Wins don’t just happen. When Mike Quade took over a Cub team that had lost twenty of its twenty-five most recent games, and led them to twenty-four wins in the next thirty-seven, it was obvious that a competent leader had replaced a less-then-competent (or at least underachieving) predecessor. If Lou had at one time possessed winning managerial concepts and techniques, they weren’t working for him any more.
What were these concepts and techniques? In the press and the blogosphere, I have seen no analysis of what Quade might have done differently from Piniella, other than that Quade was highly prepared and created a better atmosphere for the players. I have seen no discussion of Quade’s managerial tactics, for example. So let me try to identify a scenario where Piniella managed one way, Quade another. It could be a clue to how Quade was able to turn “Lou’s losers” into winners.
One reason, by the way, for the dearth of theories explaining the Cub turnaround might be that you have to watch games attentively, in real time, to understand and assess what the manager is doing. For most of this season, and especially toward the end of Piniella’s tenure, the Cubs were unwatchable. This blog was certainly not immune from the urge to switch the Cub game off and focus on what was happening lower down in the organization.
It so happened that Quade took over, on August 23rd, at the start of a road trip that began with three games in Washington, DC, near this blogger’s home in suburban Virginia. I attended games two and three. Game three on August 25th, in particular, was tense and exciting. It was a game in which our manager seemed more aggressive and wider awake than their manager. By that I probably mean simply that Quade made some late-inning moves that paid off, and the Cubs won.
A pitching duel between Dempster and Marquis, the game was zero-zero entering the top of the eighth, with Dempster due to lead off. Colvin pinch-hit for the pitcher, in spite of Dempster having only thrown 79 pitches. Colvin walked and stole second, and scored on a one-out double by Castro. Ramirez hit a two-out, two-run homer to stretch the Cubs lead to 3-0. After the Cubs won by a final score of 4-0, Quade was asked why he had lifted Dempster.
I couldn’t live with myself if we’re tied in the eighth we don’t try and do something to win the game. It wouldn’t matter who (is pitching), but it’s always more difficult when it’s somebody who’s giving you a heck of an outing.
For his part, Dempster supported Quade, up to a point:
“That’s his decision as a manager, and I stand by that as a player,” he said. “I’ll do whatever the manager tells me to do. Do I want to come out of the game? No. He knows that. Everybody knows that. But there are way too many positive things that came out of today to worry about that.”
One of the many positive things, of course, was that Dempster got the win. It’s not clear whether Dempster would have been as happy as Quade if the Cubs had failed to score in the eighth and then won in the ninth or in extras. There is an unofficial fraternity of veteran starters that believes that a game like that one was Dempster’s to win or lose, and that he should have remained in the game until somebody broke the tie. I would note that if a game is Dempster’s, then it’s not really in the hands of the manager, nor does it belong to the team as a whole. I have a feeling that Piniella would have deferred to his veteran pitcher’s sense of entitlement and let him hit in the eighth.
Looking over the entire season, I find one instance where Piniella managed “aggressively,” like Quade did on August 25, in a low-scoring situation. The one instance was on July 17, Phillies at Cubs, when Wells was due to bat in the bottom of the 7th in a 0-0 game. Castro had doubled to lead off the inning. Wells could have remained in the game and bunted, but Nady batted for him. Nady grounded to short, with Castro taking third. With one out, Castro scored on a Theriot bunt single. (The Phillies came back to win with four in the ninth off of Marmol.)
Another example of Piniella lifting his starting pitcher in a tie game was May 27, Dodgers at Cubs, where Marshall came out to the mound to start the eighth in a 0-0 game. But Lilly had thrown 111 pitches. After off-season surgery, Lilly was on a strict pitch-limit. Lilly never threw more than 112 pitches in a game all season, and probably never started an inning after reaching 100.
Here are several instances where Piniella did not manage aggressively with regard to his starting pitcher in a close, low-scoring game.
On June 8, Cubs at Milwaukee, with the score 0-0 after seven and with Lilly still under 90 pitches, Lilly led off the eighth inning. This is a replica of the Cubs-Nationals game on 8/25, the main differences being the manager and the outcome. Interestingly, the Cubs scored a run in that eighth inning, all after two out: Fukudome singled and stole second, Lee walked, Colvin singled in a run and went to second (Lee to third) on the throw to the plate. Then the inning that started with Lilly making an out for himself ended when Byrd flew out to left. As luck (?) would have it, Hart homered to tie the game leading off the bottom of the inning, and the Brewers came from behind again in the bottom of the ninth off of Marmol to win 3-2.
On July 21, Houston at Chicago, the Cubs were up 1-0 in the bottom of the 7th when Lilly was allowed to bat for himself with one out, none on. Feliz led off the top of the eighth with a home run to tie the game. The Astros won 4-1 in 12.
July 21 marked the third time in seven weeks that Lilly stayed on the mound too long and gave up a key home run in the eighth inning. The other two games were June 1 (Cubs at Pirates, Pirates win 3-2 on Walker 2-run HR in 8th) and June 8 (see above). All three outings ended with Lilly handing the ball to Piniella and walking to the dugout to whatever ovation is merited when a gritty starting pitcher has just surrendered a hard-earned lead. May I generalize and say that Piniella thinks that this is the dignified way for a starter to exit a closely contested game, and not via pinch hitter while he is seated on the bench?
On August 7, Reds at Cubs, the score was 1-1 in the bottom of the 7th when Wells was allowed to bat for himself. Hill was on first with one out. Wells bunted into a force and the Cubs did not score. Stubbs homered leading off the eighth, and Wells allowed another single and a walk before being lifted, having thrown 83 pitches. The Reds scored another run that was charged to Wells, and then a fourth run in the ninth off Marmol, and hung on 4-3 after the Cubs rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth.
August 25 (Cubs at Washington) was not the only time that Quade pinch hit for a starting pitcher late in a game. On September 21, Giants at Cubs, Zambrano was pinch-hit for after throwing 116 pitches in 6 innings in a 0-0 game. The Giants won 1-0 on a Posey homer off Cashner in the 8th.
On September 27, Cubs at Padres, the score was 0-0 when DeWitt drove in a run in the top of the 7th to give the Cubs the lead. One out later, Zambrano batted for himself and struck out with a man on third and two out. Zambrano pitched the bottom of the inning to get to 109 pitches, but was not given the ball in the 8th. Marshall and Marmol closed out the 1-0 win.
On September 30, Cubs at Padres, the score was 0-0 after six when Scales batted for Gorzellany (89 pitches) and struck out. The Cubs scored in the ninth to win, 1-0.
After citing these examples, I would say that Piniella liked to have his veteran starters end a game in a certain way, by handing the ball to the manager on the mound, with the in-bound reliever usually involved in a double-switch. This preference seems to have limited Lou’s ability to manage late-game situations both offensively and defensively; and it may also have put extra pressure on his young relievers, those “first responders” who were called upon in the 7th and 8th innings after the starters made their exit mid-inning, invariably leaving men on base. It’s well known that the rookie relievers who had failed Piniella were more successful under Quade. Some allowance must be made for talented rookies inevitably improving; but might some of that success not be attributable to Quade giving them the ball at the start of an inning, with nobody on base?