Wednesday, August 1, 2007

So many things to talk about...

Usually, I try to tie everything I want to talk about into one post. Even if my thoughts are unrelated, I work hard to find a link and create one massive story. Today, however, there are just too many things on my mind.

1. Cubs Stand Pat at Deadline:
I'm not sure that Jim Hendry is the one to blame for this. In fact, I'm not even sure that there is any blame that needs to go around. While there were a lot of places where the Cubs could've improved here and there, there really wasn't a single gaping hole in this team that Jim Hendry could fix.

Center field and right field aren't really problems if Jacque Jones and Cliff Floyd keep producing at the plate like they have recently. The bullpen isn't all that bad; Marmol, Howry, and Dempster are reliable. Jason Kendall seems to be the everyday catcher from here until the end of the season. The back end of the rotation could use some help, but there really isn't a clear cut guy that would get kicked out of the rotation if we were to bring another starter in. And acquiring a left-handed bat may not help that much; we struggle against lefties, not righties.

The team has many serviceable parts. While I agree that the combination of shortcomings of these serviceable parts could add up to the equivalent of the so-called gaping hole, a single move is not able to plug the hole entirely. If Jim Hendry had a supportive background behind him and was allowed to spend money, I think that he would've tried to add a player like Griffey, Dunn, or Gagne.

Instead, the incremental nature of each of the potential moves made it easier for Sam Zell to disallow the deal. You might be able to convince Zell with one big move that clearly makes the team better, but because Zell doesn't really care about baseball, he won't be able to see the importance in a combination of small additions.

2. Garciaparra Jersey Brings Home a Winner:
Many thanks go out to Ryan Rosenberger, who was kind enough to take me to back-to-back Cubs games at the end of July.

The first game against Cole Hamels and the Phillies wasn't all that interesting, because Hamels shut us down. My attire at the Cubs game is usually pretty obvious; you'll see me in a Cubs jersey and a Cubs cap. Recently, however, my choices of what to wear to the game have been limited. I only have three Cubs jerseys: a Garciaparra home jersey, a Patterson home jersey, and a Ramirez road jersey. Usually the choice is obvious -- Ramirez, he's the only player still with the Cubs. But after falling to the Phillies by a 4-1 score in the series opener while I was sporting the Ramirez jersey, I was left with a tough decision.

Do I go back to the Ramirez jersey? Wear the same thing two days in a row?

Or do I go with a different jersey? It may not be an active player, but at least I'd be wearing the home pinstripes like my boys out on the field. The decision was Garciaparra and that led to a 7-3 victory over Philadelphia.

Needless to say, I will be wearing the Garciaparra jersey to my next Cubs game.

3. First Place in Sights:
Being just one game out of first place -- and actually tied in the loss column -- catching the Brewers is no longer a dream world fantasy; it's a realistic possibility.

The interesting thing, however, is that we would most likely want to be on the road. Why?

Well, it's very simple. With the schedule for Cubs and Brewers written the way that it is, the two teams will be following the identical schedules until they meet each other on August 28. This means that when the Cubs are at home, the Brewers will be at home. When the Cubs are on the road, the Brewers will be on the road.

The Cubs are the same team at home as they are on the road, as indicated by their 28-25 and 28-24 records at and away from Wrigley Field respectively. The same can't be said for the Brewers, as they are playing worse than .400 ball (21-32) away from Miller Park. The thing that has kept them in first place is their .685 home winning percentage.

On the last road trip, we picked up 2 1/2 games on the Brewers. At least from now until the end of August, we are in the interesting scenario to try to look to try to stay even with the Brewers at home and see what kind of damage we can do when both teams are in unfamiliar settings.

4. Wood's Strong Rehab in Tennessee:
It looks as though Kerry Wood will make an appearance in the 2007 season after all. After tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings in Tennessee (AA), the one-time ace of the staff will return to the Major League team in an effort to bolster an already-strong bullpen.

After pitching single innings in back-to-back days on Saturday and Sunday, the right hander took Monday off before making one final rehab appearance on Tuesday. If Wood feels fine on Wednesday, he could be activated from the disabled list as soon as Thursday and jump into the bullpen.

Lou Piniella has already clarified Wood's role in the bullpen and I agree with him. "Roles can change, but I'll use him in the middle," said the Cubs' skipper. "We'll build up some stamina, build up some strength. He hasn't been on the mound for a long long time in a Major League game. We have to get him acclimated first and foremost. We have to build some stamina for him. The middle is the best place to do that."

This means that Dempster will remain as the closer, Howry will continue to be the eighth inning guy and Carlos Marmol continues to be used as the relief ace. I don't think that Kerry Wood will be used in a manner where he would directly help the ballclub. Of course, when he pitches, he will look try to retire the opposition and pitch as effectively as possible, but in the long run I believe that his contribution to the team would have been to keep Marmol, Howry, and Dempster stronger for longer.

Tuesday's win over the Phillies brings up a perfect example of what I think Wood's role should be. After Marquis went 6 innings, Will Ohman entered with a two-run lead in the seventh inning. Ohman recorded two outs before giving way to Marmol with men on base. Marmol then escaped the seventh inning and watched his team score two more runs. Despite the lead now being four in the eighth, Marmol returned for a complete inning before Bob Howry tossed a scoreless ninth.

With a four-run lead, I cringed a little at the fact that Piniella had to use Howry at all and Marmol for more than one inning. I understand why he did it though; it was the only way to give Dempster the night off. In this situation, Wood could've thrown one inning, either allowing Marmol to be done after one batter or giving Howry the night off entirely.

That's not to say that Wood won't steal the job from Marmol, Howry, or Dempster. We never know what's going to happen with the effectiveness these four pitchers down the stretch. But the bullpen's not broke (yet), so don't fix it.

If and when the bullpen does break, hopefully Wood will be ready and willing.

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