Tagged: Rich Harden

The Ex-Cub Factor in the 2010 Playoffs

The regular season for the 2010 campaign is now officially over, but that does not mean that your baseball world has to stop. While we, as fans of the Chicago Cubs, have no real rooting interest in who wins the World Series, we do have the choice of which former Cub do you want to see win a ring, and who you don’t. There are five of the eight teams which have former members of the Cubs on their rosters, who have a chance to be on the active roster once the playoffs begin.

With the Texas Rangers, you have Rich Harden. The Yankees have two former Cubs, Joe Girardi and Kerry Wood. In the National League, the Atlanta Braves have Derrek Lee, while the San Francisco Giants have Mike Fontenot. The final team, the Cincinnati Reds have Dusty Baker and Jim Edmonds. Nine former Cubs all have the chance to win a ring, with someone other than our home town heroes. Who are you rooting for, and who are you rooting against?

Obviously, we will have our disagreements on who we want to win and who we don’t. That is why I am here today, to clear the air with my thoughts on which of these former Cubs I want to see succeed, and who I want to fall flat on their faces. Of course, there will be explanations for each. Let’s see if you agree or disagree with my thought process.

The first team I want to see knocked out of the playoffs, are the Reds. I know the old mantra is root for your division before all other teams, but I have a hatred that can not be matched by any other former Cub than for Baker and Edmonds. While Baker has indeed been one of, if not the, best manager the Cubs have ever had, I have a very long memory. Getting the Cubs within five outs of their first World Series in 58 years is something special which I will never forget. What I can also not forget, is how he cost us that game. Sure, people blame Steve Bartman (which I do not), or Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and Mark Prior, but in my books they just played supporting roles to Baker. All he did was sit on his butt while the team fell apart around him.

As far as Edmonds goes, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to hating him. I hated him with a passion when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but fell in love with him when he was a Cub. Just saying that makes me feel dirty; however, watching him play the game the way you are supposed to play, one would have a hard time hating someone like that. That being said, I do hate him once again. He wont be known as a former Cub, but a former Cardinal.

I take back my original thoughts though, I don’t want to see them be the first team knocked out. I want to see them be five outs away, and to have Baker blow things once again.

As much as I love Lee, now that he is a former Cub, I can go back to disliking him. While he is one hell of a baseball player, as well as a person, much like with Baker, I can not forgive him for 2003. He helped eliminate the Cubs in that ugly game six, and if memory serves, he had the game winning RBI. Since he helped beat the Cubs to get his first ring, I am not so sure that I want to see him win a second now that he is no longer with the Cubs. Especially since he is one of the reasons the Cubs failed to go anywhere this year. I loved what he brought us his first few years with the team, but I can not root for the man who helped deny us our dream, now that he is no longer with us.

With the Rangers, I couldn’t really care less about them and Rich Harden. I know he is a favorite of at least one of my followers, but he was not with the Cubs nearly long enough for me to have any kind of bond with. I am glad he gets another shot, but don’t care if he wins a ring or not. Honestly, I don’t really feel he is much worth my time or attention. He did good things for us in his short Cubs career, but not enough to make me root for him.

The Giants and Fontenot might get my vote, because while he is not a great ballplayer, Fontenot is someone I liked. Mainly because there is finally proof someone my size can play baseball in the majors. While he was better for us in 2008 than he was in 2009, he never really stepped up to be the player we all hoped he would be when they traded Mark DeRosa (no, I am not saying we should have kept DeRosa). The Giants, based on my rooting for former Cubs would get my vote in the National League, if not to win the whole thing.


The Yankees, or the Evil Empire, I would not mind seeing win. Wood will always have a special place in Cub fans hearts. Out of all the former Cubs, I think I would want him to win a ring first. The only problem with this, is that would also mean Girardi would win one as well. I have nothing against Girardi, but if he wins a World Series, or maybe even if he gets there, he will likely want to stay in New York one more year, which would take him out of the running for the Cubs managerial job. Out of all the candidates for the Cubs manager, I think I want him to get the job. Nothing against Ryne Sandberg, I just think he would do a better job.

