My oh my, what a couple of days we have just had here in the world of the Chicago Cubs. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Cubs have just won their fifth game in a row, which is their longest winning streak of the year. Also in these past few days, the judgment was finally made on Milton Bradley’s appeal of his two game suspension. Oh yeah, one more thing has happened, Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an article on steroids in baseball, and threw out Ryan Theriot’s name into the mix. These past few days have been something else, but in case you have been out of the loop, allow me to catch you up.
Lets start with Bradley’s suspension, since the news of this came out first. In the post game press conference of Thursday night’s win over the San Diego Padres, Cubs General Manager revealed that the empty suits in Major League Baseball have finally decided to share the ruling on Bradley’s appeal. Even though both Bradley, and the umpire Vanover agreed that there were no threats or foul language, the suspension was upheld, but reduced to only one game. I know the rules of baseball state that contact between a player and an umpire requires a suspension, but the contact that was made was so slight the suspension should not have been made. When the brim of a players helmet hit’s the bill of the umpire’s cap, that should not be considered contact. No matter how any of us feel, the suspension was carried out, and Bradley sat out today’s game against the Houston Astros.
I know what many of you are saying when you are talking about the suspension. Many of you are wondering why Bradley didn’t just take his suspension when he was injured and wasn’t playing, instead of going through the entire appeal process and then sitting out when he was fully healthy. First and foremost, I must admit that I agree with all of you who feel this way. While he wanted to stand up for himself, he needed to put the team ahead of his own self image. Everyone knew that the suspension and fine would not be eliminated completely. No matter how any of us feel, he did fight the suspension and he technically walked away with a victory in the hearing, though not the complete victory he was hoping for. He paid his debt to baseball, and now he can get on with his baseball life and get back to doing what he was paid to do. Help the Cubs win the world series. Hopefully now we can put this matter behind us for good and look forward.
Today the Cubs played the first game of their rain shortened series against the Astros. The first game of the series, which was scheduled to be played on Friday afternoon, was rained out, and will be made up in July. As I already stated, the Cubs won today, even with Bradley sitting out, to extend their winning streak to five games. Today’s game was a roller coaster ride all the way through. The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when the Cubs scored three times, which included a Micah Hoffpauir two run homer that followed a Derrek Lee RBI single. The score would remain that way until the eighth inning when Geovany Soto tacked on what would turn out to be a much needed run to give the Cubs a 4-0 lead heading into the ninth. All secure, or so you would have thought. The Cubs bullpen stepped up and delivered two back to back perfect innings by Angel Guzman and Carlos Marmol. All that would be left would be for Kevin Gregg to come in and get the final three outs. With a four run lead, the fans in the stadium were warming up their vocal chords to sing “Go Cubs Go”. However, they would have to wait a little longer then they would have liked to.
Gregg entered the game, and immediately gave up two solo homeruns on three pitches, and the Cubs lead was now cut in half. The next three men all reached base, two with hits and one by being hit by a pitch. So here we were, bases loaded and up by two runs with no outs. A nightmarish situation for any Cub fan to witness. After Gregg loaded the bases, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had seen enough and called Aaron Heilman out from the bullpen to try and fnish the game off. However, that would not be the case because on the first pitch Ivan Rodriguez singled scoring two men to tie the game. Heilman would get the next two men out before walking Michael Bourn to once again load the bases. Again, Piniella had seen enough and went to the pen again. This time, he called in lefty Sean Marshall to try and keep the game tied. Three pitches later, we were heading to the bottom of the ninth looking for that much needed walk off win.
The bottom of the ninth started out great for the Cubs. First we saw former Cub LaTroy Hawkins on the mound, Cub fans who unfortunately remember him knew this could only mean good things. For the Cubs, they had 31 year old rookie Bobby Scales stepping up to the plate, and he worked a full count, then drew a leadoff walk. Good things always tend to happen when you start off an inning with a walk. Aaron Miles was up next, and against my better judgment laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Scales over to second. I say against my better judgment because I was sure they would walk Alfonso Soriano with first base open and a runner at second. Thankfully, that was not the plan that Hawkins and the Astros had in mind. They pitched to Soriano, and that’s all we needed. After two quick strikes, Soriano popped a single into right field and Scales crossed home plate to score the winning run.
Gregg flat out sucked today, which will only add logs to the fire of fans who hate him, and want him out of the closers role. There are no words that I can give to even begin to defend Gregg at this point, because today’s game was inexcusable. How he could blow the game that badly is beyond me. For the past few games, he has been solid and actually looked like he had his job locked down, and then he goes out there and drops this disaster of an outing. The calls for Marmol to be the new closer are already starting, as are a few calls for Guzman to take the job. However, this game will not be the final nail in Gregg’s job as closer. He will have more chances to do the job before Piniella yanks him from the closers job.
