With the start of Spring Training only days away, the fans of the Chicago Cubs can finally look forward to the 2010 season. After everything that went wrong with the previous years ball club, Cub fans were left with a bitter aftertaste in their mouths, and need a reason to believe that this year will be different. That is what Spring Training is all about, a fresh start and a new beginning. After last season, Cub fans everywhere are looking for just that. While most of the positions are already set, and locked in, there will still be some good competition that all fans should want to keep an eye on.
Lets start with the only competition that will be taking place for a starting job. That competition is for the starting second baseman’s job. There are two men who have their eye’s on the prize for this job, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker. Many fans would see Baker as the odds on favorite to win the job after he performed so well after the Cubs acquired him in a trade from the Colorado Rockies. He finished the year with a .288 batting average, but hit over .300 for the Cubs with a .362 on base percentage. Those are some pretty good statistics for a second baseman and, I for one, would not be too upset if he was the one to leave camp as the starter. The only problem I have with this, is I am unsure how much trust to put in Baker to continue to play the way he played last year. We fans, and management, have been fooled more times than we would like to admit when looking at a player who put up half of a good season. Need an example? Just look at Baker’s competition in Fontenot.
One reason why Fontenot might get the nod as the every day starter at second base, is because he is a left handed bat. If he isn’t starting the game, the Cubs have only one left handed hitter in the lineup. However, if we learned anything last year, we learned that Fontenot might not be starter material. In 2008, Fontenot put up some amazing stats considering he was only being used in part time play. What he was able to do in limited time, made Cub fans crave to see him getting more starts. That desire to see him get more time, also helped the Cubs decide to trade fan favorite Mark DeRosa. Last year though, Fontenot got his chance at starting, and we watched him fail to provide what we needed him to give us. In 16 more games, and getting 134 more at bats, Fontenot saw his batting average fall from .305 to .236. Management had also thought we would see him deliver more power with more time, that too failed to meet expectations. He only hit nine homeruns, the same amount he hit the previous year, while driving in only three more runs. Fontenot is a prime example of why you should not want to see a half year stud, taking over an every day job.
One of the other competitions that will be taking place, is for the fifth outfielder’s job. The starting outfield is already set with Alfonso Soriano in left field, Kosuke Fukudome in right field and Marlon Byrd patrolling center field. Newly signed Xavier Nady will be the fourth outfielder and will be backing up both Fukudome and Soriano. That leaves three outfielders competing for the fifth outfielder. Those players are Micah Hoffpauir, Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin. While I like the versatility of both Colvin and Fuld, who can play all three outfield positions, I would give the nod to Hoffpauir myself, as he would be a welcomed left handed power bat off the bench. While Hoffpauir’s statistics are nothing to get excited about, he would provide more of a threat off the bench than either Colvin or Fuld.
In all honesty, I would say that this job would come down to Hoffpauir and Fuld, with Colvin being sent back down to the minors. While he is still in development, I would rather see Colvin get at bats everyday, something he wont be able to do in the major leagues. You don’t want a young player wasting away on the bench in the major leagues, let him continue to grow and play ball in the minors. While I said I would give the nod to Hoffpauir, don’t count out Fuld making the team. One of the competitions that will be taking place for the infield spots may actually work in Fuld’s favor, and give him a better chance of breaking camp with the team.
The battle for the infield bench jobs will also have the most competition. There are only two jobs open on the bench for backup infielders, with four players vying for them. The four men are Kevin Millar, Chad Tracy, Andres Blanco and whoever does not win the starting second base job between Baker and Fontenot. This competition will likely be watched the closest, as there are many things to factor in when filling the voids. Blanco is the only man in the group that can backup the Short Stop position. Yes, there is Sterlin Castro, but I am not considering him. I will get to him at a later date. Because of him being the only viable backup to Ryan Theriot at short, I feel he would have to be a lock to make the team. He is aso able to play second base.
