Monday, July 04, 2005

posted by James - 12:25 AM

Let me recap for you the games I've been to this year.

Game 1, Monday, April 11: San Diego 1, Cubs 0

This is the game where Jeromy Burnitz blew two balls in right field accounting for the only run of the ball game and struck out three times, twice with runners in scoring position and two outs. Now, I never advocated his immediate release or an appearance before "the booing squad," and I'm glad I didn't because he's given the Cubs exactly what they expected from his acquisition, probably more. You'd think Derrek Lee would see a pitch above his shoetops about once a week, but he's obviously getting some hittable pitches and part of that is due to Burnitz's production.

Speaking of mvD, in this game he batted sixth and had two hits in four at-bats. Thank god he hit Dusty Baker over the head with Triple Crown-level production or he'd probably be batting behind Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez on a regular basis... Oh wait...

Game 2, Monday, April 25: Cubs 10, Cincinnati 6

Yeah, the Cubs won the game, but they paid for it for the next three weeks, losing 11 of 17 games.

It started off so well too. Mark Prior dominated early, scattering two runs, eight baserunners and 10 strikeouts over six innings while winning his third game in as many starts after coming off the DL for the first time.

The Cubs offense had done their part giving Prior a 5-2 lead - he decided not to push it after 106 pitches - and extending the lead to 7-3 going into the eighth inning.

Dusty decided he couldn't trust such a lead to Mike Remlinger and Glendon Rusch (the two pitchers who were available after he burned through Cliff Bartosh, Michael Wuertz and LaTroy Hawkins to get through the eighth inning) and got Chad Fox warming up in the bullpen to pitch the ninth the day after he closed out his first save of the season.

Now, I'm convinced that Chad Fox has about three people's arms pieced together to make an arm capable of doing a 12 oz curl, much less hurl a baseball past major-league hitters.

Yet that didn't stop Dusty from using him in three-straight games April 15-17. What does that have to do with April 25? After those three games, Fox had given up a total of one earned run in eight appearances. St. Louis slugger Scott Rolen torched him for a homerun four days later to extend the Cardinals' lead to 4-0 going into the top of the ninth, which didn't really matter since Chris Carpenter pitched a CG shutout.

Three days later he picked up his aforementioned lone save, needing TWENTY pitches to secure Kerry Wood's first win.

On the fateful last Monday in April, the Cubs piled on three more runs in bottom of the eighth, which didn't stop Dusty Baker from throwing Fox out there with a 10-3 lead. He faced five batters and retired only one of them, throwing THIRTY pitches... the 30th will probably be the last pitch of his career... another Dusty Baker-brand eulogy.

Well... at least mvD batted third.

The Cubs never fully recovered until they gave the closer job to Ryan Dempster and shipped LaTroy Hawkins off to someone else's disabled list in the best trade I've seen since Milwaukee got half a baseball team for Richie Sexson, with new and improved lemon scent.

Game 3, Friday, May 6: Philadelphia 3, Cubs 2

Speaking of LaTroy Hawkins... no, actually I'm not going to. I promised myself I wouldn't talk about this game anymore. Except to say...

Bad Friday... Bad, Bad, Bad Friday.

Game 4, Sunday, July 3: Washington 5, Cubs 4, 12 innings

Yeah, this brings me to today's game. Some of my favorite things happened in this game: A home run in the ninth inning to tie the game with bonus points because it was Aramis Ramirez. More bonus points for Aramis hitting it off everybody's favorite, straight-brimmed closer du jour Chad Cordero.

Jerry Hairston hit a leadoff homerun in the eleventh to cut the Glendon Rusch-provided deficit in half... and started in center. He also started in center in the lone Cubs win I've witnessed.

Yeah, he misplayed a ball in center which probably led to an extra Nationals' run in the 11th, but he also got on base three times in six plate appearances. If Todd Walker hadn't done his best Jeromy Burnitz impression, coming up empty in six PAs - twice with Hairston on base - and throwing a ball into short left field after misplaying a ball in the 11th, they'd be flying a white flag right now. Still, I don't know what got into Dusty, but let's hope it stays there if it means Hairston and Walker will be at the top of the lineup as we know it now.

Some of my least favorite things happened in this game as well: I like aggresive baserunning. If you have speed, use it. If you have limited speed, make sure you use it when you can. That doesn't mean you don't be careful when you're facing the most dangerous catcher's arm in the National League.

