What a way to start off the month of June, for both the Chicago Cubs and for Alfonso Soriano, a leadoff homerun is always a nice way to begin a game. However, the next three batters all make outs, so you have to take the good with the bad I suppose. As you can guess, I am doing a partial live blog, as I am writing this during the Cubs game with the Atlanta Braves, so I will have sections on my game thoughts during my current state of the Cubs post. Hopefully this will work out and make a good read for all my faithful readers. Anyway, on with the point of this article. In my opinion, the Cubs are looking like they could very well be in some trouble, but at the same time you cant really panic too much either. I will explain both side of the argument as I go on tonight. Speaking of going on, Randy Wells just completed a five pitch 1-2-3 inning, talk about your good ways to start a ballgame. Lets see if he can keep this up, and get his first win.
As things stand as of this writing, the Cubs are one game over the .500 mark, and stand four games out of first place. Granted, on paper, their record and number of games back does not seem that bad when you consider how much of the season there is left to play. Counting tonight’s game, the Cubs have 113 games left in their season. While there is still plenty of time to turn things around, there are some trends that are continuing to run their course which are very troubling. There are quite a few Cubs in the lineup, as well as on the bench, who have an obstacle or two that needs to be overcome in order for the Cubs to have success. While baseball is a team game, you need to have the individuals contribute on a consistent basis to ensure success. That is something that the Cubs are not doing regularly. After one and a half innings, the Cubs are leading 2-0. Congrats to Wells on getting both his first major league hit, and RBI. You have to love a pitcher who helps his own cause.
The first player on the list is veteran first baseman Derrek Lee. While he had a impressive month of May, hitting .313, his overall batting average is still at a measly .248. I know that when you start off slow, you will have to bust your *** in order to get your average and statistics back up to a respectable level. While you can look at last month as the possible start to Lee’s emergence back to a threat, other stats would tell you otherwise. Wells, by the way, just pitched another 1-2-3 inning, he is looking good early on. When you take a look at his splits with home verse road, his road stats are nothing short of embarrassing. He has a single homerun on the road, and is batting .196. With that coming in only 15 games, you have a small sample size, but you may also see this as a trend which will wind up hurting the team. If Lee continues to play poorly on the road, he wont be too much help in the heart of the order. That being the case, there isn’t much we can do about the situation. Lee is making $13 million dollars this year and next, so trading him will be all but impossible. Finding a team that is willing to take on a declining first baseman and his contract will not be easy. Even if you do find one, Lee still has to approve the trade in order for anything to work. With that being the case, you can all but count out a trade involving Lee. So you can bench him for Micah Hoffpauir if you wish, I will get back to that in a moment. The Cubs go down in order in the top of the third, but are still leading 2-0. Can Wells continue his gem of a game into the bottom of the inning? We will find out soon enough.
Lets talk second base, we have no real second baseman at the moment. Bobby Scales and Andres Blanco are the main second baseman until Aramis Ramirez returns from the DL. While both are playing decently, you are not getting the production out of either of them you would like. Both men, are light hitting infielders who will not give you much in terms of power. What else do you expect from two minor leaguers? That’s not to say that the Scales story is tarnished, I am happy for the guy that he finally made the big leagues. But he is not an every day player. We need someone who will hit for a good average, which he is not with his .239 average. Great story, but not a great player. Im sorry, but I have to be honest on this. Blanco is just as bad thus far in his career. After nine games he is hitting .111. He will likely get most of the starts at second, so he does have time to turn things around, but you cant like what you have seen from him offensively. He is your prototypical traditional shortstop, all glove and not bat. He has made some really nice defensive plays, but we need something better at the plate then what we are getting. What do you know, Wells pitches another 1-2-3 inning setting down the Braves in order in the bottom of the third.
Our shortstop, Ryan Theriot has cooled off after an impressive start, and has powered down after a powerful beginning to the month. Figures, Milton Bradley looks as though he injured his knee trying to leg out an infield single. He went into the clubhouse, and is likely out of the game. Looks like Reed Johnson will be going into the game. More on both of them later, back to Theriot. While he hit .317 in April, his average dropped to .273 for the month of May. Not a bad average by any means, but when he started to drive the ball with more power, his average has also fallen. I would rather have the Theriot we saw in April, high average and no power, then the mid average with average power. That’s just me though, you may feel differently. His range is also starting to trouble me, as there are times when you watch him play and you know he shouldn’t be a shortstop, as he doesn’t have a very powerful arm. Arm strength cant be helped, but his approach at the plate can be. We need him to go back to what he was doing in April. Well, the Cubs went down in order, a quick top of the fourth.
Filling in for Ramirez, is Mike Fontenot. His .224 average is nothing close to what we had hoped or planned to see out of him as a starter this year. He hit very poorly in April with a .232 average, only to follow that up with an even worse May hitting .216, and Wells hit second batter of the inning to give the Braves their first base runner. While his average is way down, so are his power numbers. He has not hit a homerun since May 3 against the Marlins. We expected more power and a much better average from Fontenot considering what we saw out of him in limited time last year. One could guess that Fontenot has been over exposed now that he is playing every game. This was a concern for a few people going into the season, although many Cub fans wanted to see him playing every day. Though looking back at last years stats, he never really showed much power to begin with, he only had big hits in key moments when he got a chance. Personally, making him an everyday starter is not looking like a smart decision. As far as the current game goes, after the hit batter, Wells got the next batter to hit into a double play to end the inning.