If Blanco is a lock to make the team, as I think he should, that leaves Fontenot or Baker competing with Tracy and Millar for the final spot. With these three men in competition you need to factor in the Ramirez effect. The Cubs current third baseman rarely plays the whole season, and usually missed a chunk of games every year. The team needs someone who can back up Ramirez. While all four men can play third base, Tracy would be the best at the position. He can also back up Derrek Lee at first base, which would make Hoffpauir less of a necessity, meaning he could be sent down to the minors and Fuld could make the squad.
Management has come out and said that Millar and Tracy will be competing with one another for a bench job , which could mean that there could be a trade towards the end of Spring Training involving the odd man out in this competition. If Blanco makes the team, which I believe he should, who ever doesn’t win the second base job could likely be traded.
The problem with Tracy, is he doesn’t exactly have a great bat. His offensive production has fallen off dramatically since his first couple of years in the majors. So with Tracy you need to figure out what you need more. Do you need a good bat of the bench, or do you need a dependable replacement for Ramirez if he is forced to miss some time?
Millar is another issue, because like Tracy his offense is nowhere near what you would want in a bench player. However, he can play both corner infield spots, and if you are a believe in clubhouse chemistry there wouldn’t be a better man to add to the mix. I am not sure if I would pick him to beat out the other three candidates, but maybe he surprises everyone and pulls an ace out of his pocket.
With Ted Lilly possibly missing the first month of the season, there will be an extra spot in the pitching rotation. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells will lead the rotation, with the Cubs needing at least one more pitcher to fill out the rotation. With the month of April spreading out games and usually having a good number of off days, you wont really need a fifth starter until April 18 against the Houston Astros. Lilly said that he was targeting the middle of April for his return, so there may not be a need for a fifth start, which would be the best thing for the Cubs.
However, there will still be a need for a fourth starter until then, and that pitcher will become the fifth starter once Lilly returns. The likely candidates are Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva. If I were to put my money on one of them, I would nominate Gorzelanny to fill out the rotation. For one, he is a lefty, something the rotation will lose with Lilly being out. But why him over Marshall? That is an easy one. While Marshall has never gotten an extended look in the starters role, he hasn’t been able to show that he belongs as a starter, over the role we are used to seeing him in, and that is as an excellent arm coming out of the bullpen.
Silva was brought in, but his recent track record does nothing to inspire you that he would be anything better than what he has been the past four years. While he is likely to make the team, he might be demoted to the bullpen and mop up duty if he is unable to show any signs of improvement.
The one pitcher who might surprise people is Samardzija, though I am not ready to put my faith in him. Various reports from the Cubs player development staff have stated that he has shown a lot of good progress. If he has grown into the starters role, than he could give Gorzelanny some good competition, though I think I would rather see him sent to the minors to continue to work on his mechanics and developing a new pitch or two.
The bullpen is the final spot where we will see a lot of competition. Though, much like with the starting pitcher competition, there are the likely favorites. We already know that Carlos Marmol will be the closer, and Angel Guzman and Jeff Grabow will be the likely setup men. Others who are likely to make the squad are Jeff Gray, and if he doesn’t make the rotation Marshall. That leaves two spots in the bullpen for four other candidates. The most likely candidates are, Justin Berg, Esmailin Caridad, John Gaub, and Jeff Stevens. However, both Samardzija and Silva might also be in competition for the bullpen spots. This will be the most important competition in camp. The better your bullpen is, the better your team will be. For the final two spots, I have no idea who I see making the team. Whoever wins those last two spots will have earned them with this crowd that is in competing.
Well, hope springs eternal Cub fans, and this Spring Training is bound to give you all a lot of hope. Everything begins on February 17 when pitchers and catchers report.
With only three weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report for the Chicago Cubs, the roster is getting a minor overhaul, with a few new additions being added into the mix. While Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry hasn’t gone out and signed the top names in the market to improve the club, as he did in years past, he has added some much needed role-players who will shore up some of the much overlooked spots in the Cubs roster last year. Sure, you look at the names that have been added to the mix this year, nothing jumps out at you, but sometimes the smaller things are what make the biggest difference.
