Not since the mighty swings of Mark Bellhorn have I been so enthused by a 20-something second baseman in a Cubs uniform, as I am currently with “Mighty” Mike Fontenot. Sure, it has only been 70 at-bats, but this guy is playing more like Ryne Sandberg than Ronny Cedeno.
Perhaps due to the spark provided by Fontenot, or perhaps because the team is just finally getting into a rhythm, the Cubs are playing their best baseball of the year. Are we setting ourselves up for a fall, though? Are the Cheese Curds simply too much of a juggernaut for the Cubs to catch? You know better….
While not perfectly set in stone, Piniella seems to be finding more consistency in his lineup, which I believe is key. He is also sticking with the hot hand, which I like as well. Moving Felix Pie out of the #2 hole will hurt Pie’s production. by not giving him the great protection afforded when one hits between Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee, but this move needed to be done. Pie needed to be moved because he wasn’t producing at a high enough level to justify keeping him at such a valuable spot in the order. The #2 guy needs to be able to make contact consistently, bunt if needed, and get on base for Lee and Aramis Ramirez to drive in.
While it has been obvious that the pitching staff has responded favorably to the departure of Michael Barrett, and his substandard defense and pitch-calling, it remains to be seen what the long-term offensive impact of this move will be. I have maintained, and will continue to maintain, that our 5-8 spots in the lineup, currently, give me pause, and are a cause for concern. Typically these spots are filled by the likes of Theriot, Izturis, DeRosa, Bowen, Koyie Hill, Pagan, and Pie. All of these guys are not established everyday players….period. That is 50% of your lineup, and therefore your offense (not counting the pitcher, which is always a wildcard) that you are gambling on unproven talent.
How do we fix this? First, leave Pie in the lineup. Pagan has been good filling in, but he is not the answer to our everyday CF needs, and I think all the Cubs Faithful knows this deep down. I like injecting Pie into the bottom of the order, because I think he has more power potential (which includes doubles and triples….not just homeruns) than any of our catchers, as well as Theriot and Pagan, in my opinion. So hopefully Pie will continue to improve, but Lou has to let him get regular at-bats to really see improvement.
The other way to improve the bottom of the order is to stick with any combination of Fontenot, Theriot, and DeRosa, over using Izturis. I have not seen the unbelievable defensive shortstop that he was hyped to be, so if he is not going to be Ozzie Smith, but he will hit like Ozzie Smith, then I would rather he ride the bench. The other three seem to do a good-to-above-average job on defense, so their offense is more valuable than Izzy’s glove, at this point.
The final thing needed to improve the bottom of the order is to trade for a new catcher, that is decent defensively, but also has a decent bat. This is where scouting comes into play, which is supposed to be Jim Hendry’s strength, and I have to believe there are some teams out there with two good catchers on the roster, or more, and we should be entering trade talks with them ASAP. Maybe Bowen or Hill will light up offensively like Fontenot, but it seems a bit much to hope for.
Don’t Let Me Down….
Will Fontenot fade? Maybe. I think it is a safe bet he won’t challenge Ted Williams’ high mark for a season average, so he does have to come down to Earth at some point. Listen….we went through this with Corey Patterson, with Ronny Cedeno, and with Ryan Theriot….each gave us a reason to believe they were legit, and then struggled afterwards. Patterson is gone, so we will never know, but perhaps Cedeno will be the offensive version of Rich Hill, and his production at the AAA level will finally make the transition over to the major league level. Or perhaps we will see Theriot heat back up, and finish the year strong, cementing his spot in the starting lineup for the next few years.
The key word here, is maybe. It is “maybe” because none of these guys are proven, which worries me. By all means, give them a chance, but it would be nice for Hendry to get another quality bat, or two, in the middle infield and catcher positions, to help us overtake the pesky Cheese Curds and win the division.
That is, of course, if the Cubs are still allowed to make deals and spend money? I don’t care what Corporate-speak comes out of Hendry’s mouth, it seems apparent the Cubs are being affected by the sale of the team, otherwise I believe Zambrano would be resigned already, Jones would already have been traded, and we would have some better options at catcher.
Gotta love this winning streak….I hope I didn’t just jinx it! Zambrano is pitching like we knew he could, and is quashing any concerns about his arm/shoulder being worn out….he deserves a nice extension, and the longer Hendry waits, the more expensive it will become. Sean Marshall has been tremendous, and I currently have more faith in him than I do Rich Hill, which is amazing because I still think Rich Hill is legit, too! Do the Chicago Cubs really have three quality left-handed starters in their rotation? What a difference a year makes! Until next time, CCO readers, let’s hope a little help is on the way, that Fontenot never slows down, and let’s go Cubs!