Saturday, June 13, 2009

Piranhas at Wrigley, and Bradley is dinner

Piranhas at Wrigley Field? Yes, those were the Minnesota Twins playing the Cubs Friday afternoon as part of the annual tradition of interleague play that, in my opinion, is rapidly losing its luster. The IL games are becoming less of a novelty, and at the same time have not acquired any true meaning. They count in the standings, so of course they do mean something, but they don't even off the site-swap structure of a regular series--three game at my home field, three game at your field.

It's probably a good thing for the Cubs that they don't have to go up to the Snow Dome this season--the White Sox can tell them that's no fun at all. The Twins have plenty of power, but in other ways are built for their home park with their scrappiness, speed, precise fundamentals, discipline in following the baseball textbook, and especially, in controlled and focused intensity.

The Cubs in some ways are the opposite--talented, but sometimes tactless on the basepaths, prone to trying to hard at the plate and maybe not hard enough in the field, and especially, emotionally unpredictable from one moment to the next. Milton Bradley's game yesterday in a 7-4 Cubs loss was Exhbit A for all of that.

The most frustrating of the frustrating Cubs, Bradley was good at the plate, going 2-4 with 2 RBIs and more importantly, demystifying Piranhas starter Kevin Slowey, who is good, but had the Cubs hitter for the most part tied in knots and swinging at everything for the first 6 innings Friday. Bradley pounded a two-run, bases-loaded double in the 7th inning, in an at-bat that showed what a smart hitter he is, because (and I'll admit I might be investing too much here) it seemed like he learned something about how Slowey was throwing and made adjustments.

Moments later, with Bradley on 2nd base and Mike Fontenot on 3rd with 1 out, Bradley ran into a tag on a grounder to former Sox 3rd baseman Joe Crede. The run scored, but the thing that annoys is that Minnesota was conceding the run to make the play at 1st base. Crede tagged Bradley and didn't get the runner at 1st, but Bradley took himself out of scoring position and the Twins almost could have had a double play.

Bradley's biggest gaffe came in the Minnesota 8th, when he caught a fly ball with men on 1st and 3rd, threw it into the bleachers to give a fan a souvenir and trotted toward the dugout. So, what's wrong with this picture? The flyball catch was only the second out, and a run scored from 3rd on the sacrific fly--though that would have scored anyway. Needless to say, a half-season's worth of boos rained down on Bradley, boos he would have gotten even if he was hitting a lot better than .224, but even louder because he is hitting .224.

Bradley arguably had another fielding mishap in the game when he seemed to react very late to a sinking fly ball and then over-aggressively dived and rolled over it, allowing a run to score and a runner to advance. Though, Bradley's reaction time and effort certainly could be debated, and the botom line is that he was trying very hard to record the out.

It all sounds like a recipe for Milton Bradley meltdown, but Bradley did his best after the game to admit his mistake on the premature souvenir toss, and shrug off the experience as something that can happen to anyone.

Would we rather have seen him react more seriously, angrily or emotionally? I think Bradley's coolness might be an improvement, as he was too emoitionally in public reactions and umpire spats earlier this season. Still, it seems to be one extreme or the other with Bradley--as it often is with Carlos Zambrano. Either Bradley is very good (which has been very rare this season), or so bad that he devolves into caricature (which has happened this season, though not as much as I expected, considering his prolonged hitting slumps). Perhaps yesterday was a breakthrough, because he was good at the plate, bad everywhere else, but didn't flip out about it. However, Bradley's alternate emotional intensity and emotional distance also could be troubling. Maybe he needs to find some kind of rhythm one way or the other.

We'll find out in the rest of this series whether he can respond immediately with a better performance, but it's increasingly clear that he has lost many of the fans already. He will have to have a pretty strong late June and early July if anything's to be salvaged from his first half.

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