Within two days, the Cubs added in two players who will be a big help to their chances in 2010. Tuesday afternoon, they reached a deal with outfield Xavier Nady, who will make the roster as the teams fourth outfielder. Today, they signed former Arizona Diamondback infielder Chad Tracy to a minor league contract. Both these additions, while minor, will have a great impact on the stability of the ball club, making them more competitive and ready for a disaster. Something they were not ready for last season. While their signings are a welcome site to some Cub fans, to other players on the team, they are just another roadblock to over come.
For the past month, when word broke that the Cubs were still looking to add one more bat to the bench and one more arm for the bullpen. The most popular names being mentioned for the bench were former Cub, Reed Johnson, former Chicago White Sox player Jermaine Dye, former Tampa Bay Ray, Jonny Gomes and Nady. Obviously by now we know that Nady was the man chosen. With his signing, all signs were pointing to Sam Fuld being the odd man out, simply because the Cubs needed Micah Hoffpauir on the active roster to back up first baseman Derrek Lee. I feel that Nady was the right choice out of the group. He is a lot younger than Dye, and has more power than Johnson. With Gomes reportedly looking to rejoin the Cincinnati Reds, Nady was the best choice available. While he is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, reports from scouts say that Nady is now throwing the ball over 150 feet, and with a month left until Spring Training, he has plenty of time to continue building up his arm strength.
With Nady in the books, most fans were under the impression that the Cubs were done looking for position players and would focus on their search for a relief pitcher. However, we were thrown for a surprise this afternoon when the announcement of Tracy’s signing was made public. This move was essential, as the Cubs now have an actual bench player who is able to backup Aramis Ramirez at third base. The problem (at least for the trio of Andres Blanco, Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker) is that now the team has one extra outfielder and has to decide which one will be shipped out to the minors, or in a trade. If I had to chose which infielder to ship out, I would have to tell Fontenot that his time is up. They can not get rid of Blanco, who is the only player currently on the 25 man roster who can back up Ryan Theriot at short stop. Blanco can also backup whoever wins the second base job, which means the choice should be between Fontenot and Baker. The interesting thing about the Tracy signing, is that he can also back up Lee at first base, which makes Hoffpauir less of a necessity to carry on the active roster, and opens the door for Fuld to be brought back, as he can play all three outfield spots.
With these two additions, five current players are now wondering about their future with the club. The two odd men out be shipped out in a trade, or sent to the minors for an insurance policy Either way, apparently the team will now have some real battles for positions in Spring Training just took on new life, as no bench role is seemingly promised to anyone, except for possibly Nady. In the outfield, we will see Hoffpauir and Fuld trying to beat out the other to be the fifth outfielder, but don’t forget about Tyler Colvin. He will be in Spring Training as well, though has to be seen as a long shot to make the team. As far as the infield battle goes, there are two separate position battles. First, Fontenot and Baker will each try to out do the other to win the starting second base job. The one who doesn’t win the job will join Blanco and newly acquired Tracy for the two backup infield jobs. Starlin Castro will also be making an appearance in Spring Training, though he should be considered a long shot at best to make the team out of camp. If he does, Theriot will be moved to second base, and the Cubs will have four players competing for two spots.
Spring Training just got a lot more interesting, and the Cubs are seemingly far better prepared for disaster. How you can be overly disappointed in these moves are beyond me. Are Nady and Tracy standout All-Stars? Not by any means. However, they will be key contributors to the success of the 2010 Cubs.
While no one knows for sure what moves will be made to prepare for the 2010 Chicago Cubs, I can make one guarantee. No matter what moves the Cubs make, there will be a large percentage of fans upset that one of their favorite players will no longer be with the club, at least not on the opening day roster. Unfortunately, there are not enough positions, or bench roles on the club for everyone’s favorite players. The fans want the players that they are currently watching have some success, but ultimately, most of these young players will likely be forced to start the season in Triple A. Before I go into my in-depth looks at the various openings in the Cubs roster, I think fans need to realize the difficulty of making decisions with what the team already has.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Cubs have a tremendous amount of outfielders. While having more then you need is better then the alternative of having too few, the decisions that will be made will send shockwaves through the fan base, and upset a good majority of fans. One thing that we know for sure, is that Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will both be brought back as the starting outfielders, and Milton Bradley will be traded at some point this winter. The problem lies with who will fill in the final three voids in the outfield.
