Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Game Notes 13 & 14: That's Two Kingdoms Coming Right Up. Would You Like Fries With That?
When I think of the things I could have offered my Kingdom for - $1 billion, world peace, a full night of sleep - you'd think I'd be a little disturbed at the relatively paltry return on investment. Yet big, obvious Cub victories may be the exception rather than the rule this season, so I'm extremely satisfied. I observed these games in fits and starts - or rather, in between fits and starts - so I'll just toss out a few random observations.
He may have only gone 1 for 5, but Corey Patterson's work on Monday was a step in the right direction, seeing 25 pitches combined in his turns at the plate. He didn't consolidate his gains yesterday, but I'll take what little bit of encouragement I can get. Also, this is purely anecdotal, but when he rushes an at bat, a disproportionate number of those encounters seem to end with weak pop-ups or shallow flies. I don't know that there's meaning there, other than the fact that I probably remember those plate appearances more vividly because first or second pitch pop outs are so frustrating to watch, but I'll try to watch more closely for particular types of pitches, swings or situations to see if there's anything to that. I welcome any observations from you good people on this.
Todd Walker is still a lousy defender, but I'm becoming addicted to his bat (keep your comments to yourself, please). He didn't get a hit on Monday, but he walked three times. Three times! Of course, you won't see that from him every day, as his plate discipline has been average at best over his career, but that's still a big step up from what Grudz brings in that respect (Walker takes about 19 more free passes over 500 at bats based on their career numbers). Add in his big power advantage (Grudz' park adjusted career Isolated Slugging is .104, Walker's is .142), and the extra offense he brings to a lineup that is likely to score 10 runs one day and 2 the next starts to look mighty tasty,
That said, I still would advocate a sort of defensive platoon, with Grudz getting the nod when Zambrano and Maddux (should he ever throw another grounder) are on the mound, and Walker starting the rest of the time when there's a right hander pitching for the opposition (Grudz should start against all opposing lefties). I don't envision Dusty ever thinking that way, but that's what I'd do.
I've heard some moderate concern expressed over Derrek Lee's slow start, but bear in mind that he's actually performing much better than he usually does at this time of year. Over his first 14 games as a Cub, he's hitting .250/.373/.458, and while that's not the production we're paying him for, his early monthly splits from 2001-2003 should make everyone thankful we're getting what we've got (April .223/.326/.415; May .246/.315/.432). Also remember that the most difficult part of the Cubs' schedule is the month of June, and that's where Lee has hit .304/.412/.593 over the last three years. Yummy.
Kudos to Matt Clement for turning things around after a rough spring and first regular outing, and even more kudos to Carlos Zambrano for being the best pitcher on the staff so far. The contributions of these two have made the early struggles of Maddux and the lack of Mark Prior much easier to bear. If these two can continue on this path once Maddux is back to form (look at how last year started if you doubt the likelihood), and Prior is back period, it will go a long way toward making the division winnable.
With the monster starts of Alou (.368/.419/.842!) and Ramirez (.367/.391/.783!), it's easy to miss the return to form of one Samuel Peralta Sosa. Besides the .304/.409/.679 line in his first 14 games, Sosa just looks better at the plate. There wasn't one time last year when I could watch an at bat and say "there's a man who looks comfortable." He was chasing stuff he hadn't gone after in years, trying to pull every single pitch.
At the time, I gave no credence to the theory that he was a little spooked from the helmet shattering head shot he took in Pittsburgh, but now I'm not so sure. In retrospect, I can see his tendency to attempt to put everything in left field as a symptom of an unwillingness to get out over the plate and drive the ball to right, a reflexive self-preservation instinct that I can't blame him for. That's all gone now, as he's hitting to all fields with great power, and laying off those low and outside balls he flailed at so much last year. The real Sammy's back, and the rest of the league should quell in fear.
These have been fun games, but don't get too used to them, folks. Alou and Ramirez will return to earth, and the club will go back to relying on good work from the pitchers to keep them in the hunt. However, until then, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the ride.