Tagged: Micah Hoffpauir

Should the Cubs Move Alfonso Soriano Back to Second Base?

When Alfonso Soriano was
acquired by the Washington Nationals prior to the 2006 season, the club
wanted to convert him from a second baseman to an outfielder. The Nats
already had a second baseman in Jose Vidro, but Soriano wanted no part
of the switch and sat out a few spring training games as a protest.  Eventually, Soriano gave in to the wishes of his manager (so as not
to forfeit any salary) and made the All-Star Game as a left-fielder.

Fast forward to May 2009, and the Chicago Cubs find themselves in
the opposite situation of the 2006 Nationals. The Cubs traded away Mark
DeRosa in the offseason, and have recently lost replacements Aaron
Miles and Ryan Freel to injury. 

The Cubs’ normal second baseman, Mike Fontenot, has been forced to
switch to third base due to another injury to Aramis Ramirez, leaving
manager Lou Piniella short on options at two of the infield positions.  If Freel goes on the DL, as expected, the Cubs will likely
recall Bobby Scales from Triple-A Iowa as his replacement, but the
infield depth will still be thin.

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In the outfield, however, the Cubs have plenty of options. Soriano,
Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Milton Bradley, and Micah Hoffpauir are
all in the mix, with recent call-up Jake Fox looking for at-bats as well.

Until the most recent series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the
Cubs had been in an offensive slump. On a recent six-game road trip
against St. Louis and San Diego, the Cubs managed just five runs,
losing all six of the games. The team has attempted to solve this
problem by calling up Fox, but it means nothing if there is no way to
get his bat in the starting lineup.

One solution, albeit a crazy one, is to move Soriano back to second
base. Not having played there much over the last three-plus seasons
will make him a defensive liability, but no more so than inserting Fox
at third base.  Soriano does have a great arm in the outfield, but he
is not the best fielder out there either.  Moving Soriano to second opens up an outfield slot for Reed Johnson,
Micah Hoffpauir, or Jake Fox, and also gives Piniella more flexibility
with double switches later in games. 

This is definitely not a permanent solution, and once Aramis Ramirez
returns there will be no need for it. But Ramirez is anywhere from four
to six weeks away from returning, and the Cubs could fall too far back
in the division during that time for it to matter. 

Unfortunately, the Cubs can’t play the Pirates every game, and with
the Dodgers in town this weekend and interleague play on the horizon,
the Cubs need to do something to wake up their bats in a hurry.

Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

On Monday, the Cubs inked
Milton Bradley to a three-year deal in what is the latest of a flurry
of offseason moves by GM Jim Hendry.  With the addition of Bradley, the
Cubs’ lineup takes on a slightly different feel.  Below is a quick look.

Lineup A:

SS Ryan Theriot

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Kosuke Fukudome

2B Mark DeRosa

C Geovany Soto

CF Felix Pie

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Kerry Wood

Bench: Daryle Ward, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno

Lineup B:

LF Alfonso Soriano

SS Ryan Theriot

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Milton Bradley

C Geovany Soto

2B Mike Fontenot

CF Kosuke Fukudome

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Carlos Marmol

Bench: Daryle Ward (I’d prefer Micah Hoffpauir), Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Paul Bako, Joey Gathright

If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, you know Lineup A is from Opening Day
2008.  After Monday’s signing of outfielder Milton Bradley, Lineup B is
my projection for Lou Piniella’s team for the 2009 season (against a
right-handed starter). 

Looking at these two lineups, after all their recent offseason
maneuvers, is the current version of the Cubs an improvement at all
from the team swept in the 2008 NLDS? 

OFFENSE

In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced
by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.  Bradley is clearly an upgrade to
Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds/Felix Pie at the plate, and can switch-hit,
but defensively the drop is much more significant. 

As everyone under the sun has noted, Bradley has rarely ever played
over 100 games in the field, and his health concerns are a large
liability.  Fontenot provides Piniella with a nice left-handed
alternative in the lineup, but the versatility lost in the field by
trading DeRosa is enormous. 

I know, I know, that’s where the bench comes in.  Aaron Miles
can play 2B, SS, 3B (kind of), and OF. Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright
can play multiple outfield positions, but Ward (or Hoffpauir) and Bako
are one-position guys.  Defensively, the bench is very similar to 2008,
but offensively it has dropped. 

Sure Aaron Miles hit .315 last year, but that’s the only time he has
hit above .300 in his career (not including his 4-for-12 season with
the White Sox in 2003).  Last season was Joey Gathright’s first above
100 games played, and he has also only hit above .300 once in his
career (2007). 

Paul Bako previously played for the Cubs, and he is no Hank White, I
can tell you that.  Bako’s career batting average is .231, with a
career high of .272 way back in 1998.