With Reed Johnson entering free agency at the end of the year, there are many fans who will be demanding the Cubs re-sign him. Sounds easy enough, sign him to a deal, and let the rest of the pieces fall into place. Fair enough, but then there are only two slots left. Who else should make the team? Fans love the way that Sam Fuld plays, and they have seemingly fallen in love with recent call-up Tyler Colvin. If you want both of them on the roster, then you can more less kiss Jake Fox goodbye. You cant keep him if you want Johnson, Fuld and Colvin. What about Micah Hoffpauir then? Fans want to see him on the team as well. If you take him, who do you leave off? Five current players for three slots, you don’t have to be a genius to do the math, they wont all fit. The solution? Let Colvin and Hoffpauir head back to the minors where they will be able to play everyday. Case solved, or is this only the beginning of the problem?
Everyone knows that the Cubs will be doing everything in their power to trade Bradley to get him as far away from the team as possible. The outfield problem gets all the more difficult if the Cubs get another outfielder back in the deal, or if they sign a free agent bat. If either of these are the case, then the choices for your outfield get more frustrating, for the management staff of the Cubs, and for fans who will get even more upset that their team is not keeping another one of their favorite youngster on the active 25 man lineup. With the possibility of the team adding an outfielder from outside the organization, you know have only two open slots for the outfield. Do you want to re-sign Johnson? If so, then management and fans will have to make a tough decision between Fuld and Fox, unless you want to add Colvin and Hoffpauir into the mix as well. Five players for two slots, there will be plenty of fans who will be upset that one of their choices will not make the team leaving Spring Training.
If you thought that the outfield would be the extent of the tough choices, wait until you see the infield situation. With Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Theriot all but guaranteed to keep their starting jobs, there are three spots left. There is the need for a second baseman, and two backup infielders, one of which will be Aaron Miles, unless he is traded. The easiest solution would be to have Jeff Baker playing second base, and picking through the remaining players to be the final infield backup spot. The players to choose between would then be Andres Blanco, who is out of options, and Mike Fontenot. If you wanted, you could keep Fox over these two, then most problems are solved. The team could keep Johnson and Fuld, depending on if they bring in a free agent or make a trade for an outfielder, they might even be able to keep Colvin. Case closed, everyone wins right? Not so fast.
Much like with the outfield situation, the Cubs could very easily sign a free agent to come in to play second base. That makes the infield problem all the more difficult. The choice for one spot is between Baker, Fontenot and Blanco, add Fox in if you want to keep both Johnson and Fuld. An easy solution would be to try and trade Miles, then the team could be able to keep two of these players, as well as having a second baseman. Having Baker and Fox as the backups would be nice, but missing the defense of Blanco would hurt.
The only way everyone’s favorite position players can make the team, is if the Cubs do not try to trade for or sign any players at all. Then they can have an outfield of: Soriano, Johnson and Fukudome, with backups of Fuld and Fox. The infield would be: Lee, Baker, Theriot and Ramirez, backed up by Blanco and Fontenot (assuming they would trade Miles). With Cub’s manager Lou Piniella likely to carry seven bullpen pitchers as he always does, the team only has room for five back up players, counting the backup catcher. That’s a decent team, but would you consider this team to be championship material? I am not so sure.
Something has to give among the fans demands. They all want the Cubs to go out and sign this player or that player, but also to keep all these other players. With the roster being limited at 25 players, the fans must be willing to accept any and all moves that are going to be made. They can not keep everyone they want to, as well as add everything they think they need. There just isn’t enough room on a 25 man roster to sooth everyone’s wants and demands. The fans must ask themselves one question, do you want to add bigger or better players, or do you want the young guns to get the playing time? Pick your side and stick to what you decide. You cant have everything.
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.
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.