Now, if I were to take the mindset of some fans of the Cubs, which is to say “if you didn’t win one for us, I don’t want you to win at all” then I would go for the Minnesota Twins beating the Philadelphia Phillies. Why the Twins over the Phillies? Well, that would stick things to the Chicago White Sox, and I don’t want to see the Phillies win another title. I have never been a fan of any team in Philly, and don’t plan on liking one any time soon.

If I have to chose, I would say the San Francisco Giants and Fontenot winning over the Twins, or vice versa.

Now that you have seen and read my thoughts on the former Cubs and the playoffs, what are yours? Which former Cub, if any, do you want to see win a ring? Why and why not?


Lets Talk Cubs Free Agents

The first two weeks after the World Series ends, are considered to be the most exciting period of the off season. With everything that goes on during this time period, you can understand why some people feel this way. Starting the day after the World Series ends, all players who are eligible to do so, can file for free agency, and their club has an exclusive 15 day period to resign them. During this time frame, the teams will hold their own private meetings, just to lay out a blue print for what they believe needs to be done for the up coming season. Also during this time, the General Manager meetings are usually held, which have officially started today, November 9. Here, the GMs will normally sit down with one another, and start discussing various trade ideas and scenarios just to get the idea out there to see if there is any real interest. This is when you will be overloaded with some crazy trade rumors floating around, but that is part of what makes the off season so much fun.

With the Organizational Meetings having already taken place, and the GM meetings just getting underway, there isn’t a whole lot to look at for the moment. Instead, lets focus on the five players who the Cubs have to make a decision on for the upcoming season. Both Reed Johnson and Rich Harden have already filed for free agency, which was expected and is a common practice, even if you want to stay with your current club. The Chicago Cubs have already begun contract talks with John Grabow, as he is also one of their free agents. Finally we have Chad Fox and Kevin Gregg who are also on the list of Cubs free agents. But who should the Cubs bring back for the 2010 campaign, and who shouldn’t they give a second thought to?

The first player on the list, is Grabow. Why is he first you ask? He is first because the Cubs have made themselves known to want him back. The Cubs are already deep into contract talks with him, and should be relatively close to announcing his signing. Since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Grabow put up an impressive 3.24 earned run average in 25 innings pitched. I believe that putting him in the back end of the bullpen to be your situational lefty reliever would benefit the team more then some would realize. Add him to the mix for Carlos Marmol at closer and Angel Guzman in a setup role, and you have the making of what could be an impressive tail end to the bullpen.

Sadly, Grabow may very well be the only one of the five free agents to return to the Cubs for the 2010 season. With the payroll only getting a slight increase from the 2009 campaign, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has to pick his spots very carefully and go over every option with a fine tooth comb. Would he like to bring back other players besides, Grabow? I am sure he would, but sometimes tough decisions have got to be made. Much like when he made the decision to let Kerry Wood leave in free agency, Hendry may be saying goodbye to another player who has gained popularity rather quickly with the Cub fans.

In his two years with the club, Johnson has made some extraordinary catches which will be on highlight reels for the Cubs for years. Who can forget his superman dive in Washington, or his stealing of a Grand Slam away from Prince Fielder? Unfortunately, Johnson may be forced to find a new home, despite how well liked he is in the clubhouse, because he may be asking for more money than the Cubs can afford. Last year, Johnson made $3 million and only played in 65 games due to a few injuries. His return to the ballclub may depend on how much he really wants to play for the Cubs, and if he is willing to take a fairly significant pay cut. As much as I would love to see Johnson come back, as would Ted Lilly who was sporting the ‘With Reed We Will Succeed’ shirt at the end of the season, I am afraid that this is just one more wish and hope that will be left unfulfilled.

Another player who is apparently heading out of town is Harden. Unlike with Johnson, who a majority of fans want back, the field is split on whether or not the Cubs should ask Harden back next year. Much like with Johnson, his return may very well depend on how much he wants to stay. With rumors floating around about Harden potentially in line for a multi-year contract worth around $10 million a year, that is a price that will be too high for a player who has suffered through as many injuries as he has had. His one and a half years in Chicago have been relatively injury free, starting 38 games and pitching over 200 innings. However, the rumored asking price, and length of contract would be far too rich for the Cubs to even consider. There are a number of young arms in the Cubs system that could slide in and take his spot in the rotation, saving the ball club millions of dollars.