PITCHING

2008 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis

2009 Starting Rotation – Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall

So before you think I’m all negative, the starting rotation has
clearly improved.  Last season’s midseason acquisition of Rich Harden
and this season’s preseason trade of Jason Marquis make the Cubs’
rotation one of, if not the most formidable in the National League.

An addition of Jake Peavy would only make the case for this being
one of the best starting rotations in history, so I don’t see much more
analysis needed here.

2008 Bullpen – Kevin Hart, Kerry Wood (CL), Carlos Marmol,
Bob Howry, Carmen Pignatiello, Michael Wuertz, Jon Lieber (Scott Eyre
and Angel Guzman on DL)

2009 Bullpen – Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol (CL), Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino

The bullpen suffers an immediate hit as Carlos Marmol is moved from
set-up man to closer.  Marmol is an amazing pitcher, and his 114
strikeouts in just 87.1 IP last year is unheard of.  He was one of the
main reasons the Cubs got so many save opportunities last year. 

But can Marmol hold up under the pressure of the ninth inning?  Will
Cubs fans turn on him as they did during his bad slump during the 2008
season?

On top of that, who gets him the ball in the ninth inning with the
lead?  “Proven” veterans Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts?  Young gun Kevin
Hart?  Newly acquired Kevin Gregg or Luis Vizcaino?  I’m glad we have a
potential lights-out closer in Marmol, but we can’t count on our
starters to go eight innings every game to give him a lead to work with.

OVERALL

Lineup – Advantage: Even

The 2009 Lineup is better in terms of balance and power, but defensively the 2008 lineup is superior.

Bench – Advantage: 2008

Paul Bako pretty much says it all. 

Starting Pitching – Advantage: 2009

Plus Rich Harden, minus Jason Marquis = Advantage 2009

Bullpen – Advantage: 2008

In both years we have an unproven closer, but in 2008 Wood had Marmol.

Overall– Advantage: TBD

Before you write this off as a cop-out answer let me make one
point.  There is virtually no way the Cubs can improve on the regular
season of 2008. Anything less than a division title (and the best
record in the NL) would be a huge disappointment.  There is literally
no way the Cubs can have a worse postseason than 2008.  None.  So only
October will truly be able to tell whether or not these moves have made
a difference.

7 For 7

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Now I’m not the oldest of Cub fans, but in all my years as a Cubs fan I cannot remember a homestand of this length where the Cubs won them all.  (Editor’s Note: It last happened in 1970).  Coming off two tough extra inning losses the week before in Pittsburgh, the Cubs played well in sweeping the Dodgers and then took it to the reeling Rockies.   Now they take their 7-game win streak with them to the West Coast for 3 against the Padres and 4 against those same Dogers.  23 of the Cubs’ next 32 games are on the road (although 3 of those are on the Southside), so this will be an important stretch for the team with the best record in baseball.  Now I’m not trying to get ahead of myself, but the last time the Cubs had the best record in baseball on June 1st was the year 1908.  Just makes me excited all over to think about that. 

Today’s game saw Derrek Lee get his first full day off in 2008, and Micah Hoffpauir started in his place, both at 1st base and at the 3 spot in the order.  I found it interesting that Lou didn’t take Lee’s absence as a chance to try a new lineup, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  It was a close game all around, with the Cubs getting contributions from nearly every man on the roster in this one.  As much as it pains me to say it, Jim Edmonds is improving at the plate, coming up with a big RBI double in the 4th and an even bigger bases loaded walk in the 5th.  After loading the bases with none out, Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez struck out Fukudome and Soto, before issuing the run-scoring walk to Jimmy.  Watching Kosuke and Geo strike out from up in Section 421 made me feel like I was watching the Cubs of old, but we were able to come through with 2 outs thanks to the good eye of Edmonds.   And just for good measure, Soriano blasted a hanging Manny Corpas breaking ball onto Waveland to make sure the Cubs completed the sweep.

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On the other side of the ball, Sean Gallagher appears to have sewn up the 5th spot in the rotation.  He looked masterful at times, striking out 8 (including 4 in the first 2 innings), but was a bit wild at times, hitting 2 batters.  He left after 5 2/3, and the bullpen shakily took it from there, with only an inherited run scoring off of Michael Wuertz in the 6th.  KWood looked good in the 9th, and even though he got to a couple of 3-ball counts and nearly hit ANOTHER batter, he got the job done 1-2-3. 

The Comeback

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Yes the wind was blowing out, yes the opponent was the
injury-plagued Colorado Rockies, and yes, Manny Corpas is terrible right now,
but that was still one of the more amazing and improbable comebacks in recent
memory.  While it seems obvious, it’s
important to remember that in order to come back from down 9-1; the Cubs still
had to score 9 runs.  Scoring 9 runs in a
single game is difficult enough, and the Cubbies were able to do it in 2
innings.  Amazingly, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan
Theriot, Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto were all out of the game by the time the
comeback started in the 6th inning.