At long last, the torture is over for Chicago Cub fans, at least for now that is. Since I posted my blog last night, several pieces of exciting news have come into existence. First and foremost, the Cubs snapped their eight game losing streak by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 in a rain shortened game. The second half of the news is something several Cub fans have been waiting for. Jake Fox has finally been recalled to the big leagues to take his place on the 25 man roster. Along with Fox, the Cubs brought up shortstop Andres Blanco and left handed pitcher Jason Waddell. With three promotions, there have to be three players being sent out. Bobby Scales and Neal Cotts have both been optioned to the minors while Aaron Miles has been placed on the 15 day disabled list.
For the second straight night, the Cubs scored a boatload of runs against the Pirates. The difference is, this time the starting pitcher, Sean Marshall, was able to limit the Pirates to a single run, with Mother Nature coming in for the save in the top of the sixth. Hey, I will take a win anyway I can get one. The Cubs totaled eight hits in the five innings, and even though Milton Bradley was 0-1, he drew two walks and scored a run. The MVP of the game though, goes to Marshall who pitched the five innings, while also driving in a run to help his own cause. The broke the losing streak, but now they need to start a new streak, a winning streak and start gaining on the teams ahead of them in the standings.
Ok, my short game blurb is over and done, the exciting news that Fox has finally been called up is too exciting to ignore. Fox is currently the hottest and best hitter in the minor leagues, and is leading in all triple crown categories. He can play just about anywhere you ask, much like former Cub Mark DeRosa. Fox has spend time and the corner spots in both the infield and outfield, as well as some time at catcher this year in the minors. If he is able to hit anywhere near as good in the majors as he was in the minors, the Cubs offense got a much needed bat. Because he has spent time at third base, we can assume that he will be the everyday third baseman until Aramis Ramirez comes back.. That is, of course, unless Fox fails miserably with the bat or the glove at third. For the time being, he is the answer Cub fans have been waiting for.
Blanco gets a chance to play in the majors as well, but only when Ryan Theriot needs a day off. Blanco has only played short stop in the minors, so hoping he could fill in elsewhere is a bit of a stretch. However, he is also doing a great job with the bat in the minors, and will give the Cubs another switch hitter to use off the bench.
Now, time for me to celebrate a bit, as Cotts has finally been shown the door as he was sent down to the minors. No one in the bullpen has been as frustrating to me as Cotts has been since his arrival on the team. He has been nothing short of a disaster every time he gets the call to pitch an inning. No tears will be shed by myself, nor likely any other Cub fan with his demotion to Triple A. Goodbye Cotts, good luck in the minors. Enough of that, taking his place is Waddell, who while he is not performing as well as one would hope, he is not Cotts. While Waddell had a great deal of success in Spring Training, his season in the minors has been less then spectacular. Currently he is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA, which isn’t that great. But again, he is not Cotts, so Cub fans will be happy to see him. The left handed Waddell is better against right handed batters (.205 BA) then he is against left handed batters (.346) which should trouble fans. However, he is worth giving a chance to, and fans will cheer him at his very first appearance. Because he is not Cotts.
Sadly, some players had to go who will be missed. No, I am not talking about Cotts. I am talking about Scales, who was sent back down to the minors today to make room for the trio of players who were activated. His story is one Cub fans will remember, as well as the effort he put forth with his every chance. Everyone knew his time here would be limited, but I have a feeling some will miss him. You never know, he may be brought back up at some point, likely is Blanco, Fox or Ryan Freel fails to have success. Word is, that Scales was sent down, not because of effort or production, but because he is sick and wasn’t able to play. At any rate, I wish him well; I hope to see him back in the big leagues at some point, even if he isn’t with the Cubs.
Miles also was sent out, however his will likely be more temporary. He has apparently been playing with a sore shoulder all season, so the Cubs used this opportunity to put him on the DL and bring up someone who could be of more help to the team at the moment. Miles wasn’t playing that well, so I doubt many fans will miss him while he is gone.
Well fans, we got the changes that we all wanted. Now, we just have to wait and see if these moves pay off. Some dead weight has been cut, with some new blood now being allowed to circulate. The new Cubs team will take the field today in just over an hour. Lets go get two in a row.