The Padres exercise their option on Adrian Gonzalez

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First the news: The Padres exercised 1B Adrian Gonzalez’s $5.5 million option for 2011. The only time Jed Hoyer had a decision easier than this was the time that guy asked him if he’d rather have delicious chocolate cake or a knee to the groin.  He probably decided on the Gonzalez option even quicker, actually. There will always be more cake, after all. A stud first baseman for that price doesn’t come around very often.

But that’s not really why I’m posting this. I’m posting it because Adrian Gonzalez represents everything that went wrong last offseason.

Beloved players with bargain contracts are supposed to be traded away before they get expensive. Or at least they’re supposed to be given the cold shoulder by their current club so as to ensure that the Yankees and Red Sox of the world signed them.  By keeping Gonzalez last year and teasing their fans with a season of high quality baseball and hope — hope! — until the very last day, the Padres disturbed the natural order of things.

Look San Diego: the other baseball writers and I have a lot of content in the can for these situations. We’re supposed to be writing the trade rumor stories now. By January we’re supposed to be writing the “well, the [Yankees/Red Sox] bought another title” column.  In March we’re supposed to bury you for your cheapness and complete lack of playoff chances.  On Opening Day we write about how to fix baseball so there’s actual parity in it instead of the usual hope and despair for all but the richest of the rich.  By holding on to Gonzalez last year and having the gall to contend, you screwed all of that up.

So, if you could, get back to the program, will ya?

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.