With the Chicago Cubs knocking off the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday's makeup game, the Cubs could regain a share of first place. Meanwhile, my San Francisco 49ers will start the season on Monday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals. Hopefully, the Cardinals will fall again.
Monday's win was nice, but a lot of things about the game troubled me. Sure, I loved offensive outburst, but all wasn't happy-go-lucky. Aramis Ramirez hit two homeruns and two doubles and Derrek Lee finally looked like Derrek Lee again. Lee hit the ball hard in the final game of the Pirates series, but only had one hit to show for it. Today, against the Cardinals and a more conventional defensive alignment, Lee pounded out three hits.
But, where Derrek Lee left off, two other guys key to the team's success picked up. Ryan Theriot is now .179 since Alfonso Soriano's return to the lineup and he failed to come through in many clutch situations today. Theriot came up with the bases loaded twice and once more with two on, but he was unable to deliver: an 0-for-5 with two double plays.
Also, Mark DeRosa doesn't appear to be the same batter that he was with men in scoring position earlier in the season. DeRosa has been hitting into more key double plays recently, has just 9 hits in his last 39 at-bats, and his run production of late has drastically decreased. He's only homered once since the June series with the Brewers at Wrigley (the one with the Ramirez walk-off) and his RBI numbers have decreased too. DeRosa entered July 3 with 46 RBI on the season, but has driven in just 19 runs since then; he only has 16 RBI in the second-half of the season. His fundamentals are deteriorating, too.
Up 7-3 in the seventh inning, Aramis Ramirez led off with a double. I expected Piniella to ask DeRosa to lay down a bunt. Instead, he swung away and tried to pull everything. After looking foolish trying to roll over on outside breaking balls for strikes one and two, DeRosa finally did roll over and grounded weakly to the left side. Sure, we still scored a run in the seventh inning, but I can't help but wonder why Piniella didn't call for a bunt. Did he lose faith in DeRosa's abilities? After all, it was DeRosa's failed bunt earlier in the month that prompted the Cubs' skipper to say that the team was going through a "bunting slump."
If I'm Lou Piniella, this is my lineup for tomorrow's game:
LF Alfonso Soriano
C Jason Kendall (if he thrives here, it allows Theriot to be moved down)
1B Derrek Lee
RF Cliff Floyd (if it ain't broke...)
3B Aramis Ramirez (...don't fix it)
CF Jacque Jones (I've always loved the lefty-righty)
2B Mark DeRosa (move him down a slot for now)
SS Ronny Cedeno (not "benching" Theriot, just a day off)
P Jason Marquis
Another interesting move in that seventh was Piniella's decision to use Jason Marquis as a pinch-runner. With a 25-man roster, that's not a bad idea, but with guys like Fontenot and Fuld on the bench, why risk your pitcher on the bases?
Finally, the Cubs rout of the Cardinals proved one more thing: we can beat the good teams, but for some reason we can't beat the bad teams. Usually, playing a schedule full of opponents below .500 would be a good thing, but considering we're 8-4 against St. Louis and 9-6 against the Brewers, I wouldn't mind a few more games with them. Granted, we do have four more games left with St. Louis, but all of the other games are against the Astros (we're 6-6 against them), Reds (5-7), Pirates (5-7), and Marlins (0-3). We're going to have to turn that around if we want any shot at being remotely close to the division lead, let alone winning the division.