The White Sox played the most bunt-filled game of their young season this week in Oakland. Wednesday's awful getaway-day loss saw six bunts called by manager Robin Ventura, with results ranging from effective to disastrous.
There were single and double base runner sacrifices, and a hideously botched suicide or safety squeeze (depending on your interpretation of Ventura's awkward postgame comments).
Growing up a baseball fan and observer, I gave all managers the benefit of the doubt on bunt strategy. They know better than me, and hey, small ball works. Whitey Herzog's 1980s Cardinals won plenty. But research, emerging wisdom, and my own strategic predilections have evolved.
Sabremetricians often militantly decry the sacrifice of an out as deeply, unforgivably egregious. That's too simplistic. Not all bunts are uniformly bad. Let's say it's late in a one-run game with nobody out, and a runner on first (not capable of stealing a base on his own) is bunted into scoring position by a marginal batter. I will never raise a quarrel. Get that man over, and give yourself two shots at driving him in with a base hit. The same stands for two runners in a two-run game.
But if a runner is already on second base to start an inning, and an out is conceded to move him to third, I now take issue where I once did not. I'd much rather see a team have three shots to get that man home with a base hit. The nine ways a player can score from third base without a hit had been drilled into my baseball conscience (Google it if you like). But the odds are simply higher that one of the next three hitters will get a single or better.
I find myself in familiar territory as a militant centrist on a baseball issue. The game allows for subtlety and nuance; no need to carve out polar viewpoints on bunting as a rule, refusing to see specific context.
What matters for Cubs fans
It's just three weeks into the season, and already scanning results of Cubs games can bring a sigh of resignation. They're one of the worst teams in baseball. This season was always going to be about much more than the active roster though, and results in rebuilding year No. 1 are fairly low on my list of concerns. The installation of a new regime demands we look deeper.
I now offer a short, incomplete selection of items that actually matter in what will probably be a 95-loss season. In what will hopefully be JUST a 95-loss season.
• The evolution of Starlin Castro. If television coverage offered me a Castro iso-cam, most nights I'd just watch that. Is he better at positioning and more attentive?
• The minor-league progress of Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo, in anticipation of the moment they arrive. I follow Iowa Cubs results, and watch their highlights online. Join me.
• Disseminating truth in the emergence of the former Notre Dame wide receiver. I've had Jeff Samardzija fatigue for a few years, but it's elevated to Samardzija drowsiness, with downright perkiness on the horizon. He has changed his pitch selection patterns drastically, and looks these days like a viable starter.
The continued possibility that Darwin Barney is a capable, roster-worthy second baseman. He's smart, bigger this year, dependable, and just may still be a Cub if/when things get good.
Enjoying the ballpark on a beautiful evening with your date, friend, or child. If you like going, then go.
It's possible to not just withstand a season like this, but to even derive pleasure from it. Broaden the scope and appreciate what you can. It helps if you close your eyes when Alfonso Soriano bats.
• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM, and The Score's "Hit and Run" at 9 a.m. Sundays with his Daily Herald colleague, Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670. Matt thinks a runner trying to score from first on a double into the gap is the most exciting play in baseball.