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?
When news of his signing was announced, Cub fans began celebrating. His combination of speed and power was a very welcomed addition to a team which already had a lot of power in the lineup with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramierez. However, once he was signed, fans immediately began to disagree with Hendry and Piniella who declared that Soriano should be the leadoff hitter. Fans believed that his power could be better served in the heart of the order where he could have more opportunities to knock in base runners, and help tack on meaningful runs. The fans outcry fell on deaf ears though, and Soriano was cemented into the leadoff slot in the everyday lineup.
Since coming here, he has not come close to reaching the 40/40 club, mostly due to the numerous injuries that he has sustained while being with the Cubs. Over the past few years Soriano has spent several stints on the disabled list, which is a place he had never been before coming here. His injuries as well as his unique fielder style has worn on Cub fans who are now anxious to get rid of him. His overpriced, and long tenured contract is an eyesore for many Cub fans who are now counting down the days, months and years until they will be rid of him. However, he has not been nearly as bad as those fans would like to think. While he has not been as advertised (like that’s anything new around here) he has carried his weight on more then one occasion. With Soriano, when he is in his zone, pitchers can not throw anything past him. When he is hot, he can single handedly carry a team, something he has done for a month at a time. During this time, he takes a first pitch over the wall and fans begin celebrating. However, when he is cold he looks like a rookie who is still adjusting to the game. This is the time when he flies out on the first pitch and fans curse him. This has always been a thorn in my side, people cant have things both ways. You can not love him when he gives you the lead on the first pitch, and hate him if he makes a first pitch out. Take the good with the bad. Would I like him to work the count more then he does? Absolutely, but that has never been his game.
His lack of plate discipline is exactly why Cub fans want him to be taken out of the leadoff slot and put into a position where he can be more of a run producer. For the past two years, the main reason have been the lack of another leadoff hitter, and his lack of comfort hitting anywhere else in the order. Statistics clearly show that his offensive numbers all take a massive decline when he hits elsewhere in the order. For some reason, he just can not produce as well when he hits elsewhere in the order. These statistics don’t change fans thoughts on where he should bat in the lineup though. They argue that Piniella should take action and do what is best for the Cubs as a whole, and not what is best for an individual in Soriano. My take on that argument has always been the following. Isn’t doing what’s best for Soriano doing what’s best for the Cubs as a whole? Would you rather have him hitting around .300 or batting third, forth or fifth with an average under .270? Personally, I will take him batting where ever he produces better, wouldn’t you? The other argument has been the lack of another player who can hit leadoff, which we might have now in Ryan Theriot. But I will get into him at another time.
Fickle attitudes is nothing new around here, or anywhere else for that matter. Things have always been, and always will be, a what have you done for me lately situation. You almost have to prove yourself all over again day after day in order to keep up your reputation. In Chicago, as well as other cities, you have to constantly produce in order to get constant love. I have seen fans everywhere heckle players all game long, only to give him a curtain call when he hit’s a go ahead home run, then return to booing him the next time he strikes out with runners in scoring position. Soriano is one of those players who will put you on a roller coaster every game he plays. My suggestion to you, is to buckle down and enjoy the ride. He is our player for better or for worse, because he isn’t going anywhere for a long time.