I thought when Dusty sent Corey Patterson out there to pinch run for Michael Barrett in the 10th, that was the only way he was going to keep from Corey hearing deafening boos even with the stadium half-empty. I was wrong. Not only did pinch running for Barrett result in an at-bat for Henry Blanco with the bases loaded in the eleventh, it ensured that Ronny Cedeno would be the only player left on our bench. This drew my ire immediately... then Corey broke for second. I couldn't even look... Nationals C Brian Schneider would have none of that...

Then he scored in the 11th... then he hit the game-winning home run in the 12th off Sergio Mitre.

When Dempster left the ball game after two practically-perfect innings, I railed on on Dusty's decision to pitch Rusch and Mitre, our long relievers, instead of Michael Wuertz and Mike Remlinger. And my worst fears came true when Rusch could only retire one batter and Mitre couldn't even finish off a full inning without giving up the deciding run.

Yeah, my record's not so good. However, I do feel like I've got my money's worth this year, even on Bad Friday where I got to see MVD solidify his MVP status with a go-ahead home run off Billy Wagner before the unpleasantness I won't talk about every again. So, I'll keep going to games, but maybe I'll hang out with Al in the bleachers instead, since that's where I sat the only time the Cubs won in my presence.

I'm not going to say I'm losing faith, but it is severely damaged. Losses like this make it easy to see the Cubs are far short of contenders for a playoff position. At one point I did have high expectations, but those expectations will not return until the Cubs make some impact acquisitions.

They should do it soon too to prevent anymore losses like this from happening. They need one more bullpen arm. They need more depth on the bench and another bat in the every day lineup... two birds we can kill with one stone by acquiring a centerfielder who can cover enough ground to make up for having Hairston in left and move Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Dubois, if we don't have to trade him, to our bench.

At this point, everybody is available except mvD, Prior, Zambrano and Aramis. Even if it's only incremental improvements, do it! We have the talent available on the major league roster. We have the talent available in our minor league system. And we have the cash to get something done (don't think I've forgot about the Sammy Sosa money you guys haven't spent yet).

My dream scenario would getting Carl Crawford and Danys Baez from the Devil Rays. Neither player would be cheap, and we'd have to give up a load of prospects because they have so many outfielders that they'd have no interest in Corey. It would probably take Sergio Mitre, Rich Hill, Todd Wellemeyer and a position player such as Matt Murton, Brandon Sing or maybe even Hairston.

I would give this up in a second, and I would look into trading Corey and Rafael Novoa to the Rockies for Brian Fuentes.

I have serious interest in Brian Fuentes. I'm familiar with him from his days in the Seattle Mariners system. They traded him and two other pitchers for the third baseman who will not be named. He's their only all-star this year, but he's been very effective as their closer. Over the last two months, he's held batters to under a .200 batting average with 30 strikeouts in 26.1 innings and 9 saves. Fuentes has actually been untouchable at Coors Field with 7 of his 10 saves, an ERA under 2.00 and only 1 home run in 23 innings.

He's the guy I really want to the Cubs to target. Would Baez and Fuentes be overkill, yes? Have a problem with that, son? Didn't think so.

With these two trades, we'd have a lineup that could look like this:

1. Crawford cf
2. Perez/Garciaparra ss
3. Lee 1b
4. Burnitz rf
5. Ramirez 3b
6. Walker 2b
7. Dubois/Hollandsworth lf
8. Barrett c
When Nomar comes back... this lineup would kill people. Our bullpen would look like this.

Rusch lhp
Ohman lhp
Remlinger lhp (who's really a right hander)
Wuertz rhp
Fuentes lhp
Baez rhp
Dempster rhp
Maybe you'd demote Ohman or DFA Remlinger to open up a spot to pick up another bench player, but if you can handle a bench of Hairston, Hollandsworth/Dubois, Macias, Cedeno/Perez and Blanco, our bullpen would be just as stacked as our lineup. How's that for a change?

This team is losing it's chance to stay in this race and there are players available who can help. It's up to them now. mvD and Aramis did their job as all-stars. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior did their job coming back from injury. And we've done our part supporting the team.

It's up to the front office to get something done and get something done soon.

They're the faith healers.