I was pretty vocal about the poor home plate umpiring yesterday and I’ve seen some backtracking of late, but I will stand my ground here. Reducing something to whether each individual pitch was a strike or wasn’t a strike in a vacuum isn’t what changes a game. It is the inconsistency. It isn’t ideal situation when an umpire arbitrarily expands or contracts the strike zone, but as long as he is consistent with that zone, then he gives the players and pitchers an opportunity to adapt to the rule interpretation du jour.
Early on, that may have been the case with Sam Holbrook, who was consistently calling pitches below the knees and just outside the corners strikes.
Until he didn’t.
You can’t blame Cubs pitchers for wanting to take advantage of the expanded strike zone that was established from the very first pitch of the game, but at two key moments, that strike zone contracted again. What would have been outs earlier in the game, suddenly weren’t and that gave the Padres a second chance. And sometimes that is all you need. This game was played by two evenly matched teams, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales in favor of one team over another. An extra out or strike in a key situation can make all the difference in the world.
Whenever any of us engage in any competition all we ask for is an objective interpretation of the rules and in absence of that, we just ask for consistency so that we can at least adapt to the new environment. But when you are playing with rules that apply in one instance and not another, you are setting the stage for confusion and, eventually, frustration. Joe Maddon had every right to be angry and whether those pitches were technically in the strike zone isn’t the issue. The issue was that the strike zone was a moving target that changed seemingly on whim. The umpire had far too much control of the game, it became about him and not the players. He took the game out of their hands.
No, you cannot solely blame the umpires for the Cubs loss, but when you force a team to overcome mistakes that were not their own, you put them at a disadvantage. And if you give good MLB hitters another chance — especially knowing that the pitcher is now going to have to adjust by coming in more toward the center at the plate, you give them an advantage. In short, you change the dynamics of the game by artificially changing the expectations and strategies of the players from at-bat to at-bat and sometimes from pitch to pitch. When it comes to strike zone rule interpretation, I can live with it being strict or loose, but when it comes to rules — of any kind — what can be okay to do one time has to be okay to do every time.
This all could have worked in favor of the Cubs, but that would not have made it more acceptable in the big picture. A game needs to be decided by players under a consistent set of rules for 9 innings. It cannot be decided by the arbitrary and randomly changing whims of an umpire.
That is all that both ballplayers and fans can ask.
Thus endeth the rant…now back to baseball for the real reason we watch it: the players themselves. With that, here is today’s lineup (and broadcast info).
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 18, 2015
- Miguel Montero and Kyle Hendricks back in the lineup so between the better framing and pinpoint command, we should see an efficient game and a lot of balls put in play. Hendricks is going to have to locate well and limit hard contact.
- With a fair amount of balls in play expected, especially on the ground, the infield defense becomes important. The Cubs have the veteran Jonathan Herrera at 2B, who has shown to be a steady fielder throughout his career, but the Cubs have also gotten surprisingly good play of late from Starlin Castro, while Kris Bryant showed he is not going to be a liability at 3B.
- I want to note yesterday that it was great to see Joe Maddon (and Dave Martinez) passionately stick up for his ballplayers, right or wrong. That is going to build an instant trust that he has their back. If there is a silver lining in yesterday’s game, I feel it was Maddon’s ejection. We’ve seen the dispassionate Dale Sveum and then the supportive, but mild mannered Rick Renteria as managers, but Maddon took things to a level we have not seen since the days of Lou Piniella.
Other News and Notes…
It turns out Addison Russell will be exclusively at 2B for Iowa. This is going to increase speculation for a call-up even more.
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) April 18, 2015
- The Cubs continue to insist that Russell is a SS but it appears the opening for him, at least for this season, will be at 2B. The Cubs probably feel he is polished enough to move back to SS without any need for a transition period, so we don’t want to read too much into it, but it does seem to indicate some preparation for the short term. Another advantage to this is that it would seem to make Javier Baez the full time SS when he returns, thereby increasing his own value. Tommy Birch, by the way, is a good Twitter follow for Iowa-related news.
- Mike Olt is in a full cast with a hairline fracture of the wrist and will be out 4-6 weeks before rehabbing. See picture and tweet here.
- Theo Epstein said today that Justin Grimm is rehabbing at Iowa and doing well. He may be ready for a bullpen session soon. It doesn’t appear to be as serious as we once feared and his early return could help alleviate the need for bullpen help outside the organization.
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