25 Cents

A quarter of the way through the season, and the Cubs have as many questions as answers. While we now know that Alfonso Soriano has a great arm in LF, and that Lou Piniella is going to keep him in the leadoff spot, the rest of our outfield is still a work-in-progress. While we know that Carlos Zambrano, Jason Marquis, Rich Hill, and Ted Lilly are definitely in our starting rotation, the Cubs seem unsure of who else should take the mound every 5th day. While we thought our bullpen was going to be one of the best in baseball, I am not sure that even Larry Rothschild knows who the closer on this team is right now. Is it too late for this team to jell? Should we start looking forward to 2008 already? You know better….

Making the Case….

Projecting early season statistics over a full season does not always yield accurate data for forecasting, but it can be fun!

STUDS:

  • Aramis Ramirez – .296 avg, 44 HRs, 140 RBIs
  • Michael Barrett – 28 HRs, 92 RBIs (his average is bad, but these stats would be great for him)
  • Jason Marquis – 20-game winner, 2.76 ERA
  • Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, and Carlos Zambrano – 16-game winners each

DUDS:

  • Scott Eyre – 56 innings pitched, 48 earned runs allowed….yikes!
  • Jacque Jones – 560 at-bats, 4 HRs, 60 RBIs (might want to look into trading this guy)

Ok….seems like things are more positive than negative, so we should have a winning record, right? Hmmm.

What Gives?

Does Sweet Lou have a clue? If so, why aren’t the Cubs putting more W flags up the pole? We all know that it comes down to a lack of timely hitting, and a poor bullpen, so far this year. The concept of using Guzman and Marmol as a 1-2 bullpen punch is really intriguing to me, and shows some good outside-the-box thinking from Lou and the organization. In the Dusty Era, you just know Dusty would be sticking with “his guys” to the bitter end, so it is refreshing to see Piniella not settle for mediocrity and the status quo.

However, this same stance doesn’t seem to apply to Jacque Jones, and I am not sure why. So far, the team would be much better off with Pie/Pagan at CF, and Murton/Floyd in RF. Even the original plan of Soriano in CF seems to make more sense, provided that Soriano was surrounded by Floyd and Murton, and Jones was out of the equation. Perhaps it is by design, and Trader Jim Hendry and Lou know that they can’t ship out Jones if they blast his play, or bench him, as it may reduce his value in the eyes of other interested teams.

Either way, I still expect this team to look a bit different, at least in the outfield, after the trading deadline. I would be shocked if we carried Jones, Murton, and Floyd all year.

Was Lou Prepared?

While I applaud Lou’s willingness to change things up, I have to admit to being a bit put-off by the constant lineup shuffling. The time to figure out who your outfielders were going to be was in Spring Training….not a quarter of the way through the season! For the sake of chemistry, I think Lou has to settle on a set lineup soon. This is the sole reason (besides the bullpen) that I feel the Cubs aren’t 10 games above .500 right now.

We have seen the Izturis/Cedeno/Theriot shuffle, and while Theriot is a big CCO favorite, and we applaud Lou starting him now, why couldn’t that decision have been made out of Spring Training?

Matt Murton isn’t going to be a young prospect forever….and he won’t improve his game playing bits of time here and there. You know what Cliff Floyd can do, and you know what Jacque Jones can do, but do you really know what Murton is fully capable of yet? For that matter, what about Pie? I think it was the right move bringing him up (even though it was done due to Soriano’s injury) and the Cubs should have kept him here, for his speed and defense. Surrounded by great hitters, the pressure is off Pie here, and I wouldn’t be worried about him losing his confidence if he struggles. I don’t care how he hits in AAA….he needs to learn how to hit in the big leagues eventually, so why not now? I like Pie, Soriano, and Murton in the outfield, with Floyd subbing occasionally, serving as insurance, and providing a pinch-hit bat every single game. Let Pagan be Pie’s backup, and let Jones go for peanuts….just be rid of him.

I don’t blame the 5th starter spot on Lou, as Mark Prior is not Piniella’s fault, and neither is a surgically repaired Wade Miller. I think the arms of our farm system can do an admirable job of filling the 5th rotation spot, unlike last year when we asked them to fill, at various points of the season, spots 2-5. Sean Marshall may work out real well, as long as he stays consistent, and gives the club a chance to win. He doesn’t have to be an ace….that is not on the job description for 5th starter. Just eat innings, and try to give up 5 runs or less.

Final Thoughts

I am getting excited now. Maybe it is because the Bulls are done, or because I finally feel like there is an end soon to all the shuffling, and this team can start putting out regular lineups and the Cubs will have an identity formed that we can root for regularly. I am hoping this identity doesn’t include Jones, and that the Guzman/Marmol experiment is a success. Having Guzman, Marmol, Theriot, Murton, Pie, and Marshall making contributions this year, and other good pitching arms waiting down on the farm, the Cubs may finally be doing a good job of putting some of their home-grown talent to work. As I always have preached, if the kids can’t play for you in Wrigley, then stop waiting and trade them for assets that will help you out. So I am a big fan of seeing if the kids can contribute, and if they can’t, I am confident we will see Trader Jim make another appearance in July once again. Until next time, CCO Readers, let’s stop making excuses, let’s start getting consistent, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"If you don't build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs." - Tony A. Gaskins Jr.
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