I don’t even want to start on Geovany Soto, but I can not allow him to go untouched. He has simply fallen fast and hard. He has put on a lot of weight, and just simply does not appear to have the same drive that he had last year. I don’t know what is wrong with Soto that is making him look like the player he was for most of his career in the minors, but he has definitely taken several steps backwards. He is nothing like what he was last year, which is also a key factor contributing to the Cubs poor play. Once again, the Cubs go down in order, and from the way things are going we may need Wells to continue pitching the way he is, as I don’t know if we will score another run. Back to Soto, the Cubs were heavily depending on him to be the player he was last year, and counting on similar numbers. They are not, and I fear will not, get those numbers from him. They need to find another place to get that production. Where that comes from, I have no idea
Our grand leadoff hitter, Soriano, isn’t so grand right now. Sure, he led off the game with a homerun, but overall his numbers are pretty damn pathetic. His batting average is in the mid-.200s, and he is getting on base, just above .300. Those are not the stats you want from the guy who is hitting in the first slot in the batting order. That being said, leading off a game he is still hitting above the .300 mark. That doesn’t make up for his poor average though, as we need him to be much better then he has been this month. He needs to heat things up in the month of June. While Ramirez is out best hitter (and all around player) the offense usually goes with Soriano. The better he plays, the better the Cubs offense works as a whole. That is why he must turn things on again, and break out of this funk that he is in. If he can not, the Cubs will be dead before Ramirez gets back. You can say move him out of the leadoff spot, but that may not even make a difference at this point. Maybe his homerun to start the game will get his motor running. Speaking of the game, Wells is through five, with the only base runner coming on a hit batter, who wasn’t really hit.
Bradley, who left the game with an strained muscle in the leg, looks as though he is starting to warm up as his average is slowly starting to rise up into the mid .200s. Considering how he started the season, that is a good sign. However, his leaving with an inured leg can not be a good sign, as he will be out for a few games at least. That’s not something you want to see with a player who is starting to heat up. As poorly as he looked to start the season, and as much as you wanted him out of the lineup in April; you want him in the lineup now that his bat is heating up. Hopefully he wont be out long.
Johnson and Kosuke Fukudome are both playing excellent ball, and I have no complaints for either one of them. Johnson will see more playing time with Bradley likely to miss time, and many fans will love that. Both men are swinging the bat very well, and could help jump start the on again, off again Cubs offense. Not much to say about these two, so I will leave things as they are.
That brings me to the minor league phenom duo of Hoffpauir and Jake Fox. Why am I combining these two players? Simple, they are more or less the same type of player. Both are listed as first baseman and outfielders. Fox has played at catcher and third in very limited chances, but he himself has said that he is basically lost when playing the field. Fox is a designated hitter in waiting, mainly because he is a defensive liability. Hoffpauir is another interesting case, as he is also a man with out a position. Neither one should be playing every day, for various reasons. Hoffpauir’s average when starting a game is in the mid to low .200s like most others in the starting lineup, but around .400 when he pinch hits. Just my two cents, take that as you will. Cubs score a couple more runs and now lead 4-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
That’s about all when you look at the offense, the pitching is another matter all together. We have gotten some tremendous pitching the entire month of May from the starters and bullpen alike. The Cubs got a lot of dominant pitched games from their starters, a lot of which got wasted on the last road trip with the lack of offense. The starters haven’t been the only pitchers to step up their games, the bullpen has also started to put things together. Everyone is starting to settle into their roles, and are starting to do what they are supposed to do. Granted, you have had a few ugly innings from members of the bullpen, but overall, they have looked good lately. Much like with Johnson and Fukudome, there is not much to complain about here. The pitching has spoken for themselves this month, and we need them to continue to do so. Even when our offense finally wakes up completely, we need our pitchers to continue to dominate the opposition. Speaking of pitching, Wells puts up another 1-2-3 inning on the Braves.
Well, I gave you reasons for concern, how about ending on a positive note. Honestly, that is hard to find. You could go back to last years schedule, but we were 16 games over .500 at this time last year (same day, but more games played) and we were in first by 3.5 games. Nothing much going on there. Cubs get a runner to second, but that’s where he stays. Time for the bottom of the seventh. However, go back two years, with Cubs Manager Lou Piniella’s first year with the team. The Cubs were nine games under, and 7.5 back. We all know how that regular season ended for our boys in blue. I know that this is a massive stretch, but you need to get a positive in there somewhere. Do I think the season is over, not at all. We should be cautiously optimistic, as I still believe we have a team that can win the division, or at very least the wild card. The Cubs have time to make up some ground, but things will not be easy. All I can say, is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Sadly, my blog will end here as the no hitter also came to an end with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Way to go Wells, you pitched a hell of a game. Now you just need to finish things off.