As far as Gregg goes, there will not be a tear shed by Cub fans when he is given his walking papers. He quickly lost favor with Cub fans, pitching poorly and giving out games almost immediately. While he was able to put together good stretches in various points in the season, he quickly lost all of his bonus points by blowing what should have been an easy couple of saves in a row. Trading young prospect Jose Ceda for Gregg might have been one of the worst moves Hendry could have made in the off season. While he is considered to be one of the better players hitting free agency, the Cubs will not even consider giving him a contract extension. In fact, they will likely even pass on offering him Arbitration and give up the likelihood of getting draft pick from in just in case he accepts. If he accepts, the Cubs can non-tender him and nothing is lost. But why waste the time going through the entire Arbitration process? The Cubs will not give him a second look.

That brings us to the final member of the Cubs free agent list, that being Fox. He will definitely not be back with the Cubs in 2010. In fact, he should never have come back again. I give him all the credit in the world for wanting to pitch, and for continuing to try. However, sooner or later you have to know when to throw the towel in. When you can barely make a single outing without injuring your arm, you have to figure that the time has come to say goodbye.

Hendry has some tough decisions to make, and has likely already made up his mind on which of the players he wants to keep. With payroll being limited, you can not keep everyone you would like to keep, which means that you have to say goodbye to someone you love. Unfortunately, the signs are pointing towards Grabow being the only Cubs free agent retained. How the Cubs fill the new vacancies remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of minor league players up with the team next year.

Time to Break Out the Hot Stove for the Chicago Cubs

With the 2009 Chicago Cubs season all but over, the attention of the fans, and hopefully General Manager Jim Hendry, will be how to fix the mess that they currently find themselves in. As a whole, I honestly do not believe that much needs to be done; only a little bit of tinkering. Sure Hendry needs to pull off a miracle trade in order to get rid of Milton Bradley, but other then that, I believe that our team does not need too much work. With most of our team already in place, and with the key pieces already locked in, all that remains is to find one or two key elements which will bring us back to the championship form the Cubs found themselves in the previous two years.

The first, and in my eyes the most important, piece to the championship puzzle that Hendry must bring into the fold, is a true leadoff hitter. The Cubs need an explosive bat at the top of the order that will be able to put the team in the best position possible to score early and often. They need a player who not only has the ability to hit and get on base at a high level, but also has the ability to steal second or third when they get on base. Presently, the Cubs have two options for leading off, neither of which fits all three areas of need.

With Kosuke Fukudome, they have a player who is able to fill the need for a great on base percentage. The downfall for having Fukudome lead off is because he has not proven that he can hit at a high level. His batting average, while slightly improved over last year, still sits at a mediocre .256. Even if he were able to show that he can hit closer to .300, he lacks the true potential to be a stolen base threat. Fukudome, while he can be a decent number two hitter, should not be looked upon to be the leadoff hitter for the Cubs next year. His qualifications do not meet the standard of what the ball club needs.

As far as Ryan Theriot, much like with Fukudome, he does not fit the ideal description of a leadoff hitter either. While he is able to hit at a respectable level and get on base close to a .350 average, he does not have the true speed to make him a stolen base threat either. While he does lead the team with 21 steals, only being caught seven times, he does not run enough to put the fear into the opposing team’s pitchers or catchers. His ideal position in the batting order would be either second or eighth in my eyes. While you want to take advantage of his ability to get on base for your sluggers, we saw in 2008 what his presence at the bottom of the order could do for our offense. With Fukudome batting second in a line up I would write out, Theriot would be a nice fit in the eight hole.

The Cubs could also look at using some of their minor leaguers to fill the void at leadoff. This option is very intriguing, as he has shown to be a great defensive player, making several amazing plays in the outfield. While his batting average is still a bit lower then you would like to see your leadoff hitter have, his on base percentage is amazing, hovering around .380. The one draw back, is he apparently does not have enough speed to be the stolen base threat the team requires. However, we do not know fully what he can do, as he has only been allowed to steal base three times, of which he was caught once. I would not be opposed to his leading off, if they were unable to find a suitable replacement.

