Managers arguably might not win many games, but they can and do lose them. Take a look at Lou Piniella’s goof in Tuesday night’s loss to Houston.
Two out in the bottom of the fourth and the bases are loaded, Cubs down by a run. Piniella lets starting pitcher Ryan Dempster bat for himself — even though Dempster has been marginal at best in his first start off the DL, is on a tight pitch count and is already approaching his limit. Dempster is likely to be pulled in the top of the fifth anyway when he approaches his 80-to-85 pitch limit.
So Dempster predictably strikes out, and just as predictably runs out his string and has to get pulled in the top of the fifth. Not a good move by Piniella. He had called a suicide squeeze the previous night, a good and surprising play, but Mike Fontenot bunted through the ball and Milton Bradley was out in an anticlimax. Can’t blame Piniella for that one.
Still, the memories linger of Sox manager Ozzie Guillen making Piniella look asleep at the switch with his “smart ball” tactics in the City Series. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Speaking of asleep at the switch: will GM Jim Hendry wake up before Friday’s trading deadline? Along with the Phillies picking up former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from Cleveland, Pittsburgh peddled half its double play combo by sending Jack Wilson to Seattle along with starter Ian Snell. If Hendry doesn’t make a pitch for Pittsburgh second baseman Freddy Sanchez, he won’t be playing smart ball with the Cubs’ playoff chances.
During Monday night’s Cardinals-Dodgers game, ESPN analyst Steve Phillips (former GM of the NY Mets) seconded the notion that the Cubs should be pursuing Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez. His argument:
1-Sanchez soldifies a position the Cubs need to solidify;
2-Mike Fontenot then becomes a utility player, a role for which he is better-suited;
3-If Aramis Ramirez re-injures his shoulder, Fontenot steps in at third but the Cubs retain the proven production of Sanchez at second. Thus, they would have only one hole to cover, not two.
Hearing Phillips, you got the definite idea that if the Cubs were not pursuing Sanchez, they were not being very smart — especially when the Cardinals were posting a lineup featuring both requent acquisitions, Mark DeRosa (who homered against the Dodgers to start breaking the game open) and Matt Holliday. Phillips couldn’t say enough about DeRosa’s multi-position ability, and coupled with his comments on Sanchez, he left the impression that the Cubs could be compounding one error (trading DeRosa) with another (not trading for Sanchez).
At least someone is thinking out there.
The Cubs approach the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with at least some level of uncertainty at seven positions, which is not the way to win a division.
The seven questions:
1. Starting pitching: How severe is Ted Lilly’s shoulder problem? How minor is the arthroscopic surgery on his knee?
2. Catching: When does Geovany Soto come back, and how effective is he when he returns? Can he pick up where he was starting to go with the bat until the shoulder problem?
3. First base: How often do Derrek Lee’s neck spasms crop up and keep him out of the lineup?
4. Second base: Can anyone play the position on an everyday basis?
5. Third base: Can Aramis Ramirez’s shoulder hold up the rest of the way?
6. Center field: Will the combo of Resuke Johnsodome be strong enough down the stretch?
7. Right field: Can Milton Bradley climb out of the hole and be a factor at any level for a stretch drive? Is there anything to the rumor of Detroit wanting to pick him up?
There’s a ready answer to Question No. 4: Freddy Sanchez in Pittsburgh, who is up for grabs along with shorstop Jack Wilson. Since he’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, Sanchez can be had for a rent-a-player pricetag, and the Cubs are foolish if they don’t grab a career .300 hitter and former batting champ to stablize their infield and the top of their lineup.
GM Jim Hendry looked to Pittsburgh for his 2003 steal of Ramirez and center fielder Kenny Lofton. Let’s see what he has up his sleeve this time. He can’t afford to stand pat after St. Louis picked up Matt Holliday from Oakland. Stay tuned.
Any doubts remaining about the Cubs being a hitless and witless mess? Wednesday’s surrender to the White Sox should be the clincher.
Here’s the take from someone who covered one internally-ruptured team after another in 20 years of college and professional sports:
— The departures of Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa flattened the clubhouse energy more than anyone has appreciated so far, or at least out in the open. Nobody has reined in Carlos Zambrano, and that act has to be wearing thin. Zambrano is no ace, not by a long shot. This team looks dazed and hopeless and purposeless, and it starts at the top. Worse, they don’t seem to care.
— Moves by the front office don’t have to be overwhelmingly popular among players, but players do have to see the moves as beneficial. The players don’t see that. They’ll stand behind Milton Bradley any time they’re asked, but they don’t see it as a good move. They look at the mess in the infield, even considering the loss of Aramis Ramirez, and they wonder about the pickup of .200-hitting Aaron Miles when Orlando Hudson (.310, 35 RBI, 44 runs with the Dodgers) was hanging out there. Ditto with Bradley when Raul Ibanez — a citizen of the game who is hitting .312 with 22 HR and 59 RBI for the Phillies — was up for easy grabs.
