With an unimpressive series win against the Pittsburg Pirates, a series which should have been a sweep, the Chicago Cubs make news for a few reasons. A number of players are slated to return by the start of next week, players who could be of great help to the ball club. Speaking of help coming, the Cubs have traded for yet another young middle infielder, as they try once again to find a man to play second base who can give them some production. Right now, the Cubs are entering a very critical point in their season, as they play 11 games, eight of which are with the two teams at the top of the division, the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The series with the Brewers, not to use an old and tiring cliché, is the biggest series of the season to date. With the Cubs currently sitting in fourth place, and three and a half games behind the division leaders, this series looms large With a sweep of the Brew Crew, the Cubs would find themselves a half game ahead of the Brewers. However, even with a sweep, the Cubs would be unlikely to be in first place at the end of the weekend, with the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds playing one another in a series starting on Friday. The pitching match up would seem to favor the Cubs in each game, but with the deep slumber the Cubs offense has been in, that may not matter. The Brewers have a good offense, and while their pitchers are less then stellar, they could very well keep our hitters in check. If the Cubs do get swept, they will be an unthinkable seven and a half games out of first place. If that happens, the Cubs must wave the white flag and start looking towards next year, and tell Aramis Ramirez to do what he needs to do in order to get ready for the 2010 season.
Speaking of Ramirez, currently, the Cubs have three players on the disabled list who are all scheduled to come off around the same time, which is Monday July 6, when a series with the Atlanta Braves us scheduled to begin. As I mentioned, the Cubs have Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman, all of which are on the 15 day disabled list, are making progress and becoming closer to returning to the 25 man roster. These three men have been key components to our team, and have been sorely missed. With their returns, the Cubs will be as close to full strength as they have been in a long time, which cant hurt their chances.
With Johnson’s return, we will get back a quality outfielder, who will allow Piniella to give more days off to struggling outfielders Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley. Johnson is a fan favorite, who is well loved because of his willingness to sacrifice his body to make a play; which is something we have seen on more then one occasion. With his return, we can expect that Piniella will continue the platoon he had implemented for most of the season, with Johnson playing centerfield on days the Cubs play against a left handed pitcher. Most fans would rather see him have an every day job, but him back in part time duty will more then likely be a big boost to this ball club. When Johnson returns, this likely means that newly called up Sam Fuld will be sent back down to the minors, The only other option, would be to come up with a phantom injury to one of the other outfielders.
The Cubs bullpen has been a very inconsistent piece of the team, and one reason why they have struggled lately. With Guzman going down to injury, the bullpen took a big hit. The man the Cubs have been waiting for had finally seemed to be putting things together, and pitching the way everyone thought he would. If he is able to continue to pitch the way he was before his injury, the Cubs bullpen gets a lot stronger, giving Piniella another late inning option to help the Cubs keep the lead. If Carlos Marmol continues to inconsistency, Guzman can easily slide into the eighth inning hole, allowing Marmol to slide into a less stressful inning. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of two pitchers. Either Kevin Hart or Jeff Samardzija will be optioned back to the minors.
That brings us to the more important player of the group, who is scheduled to play in some minor league games this weekend. Without a doubt, the most important player for the Cubs, Ramirez has been the more costly loss. The Cubs third baseman has been lost since early May, and the Cubs offense has suffered without him, scoring a run less a game on average. While he is the Cubs bet hitter, I fear some fans may be expecting too much of him on his return, and expect him to be a savior for this ball club. However, Ramirez came out with some troubling comments in the paper this morning. When talking about rejoining the Cubs, Ramirez had this to say, “It’s going to be hard the rest of the year because I’m not even close to being where I want to be, it’s still sore and it’s going to be like that — some days good, some days bad.” That is a problematic quote from the Cubs slugger. He still says that he isn’t close, which means we may not see what we are used to out of him. I still believe that he should be shut down for the remainder of the year, so he can get ready for next year. Though, if the Cubs are able to make up some ground against the Brewers in a four game series that starts tonight, his coming back may be worth the effort. When he is activated, you can say goodbye to one of a few young Cubs. Either Andres Blanco or Jake Fox will likely be sent back down. Either one would be a tough loss as Fox has impressed with the bat and Blanco has made stellar plays with his glove. Another possibility, though a long shot, would be to send down Mike Fontenot who has failed to impress all season, and hasn’t come close to meeting expectations.
Speaking of roster moves, the Cubs made a very minor deal today. They traded away young Double A pitcher Al Alburquerque to the Colorado Rockies for second baseman Jeff Baker. If you ask me, this is a waste of a move, as he is just another version of some of the players we already have, On the season, he is hitting just .130, however that is just in 12 games. In his career he is hitting just .250, albeit in under 600 at bats. Yeah, he is still trying to figure out the game, and still trying to put the pieces together for his major league career, but at the moment I don’t see much upside to this trade. I hope that he proves me wrong, and that he figures things out. But at the moment, I am not impressed with this move, and they just made a move to make a move.
The series with the Brewers will begin in less then a half hour, we need to do no worse then a split. Winning three of four would be preferred, as would a sweep obviously, but losing the series is unacceptable. Come on Cubs, go out there and beat the Brewers. End the first half on a high note.