Sweet Home, Chicago?

Our once-struggling National League Chicago franchise is 6-4 in their last ten games, with a welcome, albeit small, 2-game winning streak. The Cubs are a robust 8-5 on the road, but only 4-9 at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field….

What gives? Do we have a group of ballplayers that aren’t the right fit for day games in Chicago, or is this poor record merely a misleading early-season fluke? (I checked the box next to “fluke” by the way) Lo and behold, the Cubs have vaulted into 3rd place! Are you concerned Bud Selig’s favorite team, the Brewers, may be running away with the division? Quicker than you can say “Ben Sheets is injury prone” you can say, “you know better….” The Alou Theory….

My theory about day game success at Wrigley has to do with the internal clocks of the players. With some players, it just doesn’t matter if the game is at night, or during the day, if there have been a couple games off, or if they have played two weeks in a row….it just doesn’t affect them.

However, there seems to be just as many players, if not more, that simply do not remain consistent between day and night games. Moises Alou had a mediocre first year with the Cubs, in 2002, and then had a good year in 2003, and then a great year in 2004. My theory is that certain players have to get their body clocks reset, and used to playing at Wrigley during the day. All too often, it seems it takes new acquisitions a few months to get in a groove when they join the Cubs. Look at Derrek Lee: a solid 2004, and then an incredible ascension into MVP-candidate in 2005, and he seems to have picked up where he left off so far this year. Other examples would be Juan Pierre, and Jacque Jones….they both had miserable starts last year, but by the end of the year, their numbers were really quite good. (I still wish we kept Pierre!). Aramis Ramirez was a sparkplug when he was acquired in 2003, but he really didn’t light the world on fire in terms of average. He has had some great numbers ever since, though. Michael Barrett also improved after a full year of Wrigley under his belt.

So who is ready for a breakout year, under the Alou theory? I would have said Matt Murton, but his playing time is getting squashed due to our odd need for 3 starting Right Fielders at the moment. Not that Murton had a bad year last year, but I would expect improvement, especially in the power department. Does the Alou Theory work for everyone? No….just ask Ronny Cedeno.

The Impending Home Winning Streak….

My Alou Theory does indeed indicate that the Cubs should be playing lights out, from an offensive perspective, so that is why I view our poor record at home as a fluke. Lee, Ramirez, Murton, Jones, Barrett, and even Theriot, are all established and used to Wrigley and day games. You can be slightly concerned about Soriano, Pie, DeRosa, and Floyd, but if the Cubs stick with Jones in CF, and hopefully Murton in RF, then Soriano is the only wildcard. Given that Soriano had a monster year, at a new position, for a new ball club, just last year, I feel very comfortable that he is the type of adaptable player that is immune to the Alou Theory. I am not going to sweat DeRosa’s offense, as there wasn’t much expected of our middle infielders this year, besides playing good defense.

Confidence and momentum go hand-in-hand, so the continued consistent efforts put forth by Jason Marquis, Rich Hill, and Ted Lilly are great to see. Combine that with Carlos Zambrano getting warmed up, and the pitching corps looks pretty good, outside of the fact that we don’t seem to have a 5th starter figured out yet. Again, I think the Cubs are waiting to see what Guzman can do, and if he fails, then we will likely see a trade involving either Floyd, Jones, or Murton, to help us acquire another starter.

Final Thoughts….

Two wins in one day always make you feel pretty good about your team! I like that Theriot is continuing to get at-bats, but I think the OF situation is a big potential problem waiting to explode. Starters like to start, and I don’t care how much juggling Sweet Lou Piniella does with his lineup, he is simply not getting all of them enough at-bats to get in a consistent groove. My guess is that Hendry has been under whelmed with offers thus far, and perhaps is waiting for that inevitable injury to another’s team’s starting OF, to get himself a better return for trading one of his excess, but quality, outfielders.

Not to mention that Felix Pie is not going to get any better playing as a backup, so either the Cubs need to stick with Pie for the long haul, and trade an OF, or send him back to AAA. Until next time, CCO Readers, let’s get this streak to 4-5 games, get over .500, and let’s go Cubs!