The Cubs came through using contributions by Kosuke, Micah,
Blanco, DeRosa, and of course, the day after I thoroughly bash him, Jim
Edmonds.  Kosuke and Jimmy hit back-to-back
HRs from in the 6th, Blanco took his turn with a HR in the 7th,
and following a 2-run double by Edmonds, DeRosa hit a lazy fly ball that the
20+ mph wind took into the 3rd row of the bleachers in left to put
the Cubs up for good.  It is an extremely
comforting feeling to see the bench players come through in the clutch, as they
will be pinch hitting when it counts come September (and hopefully October).

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Another important aspect of Friday’s game which should not
be lost among the comeback was the work of the Cubs bullpen.  Ted Lilly was atrocious, and yes part of it
was due to the wind and close calls on the basepaths, but he made the bullpen
go to work early.  Jon Lieber ate a bunch
of innings, Scott Eyre pitched to the most batters he could (1) and got the
win, Marmol was nasty (more on him shortly), and Kerry Wood overcame a leadoff
walk and a 3-0 count to the next batter to get out of the 9th
unscathed.  One rally by the Rockies in
the 7th, 8th, or 9th would have made the
incredible comeback all for nothing, and the Cubs relievers did an outstanding
job of holding them down, especially considering the conditions.

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Back to Marmol.  He
needed just 10 pitches to strike out the
side
in the 8th inning on Friday.  The first pitch he threw was a ball, and then
came 9 straight strikes, only 1 of which was a foul ball.  I don’t think that Seth Smith ever got the
bat off his shoulders while watching 3 sliders in a row buckle his knees.  A team can be extremely susceptible to giving up a big
inning coming off one their own, and Marmol made sure there was no
chance of that occurring.  I don’t think
it’s a stretch to say that he is one of the best pitchers in the game right
now.  To put his dominance into numbers,
righties are batting just .088 against him this year.  .088!!! 
There are some who might think that it would be wise to imitate what the
Yankees are doing with Joba Chamberlain, and convert Marmol into a starter, and
there are some who believe he should be closing instead of Wood.  Yes he would be good in either of those
spots, but there is no way the Cubs would have the best record in baseball if
it wasn’t for Marmol’s flexibility in the bullpen.  He can come in to start an inning or in the
middle, he can come in with the bases empty or loaded, and he can pitch to both
righties and lefties.  There aren’t many
other relievers in the game who can do that with the success rate that Marmol
does.  And as I often say, “It doesn’t matter
who closes if you can’t get him the ball in the 9th with the
lead”.   Kerry has had a few struggles in
the 9th (all the HBPs jump to mind), but he has still nailed down 13
saves in 17 attempts, and opponents (both righties and lefties) are batting
.190 against him, which is not too shabby. 
Marmol in the 8th and Woody in the 9th is a great
combo.

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Stifled Again

The Cubbies let another early lead slip away Wednesday night, again thanks to one big inning.  On Tuesday and Wednesday the Cubs took leads in the early innings off HRs by Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee, and each time the Astros put up 4 runs in an inning and the Cubs failed to score again.  The 4-run threshold is holding firm, reach it and win, fall short and lose.  It’s pretty much that simple. 

Sean Gallagher came off his first major league win a little shaky, as it was the first road start of his career.  He allowed 5 runs on 8 hits with with 1 walk in 4.2 innings, but most came in the deciding 3rd.  Gallagher allowed 3 straight singles to start the inning, and after striking out Lance Berkman for the 2nd time in the game, gave up a big fly to Carlos “The Cub Killer” Lee, putting the Astros up for good.  The Cubs only managed 2 hits the rest of the way, falling 5-3.

With Soriano rested we got our first glimpse of Fukudome in the 2-hole and Micah Hoffpauir in the outfield.  The 1st inning was what all Cub fans wanted to see, Kosuke drawing a walk and scoring on the Lee homer, and Hoffpauir knocking a double, his first ML hit, and scoring on the Soto base knock.  This might cause Piniella to move around the lineup, but as we all know, he doesn’t like to talk about that. 

Losing 2 of 3 to a hot Houston team isn’t the end of the world, but coming off an incredible homestand and a victory in game 1 of the series, the Cubs definitely wanted to carry that momentum through the rest of the series and on to Pittsburgh on Friday.  Yes, it’s the Pirates, but road games haven’t proved easy for the Cubs this year (see Washington, Cincinnati, St. Louis). 

Even after dropping 2 of 3, the Cubs are still 9 games over .500 with a 1.5 game lead in the Central, and there is a lot of baseball to be played.   Off day tomorrow and then off to Pittsburgh for 3 before a 7-game homestand against the Dodgers and Rockies.

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Note the guy in the green polo.  Great effort to make the catch right there.