Finally, Telander wrote an article on Friday about steroids, and brought up Theriot’s name. During the course of the article, he half heartedly accused Theriot of using steroids. However, he only brought up his name tongue in cheek, and only to make his point that now everyone in baseball should now be a suspect. The downside, he has now marked Theriot as a steroid user, even if he didn’t mean to, he has now tarnished Theriot’s career. Take a look at Theriot’s body and tell me he is a user. He is listed at 5’11” and around 170 pounds, yet he is going to have to walk around with the whispers of steroid use following him. Good job Telander, way to bring down someone to make a point. Just because he is performing above expectations, you had to single him out. Why not call out a slugger who at least looks like a possible candidate. Such players like Albert Pujols from the St. Louis Cardinals, or Ryan Howard from the Philadelphia Phillies. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying that they are users, but they would fit the image of a steroid abuser more then Theriot ever could.
Like I said, these past few days have been crazy, and a lot has gone down. I am sure things will continue to get crazy throughout the season, after all, this wouldn’t be a Cubs season without a lot of craziness following the team around, don’t you agree?
The first order of business is settling on who will fill in the final spots of the bullpen. This is a very tricky situation, because there we will lose at very least one of the four players who are in competition. In case you don’t know who they are: the four pitchers are Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, David Patton and Jeff Samardzija. Two of the pitchers are out of options, Guzman and Gaudin, and can not be sent to the minor leagues unless they clear waivers. That is something that I can guarantee they will not do, some team will claim them and you do not want to lose either of them for nothing. Samardzija can be sent to the minors, but his stuff might be needed in the majors. However at the same time, he might be ticketed for the minors in order to be stretched out as a starter if he is needed during the season. Patton is another interesting case, as he was the Rule 5 draft pick that we bought from the Cincinnati Reds who drafted him from the Colorado Rockies.
If Patton does not spend the entire year on the 25 man roster, he has to be offered back to the Rockies unless a trade can be worked out. The downside to Patton, is that while he is looking great early on, you have to keep in mind that he is doing everything in Spring Training. Another concern is that he has never pitched above A ball. Making that big of a jump is not something that usually happens. One possible scenario, which has been floated around in the newspapers and on some sports talk radio, is the Cubs may try and trade Gaudin along with some cash to the Rockies for the rights to Patton which would allow them to send him to the minors and get some work in. This would also allow them to keep Samardzija and Guzman on the 25 man roster to start the season. What the Cubs decide to do with the final two spots is anyone’s guess, and the decision will be a difficult one to make. If the choice was mine, I would not know what to do. Samardzija has the talent and power we need in the bullpen and Gaudin has the ability to be a decent option in long relief for us. However Guzman and Patton would both be lost unless something could be worked out. The decision will likely come down after Cubs Manager Lou Piniella sees how they work out in the final two games of the Spring, which are against the New York Yankees.
All signs are pointing to Piniella having his mind set on a starting lineup, which will alternate right and left handed bats all the way down. We know that Alfonso Soriano will bat leadoff as he has always done, and Kosuke Fukudome will follow in the second slot. The heart of the order will consist of Derrek Lee, followed by Milton Bradley and then Aramis Ramierez. This is where his lineup takes an odd twist, and people wonder if he is trying too hard to stick to the pattern. Mike Fontenot will bat in the sixth slot and be followed by Geovany Soto who will bat seventh with Ryan Theriot rounding out the lineup batting eighth. I know that managers like keeping pitchers on their toes, and making it difficult for managers late in games to bring in a relief pitcher to deal with a string of hitters who will come up from the same side of the plate. However I think that Piniella might be stretching things just a little bit. Soto should be hitting no worse then sixth, who cares if you have a fifth and sixth hitter who are both right handed. The upside to this, is that Soto should have plenty of opportunity for RBIs. So to recap, the batting order will be Soriano, Fukudome, Lee, Bradley, Ramierez, Fontenot, Soto and Theriot. Your thoughts?
My final concern, is that we only really have one back up infielder on the bench. I don’t count Micah Hoffpauir as an infielder due to his ability to only play first base. That leaves us with Aaron Miles as the sole infielder on the bench. This may not be a huge deal on the surface, however the bench seems just a little light. This is all due to Piniella’s love of carrying the extra pitcher in the bullpen. This may never be a big issue, or there may be a need in game somewhere down the line where one of our infielders gets injured in the middle innings of a game. If this happens, Miles will go in for them, and we are out of infielders. Last year we have Fontenot and Ronny Cedeno on the bench for infield depth, while only carrying four outfielders, two of which could play all three positions. The 2008 club also had Ward on the bench who, like Hoffpauir, plays first base and a corner outfield slot. This time around, the Cubs decided to take an extra outfielder in Joey Gathright instead of the extra infielder. Hopefully this decision doesn’t come back to bite them in the ***.
I know that every team in baseball has question marks, worries and concerns, but these seem to be issues to keep your eye on. Maybe they will find a way to keep all four arms that are in the race for the final bullpen slots. Who knows, maybe Piniella’s alternating lineup will be a huge success, making our offense one of the best in baseball yet again. With the backup infield situation, maybe the need for that extra man on the bench will never come up. Like everything else, only time will tell what decisions that are made will work out, and which ones wont. Dissecting every choice that is made will only give you a headache in the long run, but there is always room for discussion and disagreements. This year for the Cubs, there are bound to be a countless number of decisions Piniella makes which we will be sure to disagree with and get mad at. Why should these be any different.