If none of these three option fit Manager Lou Piniella’s desire, that leaves us with a need to be found outside the organization, and a limited availability for positions to play. The Cubs need to find a leadoff hitter who can play one of three or four possible positions. Fukudome can play either Right or Center field, and while Theriot has mostly been used at Short Stop, he is also capable of playing second base. While there are many options that will be available for the Cubs to sign once the free agency period starts in November, most of them are already in the 30s, and will all come with a hefty price tag. The list is long, and I will not list them at the moment, but rest assured, I do have my favorites already picked out, and I will let you know that sooner rather than later.

In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Piniella mentioned that the Cubs top priority should be to add another power bat to the middle of the order. As I mentioned, I believe that finding a true leadoff hitter should be on the top of the Cubs wish list. However, do we really need another power hitter on the team? With Alfonso Soriano being moved permanently out of the leadoff role, he would be a nice addition to the heart of the order. That is, of course, if he is able to give the team the power numbers he gave them during his time here. If he is able to do so, then the need for another power hitter becomes lower on the wish list.

Another reason the team may not need another power bat added to the lineup is Geovany Soto. While he has raised red flags with his performance this year, I for one am not willing to give up on him. He has shown exactly what he is capable of when he fully prepared for the season. He has admitted that he slacked off in the off season, and did not prepare himself the way that he should have. I am willing to write off 2009 as a rookie mistake, even though he is no longer a rookie. Lesson learned, and he has earned the chance to redeem himself with the level of play he displayed at the end of 2007 and all of 2008. All he needs to do is revert to doing whatever he did in those two years, and I believe that he will be back to everything the team expected of him. If both Soriano and Soto return to form, then there is no need whatsoever to go out and spend a lot of money on another power bat for the middle of the order. If they both fail to accomplish what the team needs from them, there are two options that could fill the bill, though I would advise against them.

In the outfield, you can play either Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox in Right Field. If I had to choose between the two of them, I would choose Fox over Hoffpauir, because Fox has more upside. With that being the case, I would severely advise against either one of them playing in the outfield, especially with Soriano playing in the opposite corner. The team can not, and should not, depend on an outfield which would have less than average defenders in both Left and Right Fields. While I would greatly welcome both of them to the bench, I do not want to see either as the everyday Right Fielder. Fukudome would collapse with all the ground he would have to cover in Center Field.

While you can never have enough power in the lineup, the money would be better served elsewhere. However, much like with the speedster that the Cubs should be looking for, the team would need to find a player who can hit for power, who also is able to play one of the previously mentioned four positions. Again, there are many options that may be available, but all would come with a hefty price tag, and are all in their early to mid 30s.

With the slight improvements in mind to help the everyday lineup, the focus should then move to the bench and the backups for each of the replacements. The bench portion of our team is a mess, but in a good way. The Cubs have more pieces then they know what to do with. In the outfield, assuming the Cubs sign a free agent, they have the options of re-signing Reed Johnson, Fuld, Fox and Hoffpauir. Some would question why I left out Tyler Colvin, but that is simply because of his lack of experience, and the Cubs lack of space. He would benefit well from having a little more time in the minors, mainly because he could have an everyday job playing in Triple A. If the Cubs were to sign a free agent for the outfield, chances are only one or two of these players would be on the Cubs bench, that is assuming they decide to re-sign Johnson. If the Cubs decide to have one of them be a starting outfielder, they can keep three of the players. While the Cubs said they wanted to resign Johnson, his time with the Cubs would likely come at the expense of Fuld.

If you thought that the outfield situation was a tricky one to work out, take a look at the log jam the Cubs will be facing with the infield backups. In my opinion, the Cubs need to sign a player to play second base. While Jeff Baker has played very well since coming to the team, I am not completely sold on him being the everyday player at second base. We fell into this trap last year with Mike Fontenot, thinking he would be able to produce the entire season the way we saw him perform in limited time in 2008. If we carry two backup outfielders, that limits us to only being able to carry two back up infielders. There are a few people I would love to see make the team as role players, but only one of them will get the nod, mainly because the Cubs are stuck with Aaron Miles for another year. That means that two of the following three men will not make the team, if the Cubs sign a second baseman. The Cubs can keep Baker, Fontenot or Andres Blanco. Personally, I would let Fontenot go, either by a trade or sent back to the minors. That would leave Piniella and Hendry with the tough decision between Baker and Blanco. This, of course, could all be solved if Baker becomes the starting second baseman. While I don’t know if he can be dependable as an everyday second baseman, he has got to do better then Fontenot. That would also allow us to keep Blanco on the team.

