On Thursday the CCO looked at keys for the second half for the pitching staff and backstops, today it is the rest of the position players. The Cubs figure to make at least one more move before the trading deadline at the end of the month with some thinking an addition will be made in the bullpen and to add a right handed bat to compliment Daryle Ward off the bench. Right now specific names have not been mentioned, but it could be an interesting couple of weeks….both on and off the field.
The Cubs return to work later today in Houston and according to a report on WGN Radio, Micah Hoffpauir worked out with the team on Thursday and will be activated before game time but they did not mention the corresponding roster move. The Cubs begin a difficult stretch tonight in which they play 10 of the next 14 games on the road with the only home games coming against the Florida Marlins.
While the Faithful wait for the games to resume, here is a look at the rest of the keys for the second half…. The Big Three
Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were solid in the first half but the Cubs missed Alfonso Soriano. Whether he should lead off and his defense in left field is a debate for another day but Soriano has the ability to carry a team and is a force in the lineup the opposition cannot ignore. A healthy Soriano will help balls leave the yard and his broken hand should have given his legs more than enough time to fully recover. The Cubs offense could be more fun to watch in the second half than in the first.
Derrek Lee started hitting the ball with a little more authority leading up to the break. He stopped grounding into double plays at a record breaking pace and was spraying hits all over the field. Aramis Ramirez came up with more clutch hits in the first half and 9 of his 17 home runs came after the 7th inning. Lee and Ramirez give Piniella as strong a combination in the middle of the lineup as there is in the National League. Both players will need time off, and Lee must realize he cannot play every game. On days one or the other is out of the starting nine, the other must pick up the slack.
A healthy and productive Soriano, Lee and Ramirez will give Piniella the ability to give players days off.
The On-base Machine
Kosuke Fukudome had a very good first half but it was no secret he ran out of gas before the break. Fukudome’s struggles can be attributed to any number of factors….new league, new country, pitcher’s adjustments and travel schedule have been the ones most commonly used. But he seemed to hit better behind Aramis Ramirez in the lineup. When Soriano returns, Piniella has mentioned Fukudome will hit second in the order behind Soriano, but the lineup seemed to perform a little better with Ryan Theriot behind Soriano and Mark DeRosa in the eighth spot.
The Cubs need his defense in right field and Piniella must give him days off, once Soriano returns, to keep him fresh down the stretch.
Put me in Coach
The centerfield position of the Chicago Cubs was one of the most intriguing stories of the first half. A castoff from the Toronto Blue Jays and Cardinal-enemy number one was not on the Cubs radar at the beginning of Spring Training….and both had a huge impact on the first half. Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds have formed a more than solid duo in center and Johnson figures to receive more time in left as the season wears on. Edmonds and Johnson have more than filled in for the demoted Felix Pie, and once rosters are expanded, Pie figures to be used as a late inning defensive replacement.
Piniella’s ability to keep Edmonds and Johnson on the field and productive is key.
The Bayou Boys
Ryan Theriot put last season behind him and was the most consistent Cub, offensively, in the first half. Theriot is the spark plug and gives Piniella options. Theriot can leadoff, hit in the two-hole or in the eighth spot but is probably better suited hitting behind Alfonso Soriano.
Theriot hit a wall down the stretch last year and while he has yet to show signs of fatigue this season, it has to be in the back of Piniella’s head that he could falter in September again. Theriot will need days off but Ronny Cedeno has seen more bench time that field time for the past several weeks. The Cubs will need Cedeno to return to early season form, or make a deal, in order to give Piniella the option for sitting Theriot from time to time.
Mike Fontenot has come up with a lot of big hits of late. Ron Santo calls him “Little Babe Ruth” and Fontenot gives his skipper a left-handed option at 2nd base….but that is all. Fontenot must produce when called upon in the second half, because of his limited positions on the field, if he is not producing offensively he becomes a liability on the bench of a team in need of depth.
Mark DeRosa’s value to the Chicago Cubs is immeasurable. DeRosa has produced consistently throughout the season despite the fact he never knows what position he is going to play when he shows up to the park. DeRosa has earned the right to be the Cubs everyday 2nd baseman, but he gives his skipper what every big league manager throughout the league wishes they had….flexibility. DeRosa should receive more playing time at 2nd over the last 67 games but his ability to move around the field could be where his team needs him most.
Players are going to have to take days off and Mark DeRosa is the key to winning without the everyday starters in their set positions.
The Bat off the Bench
Daryle Ward has three objectives in the second half: 1) Stay Healthy 2) Hit 3) Spell Derrek Lee when called upon.
Ward is a valuable piece of the puzzle and should receive more playing time in August and September.
The Little Things
While baseball is played over the span of 9 innings, it is usually one or two plays that determine the outcome of a ballgame. The Cubs have made the plays at home for the majority of the season and must keep it up in the second half….but on the road, this is where the Cubs have failed to get it done.
Lou Piniella’s crew has found ways to win at Wrigley and found ways to lose on the road….and they must start playing better fundamental ball on the road. Turning double plays, hitting the cutoff man, laying down sacrifice bunts, hitting behind the runner, sacrifice flies, throwing strikes (especially in late innings) and most importantly, the entire team must stop trying to force something that is not there. The Cubs, for the most part, have taken what the opposition has given them at home, but they have given just as much away from Wrigley. As the saying goes, little things wins ballgames.