Someone send this memo to Cubs manager Lou Piniella: The reinforcements are not coming, because if they were, they would be here by now.
The two-time defending NL Central champs are not even a shadow of their former selves. They rank 22nd in on-base percentage, 24th in slugging and 27th in batting average. Chicago's North Side edition of mediocre baseball currently sits in fourth place at 35-37 and still have managed to only be 3.5 games behind the first place Brewers and Cardinals. Contrary to popular belief, the Cubs aren't dead yet. They're not even on life support.
Are they on their death beds? Something like that. The Cubs are like that elderly relative that only gets up to watch the Price Is Right in the morning, Matlock in the afternoon and the 10 p.m. news before bed. Piniella needs to do something to jump start this team, and it has nothing to do with kicking dirt, throwing bases or abusing Gatorade machines or water coolers. Grandma would call this an afternoon snack.
Here is my proposal. First, a line-up shuffle.
The first step involves Alfonso Soriano vacating the lead-off spot for Milton Bradley.
It was the only five days ago when Bradley's OBP was at .360, its highest since April 10 when it was .389. And since no one is going to take on Crazy Uncle Milton's ego or contract, the Cubs are stuck with him until further notice. And I figure, the best way to get his bat going is to get him in a position to see a lot of quality pitches. He owns a career .369 OBP and has gotten on base at a 40 percent clip for each of the last three seasons, drawing a career-best 80 walks last season.
If Bradley can coax a few walks here and there by laying off pitcher's pitches, it could lead to him getting more hitter's pitches to drive to the gaps. And in case you've been living under a rock, Wrigley becomes a hitter's paradise in July and August.
Batting second is Ryan Theriot, for you fanboys who can't get enough of The Riot trying to jack pitches out to left. Maybe, with a guy on base, Theriot, whose OBP is a Soriano-esque .342, will return to slapping the ball to right field ... while occasionally driving an inside pitch to the left-center field gap.
Micah Hoffpauir bats third and plays left. He ranks third on the team with seven home runs and is slugging .467, which ranks second on the team behind only Derrek Lee. Like Theriot, Hoffpauir has a unique group of followers that salivate profusely during each at bat. Let's give him some swing and if he misses, he can return to being a skinny, white version of Daryle Ward.
D-Lee bats fourth. He's not back to 2005 MV-Lee quite yet, but he has proven to be the team's best hitter. Since moving to the No. 4 slot, D-Leezey has been raking. He is hitting .329 with a .413 OBP, slugging .582 and OPSing .996. All of his 11 homers and 32 of his 39 runs batted in have come as the Cubs clean-up man.
Jake Fox bats fifth and plays third. He's got good power, especially to the gaps and has been this year's Geovany Soto. Without the weed smoking, of course.
Finally, we get to the gravy, where somewhere, avid readers of this group will point and laugh with that sh*t-eating "I told you so" look on their faces as I move Alfonso Soriano out of the lead-off spot.
His batting averaged dropped from .280 on May 17 to .235 as of today. It is not as if Soriano can't regain his early-season stroke in the blink of an eye, for Cubs fans have seen this act before. But for the sake of this blog, let's move him to fifth in the order.
I'll concede that his value as a lead-off hitter diminishes a bit when he's not stealing bases. But if he wants to score, he is going to need to steal bases. I'm under the assumption that Soriano has the green light to go whenever he wants. So here is an idea for Sweet Uncle Lou: Throw out the steal sign whenever Soriano gets on first and get those legs in motion. If he refuses to go, Piniella should go Bobby Cox his ass and sit him on the bench right between he and Alan Trammel.
If not, send him home.
Besides, having Soriano running at first is a nice way to keep No. 7 hitter Geovany Soto out of a double play scenario while also maybe moving the infield defense around by opening things up with a little hit and run action.
Kosuke Fukudome bats eigth, where he should draw a lot of walks in front of the pitcher. Pitcher bunts him over (or in Carlos Zambrano's case, drives him in) and the line-up turns over again.
The line-up, again:
- Milton Bradley, RF
- Ryan Theriot, SS
- Micah Hoffpauir, LF
- Derrek Lee, 1B
- Jake Fox, 3B
- Alfonso Soriano, 2B
- Geovany Soto, C
- Kosuke Fukudome, CF
- The Pitcher
I'm not saying that this will work, but it's worth a shot.
C'mon, this is the same organization that continually trotted out Willie Banks as a starter, Mel Rojas and Antonio Alfonseca as closers and Neifi Perez as an everyday shortstop. What's the worse that can happen?