The way the starting rotation for the Cubs will likely only carry over four of the five starters from this year. Love him or hate him, Carlos Zambrano will likely return to the team next year, along with Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Randy Wells. While Rich Harden would be a welcome commodity, there are far too many rumors floating around that he will not be brought back. If he is willing to give the Cubs a discount, and not demand a long term deal, he may be brought back, but according to some baseball analysts he will get a contract worth at least $10 million a year. With his injury history, that would not be a quality investment. That would leave the Cubs one starting pitcher shy, but they have a few names who could step into the role as the fifth starter for 2010.

The in house options that the Cubs can consider for the vacant starters job are Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija and Tom Gorzelanny. From the way the end of the season is winding down, with Samardzija and Gorzelanny getting a few starts, you would be led to believe that the competition is currently limited to these two men. While Samardzija has looked very shaky in his outings this year, out of the bullpen and with his first start, he looked impressive in his second major league start. Gorzelanny on the other hand has been more then impressive in most of his starts with the Cubs. Whether or not they will be able to fill in and give us what we need will be determined once Spring Training commences. However, if neither of them impress, they can always look to free agency, and there are a few starters out there that could be

The bullpen is another mess that needs to be fixed, however this may be fix may not be all that difficult. We have our closer in Carlos Marmol, but after him everything else is a crapshoot. While Angel Guzman has looked amazing this year, he once again ended the year with an injury. If he could stay healthy, he would be an amazing set up man for the eighth inning. John Grabow is a free agent at the end of the year, but from all things I have heard, the Cubs want to resign him. That leaves four pitchers left to fill in the remaining bullpen spots. The Cubs have a slew of young arms that could fill those roles, like Jeff Stevens and Justin Berg. They could also use Marshall as the second lefty in the bullpen. If those three all make the team, that leaves one spot open for any number of guys. However, like everywhere else, there are plenty of options to sign in free agency.

While the Cubs have needs, they don’t necessarily need to go out and sign anyone. All of their holes can be solved in house. However, over the next few days and weeks, I will break down my thoughts on the possible targets who I think the Cubs should go after for all the open spots that need to be filled before the 2010 season beings. Just to recap, those positions are: Center Field or Right Field, Second Base or Short Stop, Starting Pitchers and Relief Pitchers. All the Cubs need is a little bit of tinkering, and they will be more then fine for he following season.

After looking unbeatable, the Cubs slide back into their old ways

This is probably the hardest thing that I have had to write so far this season, but the time has come to do so. While I am a very optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs, and always believe that they still have a shot, I am having a harder time believing that with every game that passes. The expectations all throughout Spring Training said, that this was the team to beat in the National League. However, as more and more games pass, those expectations are looking to be well over what the team really and truly is turning out to be. Time to start facing what could very well be fact, the Cubs just are not that good.

You can point to any number of reasons why the ball club has failed miserably up to this point, but none of them are all too realistic. I know people are going to point fingers at Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry who traded a good club house guys in Mark DeRosa and non-tendered long time Cub, and another good clubhouse guy Kerry Wood. But come on, DeRosa being in the lineup would not help Alfonso Soriano who is hitting in the low .200s, or Kosuke Fukudome who is continuing his annual slide into baseball obscurity. DeRosa being on the team would not be the difference maker in Geovany Soto who, while he is starting to hit again, has seemingly forgotten what he did to make him the rookie of the year last season. While DeRosa as a good club house guy, he would not be the difference maker that everyone thinks he is. Sure, he would have been nice playing third base with Aramis Ramirez out of action (and I will get to this in a bit), but he would not make that big of a difference.