— The firing of Gerald Perry points straight to one player: Kosuke Fukudome. He doesn’t take extra hitting because the batting cage is too crowded. He obviously wouldn’t work with Perry, probably feeling it was beneath him. He loses interest in May and figures he can turn it on later, but ends up just losing it all the way around.
— Alfonso Soriano (“close eyes, wave bat, miss everything”) needs a week on the bench to rest, or two weeks in the minors to get his stroke back. Speaking of bench, anyone seeing Micah Hoffpauir or Jake Fox lately is probably using binoculars. If they don’t play soon, they’ll be too rusty to be of any use.
— New hitting coach Von Joshua says he’ll get right in the face of young guys he knows from Iowa, but he’ll take a softer approach with older guys he doesn’t know well. Wrong. Get in everybody’s face, especially the older guys.
— The biggest hope for the back of the bullpen (another area where the players see a self-made disaster) is to move Ryan Dempster back there and use Kevin Gregg for mopup or long relief. Anybody remember Mel Rojas?
— The fans yelling “Wake up, Lou!” may have the answer to the whole problem. Piniella, judging from his body shape, is most interested in his next steak and margarita. Those same fans might do well to start turning around and yellling upstairs to Jim Hendry.
— When the White Sox put on a clinic in moving runners over and squeezing a runner home, it’s diminished with faint praise as “small ball.” Actually, it’s baseball — the game we all learned growing up, before guys were striking out 200 times a year and everybody quit paying attention to fundamentals critical in winning games over a long season.
The Sox at least look and play as if they’re interested in being out there. The Cubs are going nowhere without a major shakeup, the bigger the better. Starting yesterday. Battery dead, jump needed. Brian Roberts, come on down.
Another loss, another lack of offense — time for a shakeup, Cubs fans. Needed: Bats, or at least one, to replace some of the puzzling absences.
Aramis Ramirez we know about; but Derrek Lee’s power seems sapped (despite a home run against Houston in a 13-inning, 2-1 loss); Geovany Soto has been painfully slow in coming around; Alfonso Soriano is apparently banged-up to explain his prolonged slump; and Milton Bradley — well, it seems cruel to beat up on the guy who was so obviously the wrong signing.
Time to start looking at the bottom-feeders. Oakland has Matt Holliday, with a power stroke buried in the A’s big park. Holliday is only 29, believe it or not, so he’ll be at a premium when the trade deadline gets close. All the more reason to take a shot now, and pick up his 8 homers, 37 RBIs and .373 on-base percentage (.274 BA). Problem with Holliday: He hits right-handed, and the Cubs are fixated on left-handed hitters.
That brings up the big prize, Adam Dunn in Washington. Dunn is showing his usual strikeout rate (62 already), but the big lug has 17 home runs and a .394 on-base percentage from all his walks (.256 BA). Dunn is equally inept at first base and the outfield, so it doesn’t matter where he plays. Putting him in left means moving Soriano back to second base. Now there’s a thought. . .
Colorado has the same destination — Nowheresville — as Washington. The run-producer who could be dangled there is 36-year-old lefty first baseman Todd Helton (7 HR, 42 RBI). Much more intriguing is right fielder Brad Hawpe (9 HR, 45 RBI, .407 OBP), but Hawpe is only 30 and again the price would be high.
Another possibility in Baltimore: Aubrey Huff, who can play first, third and the outfield. Not strictly a power hitter, Huff is a left-handed hitter who can drive in runs (39 RBI, 8 HR). He would give Piniella versatility, especially valuable while Ramirez is out, and at 32 is hardly over-the-hill. Cubs GM Jim Hendry seems to have a good working relationship with Baltimore’s Andy MacPhail, his former boss in Chicago.
Everyone is looking for pitching, and the Cubs supposedly added three good prospects in the deal with Cleveland for Mark DeRosa. Sean Marshall is probably ticketed somewhere before Larry Rothschild and Lou Piniella ruin him completely (which might be the best thing for Marshall). Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox are candidates for inclusion in any deal, since the Cubs seem adamant about not making room for them. The only real candidates for inclusion as compensatory outfielders are Reed Johnson and Kosuke Fokudome. Either one would leave the Cubs without a legitimate center fielder.
If the Cubs dip below .500 with their interleague series, starting today against Minnesota, look for the longstanding rumor about Brian Roberts to resurface. The switch-hitting second baseman with leadoff presence is wasted in Baltimore, might like the chance to play for a contender, and should solve the mess the Cubs have created at second base and elsewhere with the DeRosa trade.
But something’s got to give if the Cubs are serious about pulling out a Central Division title before another playoff implosion. And if they make the right deal, the playoff outlook could be a hit this time.
You’ll notice a big gap between December
2007 and June 2009 in my blog entries. Health issues created
the gap, including open-heart surgery (quadruple bypass) in
December 2008. But now we’re up and running again. Nice to be