even
though he had his replacements ready, opting for a lefty-lefty matchup
with Blake DeWitt.  It resulted in weak contact to the mound, but still a
hit.  Perhaps Sale needs to spend more time with Buehrle...and steal
his food.

Crain was brought in to face the lefty-killing Jeff Baker and Koyie
Hill, but also looked to be an asset for his pick-off move as the Cubs
brought in Tony Campana to pinch-run.  Then things got weird again. 

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Certainly not without its humor. // Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Crain airmailed a pitch-out over Pierzynski's head to allow Campana to
steal second, from where he was able to advance to 3rd on a groundout. 
Only needing to make contact to score the bullet-speed Campana, the Cubs
curious opted not to pinch-hit for the least talented hitter on their
team, the backup catcher Hill, when they only needed contact to tie the
game.

Crain struck out Hill without showing a single fastball, which probably
didn't say great things about how much gas Crain felt after working 1.2
IP the previous night, and said even worse things about the Sox opinion
of Hill's plate discipline.

When Crain was pulled for Thornton, there was an uneasiness that came
over me.  Matt just hasn't been the same guy.  His strikeouts are way
down, and correspondingly his swinging strike percentage is at a career
low along with not showing his pinpoint control.  He's seemed ill-suited
for his previous thankless role of mowing through the toughest late
inning of hitters no matter their handedness, and his one-batter
appearance to handle the left-handed Fukudome represents a shift toward
Ozzie placing Matt in more success-conducive scenarios, even if they
lack a margin for error.  Not that he'll just be an expensive LOOGY from
here on out, but coming off facing four batters the previous night, the
burden placed on Thornton was limited.  And it felt appropriate.

Finally, Sergio, operating in an increasingly traditional closer role,
pitched the 9th against an all free-swinging heart of the Cubs order and
recalled his tight slider from earlier in the year. For the second straight
night, he threw it the vast majority of the time without seeing its
effectiveness wane.  4 swinging strikes on just 8 sliders did nothing to
discourage Sergio.

It feels absurd the way the year started to discuss the bullpen as a
possible strength going forward, but tonight was a clear example of how
that could be the case.  With nearly four-innings of high-leverage work
to deal out, Guillen had the personnel to mix-and-match to his
advantage, and did so aggressively with an off-day coming up.

Things going to plan doesn't matter as much when you can play that kind of damage control.

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