As far as Wood goes, if he was in the bullpen for the Cubs this year, his presence would not be a magical solution to Carlos Marmol who cant seem to find the plate anymore on a consistent game to game basis. He would not have helped out Neal Cotts when he was here, nor would he have a positive effect on Aaron Heilman or David Patton. His presence on the ball club wouldn’t keep Rich Harden healthy, or Carlos Zambrano sane. Whether he was in the bull pen or not, would not be the difference in this team having a good bullpen, or a bad bullpen. He is only one man, and can not change how good others are.

Another mistake Hendry made, was not having a legitimate backup for Ramirez, who has now missed close to two months. I wont lie, I was worried about him not signing someone that could play third base. Ramirez has missed time every year, so having a backup should have been a priority for the club, yet nothing as done to protect the ball club for just this instance. But at the same time, you can not point to his absence as being the sole reason the club is dying a slow death. As good of a hitter Ramirez is (and he is the Cubs best hitter), one player should not make this much of a difference. Look at what is going on with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they lost Manny Ramirez for 50 games, and they have not skipped a beat. He is their best hitter, yet they are still going strong and are looking like the best team in all of baseball. The Cubs losing Ramirez was a big blow, don’t get me wrong, but the Cubs have players who are too good to allow this team to look so bad.

Speaking of Ramirez, I don’t think that he should be brought back this season. Not with the way the team is playing now. I think this way for a few reasons, and here they are, all lined up for you. No one knows what condition he will be in when he returns. No one knows how close he will be to full power, and if he will be able to give us anything close to what he normally could. If the Cubs are playing this poorly when he gets back, even if he is at full strength, he may not give the Cubs enough of a boost to make any noise in the second half. Finally, he is likely going to need shoulder surgery in the off season to help correct the damage which has been done to his shoulder. I say, sit him out and allow him to get that surgery now. Give him as much healing time as possible so he can return next year as close to 100% as he can get. This year is just about a lost cause anyway, start looking forward to the 2010 season.

I don’t want to hear that the Cubs are only 3.5 games out of first, they are nothing more then a .500 ball club. I know that in 2006 the St. Louis Cardinals were a .500 team and that they went on to win the World Series. But they are the exception, not the rule. This team does not look like they have anything going for them right now. They win four straight games, then they go out and lose four straight by doing the same exact thing they have done all season; fail to hit with runners in scoring position. The Cubs lead the league in runners stranded in scoring position, and that’s not a stat you want to brag about.

The time has come to say goodbye to this season, time to play Steve Goodman’s classic song “A Dying Cub fan’s last request”. Who knows, maybe the Cubs sweep the Chicago White Sox this weekend, and go on a lengthy winning streak. However, with the way this team has inconsistently played, I don’t see anything in the cards that tells me they will.

I wont go anywhere, I will still follow the Cubs and root them on. I will still post my thoughts on a regular basis, and I would love to be proven wrong in the end.

Cubs are entering a critical point in their schedule

Going into tonight’s game in Houston against the Astros, the Chicago Cubs are only two games about the .500 mark thanks to a 3-2 road trip. While the Cubs are still looking as though they are struggling to put together anything close to the season that was expected of them, there is still room for optimism on the horizon. Not only are the Cubs starting to get healthy with players coming back this week, but the schedule is going into what could be considered to be a easy stretch of games. With the upcoming schedule, the Cubs could get very healthy and bring their record well above the .500 mark.

At some point during this week, the Cubs could welcome back up to three of their five injured players. Right handed pitcher Rich Harden is tentatively scheduled to start Saturday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, and Aaron Miles and Ryan Freel are also eligible to rejoin the Cubs 25 man roster at some point this week. These three returning players will be playing key roles in improving the overall quality of the ball club. With Harden returning to his role in the starting rotation, Sean Marshall will resume his role in the bullpen as the second lefty and long relief pitcher. This instantly improves the bullpen, as we will rid ourselves of the Rule 5 Draft Pick David Patton, who according to the rules must be offered back to the Colorado Rockies. Randy Wells has pitched well enough to win the fifth starter job away from Marshall, who hasn’t been bad at all in his chances. When Miles and Freel return to the ball club, adding to the overall depth of the bench, we will have more options to play at third base over Mike Fontenot. In his time at third base, Fontenot has butchered several balls, and cost us at least one game. In his defense, Fontenot is not a third baseman and was thrust into a position that he has had just about no experience playing in a big league game. While neither Miles or Freel is likely to give us much in terms of offense, at least they can do a better job holding down the fort at third.

With their returns, however, two position players will need to be sent out. The likely candidates are Bobby Scales, Andres Blanco and Jake Fox. All three have done a decent job in their time with the club, but none of them have done enough to warrant staying on the big league club in place of Miles or Freel. Filling in at second base, with Fontenot at third, Blanco has made some great defensive plays, but has yet to show us the offensive numbers we saw in Triple A. While his story is a great one, Bobby Scales is also a target to be sent back to the minors because of his lack of offense. He can play a few positions, which may be his wild card to stay with the team until Ramirez returns. That leaves Fox, who I feel will be one of the two men sent back to Iowa. Unfortunately, when you are a defensive liability, you will get over looked more often then not when tough roster decisions need to be made. While we could use his bat off the bench, we already have a power bat on the bench in Micah Hoffpauir, who like Fox, is a man without a position. He may be kept on the roster though, because he is a right handed bat off the bench with some power. The question becomes would you rather have two pinch hitters, or another position player which would allow Cubs Manager Lou Piniella more options. Personally, I think we need to send Fox down along with either Scales or Blanco.

Another reason Cub fans can be optimistic, is the schedule is starting to ease up; at least for the time being. Counting tonight, the next 12 games for the Cubs are against teams with a record below the .500 mark. The Astros start off the stretch, and are followed by the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. After a game against the Atlanta Braves, who sit at the .500 mark, the Cubs play three games against the American League Central leading Tigers. After those four games, the Cubs get back to their stretch of sub .500 with six more against the Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates. While we have the chance to fatten up our record against these mediocre teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds face similar competition during this stretch. There wont be much ground made up in the division, but at least the Cubs have the chance bring their record back to respectability.

Between now and the All Star break, the Cubs play 33 games in 34 days. The long stretch of games include a making a stop in Atlanta in between our series in Cleveland and Detroit, as well as a double header against the visiting Cardinals right before the break begins. With two off days, this stretch of games will really test the ball club. Thankfully, those Cubs who do not play in the All Star game, will have a three day rest before the season picks up again. If the Cubs are able to survive until then, they should be in pretty good shape.

Cubs just cant catch a break

The Chicago Cubs just cant seem to catch a break, can they? Today the Cubs activated staff ace Carlos Zambrano from the disabled list, and unfortunately made a corresponding move by placing Rich Harden on with a back strain. I guess everyone should have seen this coming, as a season without Harden getting injured and placed on the disabled list just doesn’t happen. They will spin the injury the same way they always have, that this is not an arm injury so there is no need to be overly concerned. But guess what, while the injury is not arm related the back also plays a role in a pitchers delivery.

Many people, myself included, feel that when healthy Harden is the best pitcher in the rotation. His injury is just another slap in the face of Cub fans, and will prolong the M*A*S*H parade the Cubs have been on all season. What this move means, is that neither Randy Wells or Sean Marshall will need to be moved into the bullpen at the current moment. Wells will take Harden’s start on Saturday, and will give Cubs Manager Lou Piniella another look at his young starter to help him decide which pitcher will remain in the rotation when everyone comes back healthy.

We managed to survive for three weeks without Zambrano due to the other pitchers picking up the slack, and pitching gems. They will have to continue doing so now that Harden will be out for two weeks. This injury to Harden really is a shame, because Harden has been pitching well and has looked healthier then any other time in his career. The dog days of Summer are upon us, and June is right around the corner. This is just another obstacle the Cubs will have to over come on their own, as there will not be a trade made to save them.

A rivalry reborn, returning pitchers and a tough decision in Cubs camp

Well, the Chicago Cubs have just come off of a very impressive home stand where they faced the San Diego Padres and the Houston Astros. Due to the rain out of Friday’s series opener with the Astros, they finished with a record of 4-1. Not too shabby if you ask me, any time you can win four out of five games, you are going to have a very successful season. If they keep this up, they will be playing into October. To think, they accomplished this feat without all star’s Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez.

Sadly, they did lose a game on this home stand, which was the last game to be played on their current stay. Rich Harden, who started for the Cubs on Sunday, had a good game, but sadly he had one bad inning, where he allowed four runs to score. If Harden would not have thrown the one bad inning, we would likely be talking about a perfect record for the current stretch of games at home. That, however, didn’t happen. On the plus side of his start though, he lasted through the sixth inning once again this year. With most pitchers, that would not really be a big deal; with Harden though, that is a great accomplishment for a pitcher who has suffered through many different injury problems that have limited his innings and starts in his big league career. Let’s see if he is able to keep this up, because we could use lengthy starts from him throughout the season.

While Harden was the losing pitcher on the day, part of the loss should fall on Jose Ascanio who came in for relief immediately following Harden’s exit from the game. Ascanio started off poorly in his two innings of work, allowing two runs to score; he would eventually settle down and shut the door in his final inning plus of work. Those two runs would prove to be the difference as the Cub’s had their rally fall short in the ninth, leaving them on the wrong end of a 6-5 decision.

Another Brightside to come during these past few games at home, is the arrival of our offense, more specifically Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley. All three players are starting to really swing the bat well lately. Bradley is enjoying an actual hitting streak, and is closing in on the 10 game mark. In Sunday’s loss, Lee went 4 for 5 including a homerun, and Soto’s bat has also appeared to wake up lately. While all of their batting averages are still hovering around the .200 mark, they are all starting to make really good contact on the ball. That can only mean good things for the Cubs for the rest of the season.

Along with the three power bats in the lineup, another name is starting to find his way into the starting lineup more is Bobby Scales. While his time with the big league club may be limited, he is making the most of his chances and putting on a great show. In fact, he is playing so well that he may wind up earning a full time job if things don’t change quickly. He could be playing his way right into a starting job at second base if Mike Fontenot does not start to hit again. While Fontenot started off the season on fire, he has cooled off greatly. One reason may be that he is not use to being a full time starter, and his time is starting to catch up to him. Perhaps Fontenot is not meant to be a starter, or maybe we do not have enough of a sample size on his starting career to get a good idea of what he can do. One thing we do know is that that Cubs Manager Lou Piniella is starting to like what he is seeing out of Scales, and we all know that Piniella can sour on a player very easily.

Starting tonight, the Cubs travel to St. Louis for a three game set with the Cardinals, who won the series two games to one in our last trip into their ball park. At the moment, the Cubs have a one game lead on the redbirds, and while the season is still only in late May, you could say this is a big series. At the end of the series, the Cubs could be two games behind the Cardinals, or up four. That is a big swing. One player who is coming back for the Cardinals this series is Christ Carpenter. He has been out for a few weeks after injuring himself in an at bat. One thing I find curious about his return though, is that he did not make a rehab start to insure he is fully healthy. This could be a great plus for the Cubs if you ask me, and if you are reading this you kind of are. He may be rusty, which would give the Cubs the upper hand in this matchup. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the Cubs can easily handle Carpenter. I would never say that about the Cubs against any pitcher. I am just saying that with him not going on a rehab outing, we may have the upper hand.

Speaking of pitchers making a return, Zambrano will be making his in San Deigo at the end of the week. While he had a very shaky rehab outing, you don’t really pay attention to numbers in rehab starts. The main focus is getting through the outing in one piece. With him all but scheduled to start on Friday, I would say that he is ready to go. With his return, Piniella has an interesting problem on his hand. Which of his two starting pitchers will go into the bullpen, and who will remain in the rotation? Both Randy Wells and Sean Marshall have pitched well in the starting rotation, and neither really deserves a demotion to the bullpen. But one must go. If Wells gets the nod to stay in the rotation, then Neal Cotts will likely be sent packing, unless Piniella decides to have two lefties in the bullpen. If that is the case, David Patton will be shown the door, just like he will be if Marshall stays in the rotation. The odds are against Patton, especially with Cotts having a solid inning of work in Sunday’s loss.

That about wraps up my thoughts for the day, so I hope you enjoyed your time reading. Sit back and enjoy this series against the Cardinals, because despite how much of a rival the Milwaukee Brewers have become, the Cardinals are still our biggest rival. Just because we are not chasing them for first place at the moment, doesn’t change that fact. I will talk to you all again soon.