Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Back In The Saddle
I'm in a bit of a post-familial-visit-haze, and I saw very little of the four games since my last post, but here are a couple of things I noticed in my side-view mirror.
It's still too early to say this for a fact, and his 5 for 5 game has clouded the picture a bit, but Derrek Lee's .406/.513/.625 in the first nine games of May is making me think he's turned his annual corner. This is countered, of course, by the .176/.200/.265 line Moises Alou has put up during the eight games he's played over the same period, and the .200/.359/.400 line Aramis Ramirez has put up in his nine game month. However, if A-Ram can get his average up while exhibiting the same patience that has netted him 7 walks in his last 39 PA's, that would be some lovely progress, and another data point in the column marked "Reasons to re-sign Aramis."
I am officially no longer worried about the long term effects of last year's usage patterns on Carlos Zambrano. I still reserve the right to become concerned about how he's used this season, but if six starts of a 2.18 ERA, 30 hits over 41.1 innings - only one of them a homer - and a 35/11 strikeout to walk ratio won't allay the fears brought on by his catastrophic failures in September and through the playoffs, then perhaps I should explore prescription-based options. Dusty could still break him, but right now it looks like this kid is truly something special.
Others have made similar statements, but I feel obligated to weigh in, even at this late juncture. When I saw that Shawn Estes was scheduled to pitch the first game of the series with the Rockies, I must admit, I got a little knot in my stomach. I could think of fewer more humiliating single game scenarios than being shut down by that paragon of pitching paucity.
When I finally had a chance to check in around the eighth inning, the smile on my face could have been mistaken for the work of the Ace Chemical Factory. Add in a complete game by the aforementioned Big Z that came in under 100 pitches, and I couldn't have been more tickled if I took a three hour feather bath.
Game 2 of the series was an illustration of the infuriating aspects of the team's offensive attack. A three homer day is usually an indication of some decent run scoring, but in this case, all the shots were solo, and whenever anyone got on base by other means, attempts to get them home brought to mind the eternal labor of Sisyphus. Nothing more clearly evoked the Corinthian's fate than the ninth inning when, with one out and Tom Goodwin at first, a wild pickoff throw from Shawn Chacon allowed the speedy outfielder to reach third, only to watch this prime opportunity to tie the game spoiled by strikeouts from Todd Walker and Corey Patterson. I don't get overly concerned about strikeouts in the general sense, but there are situations where they do indeed hurt, and this was certainly one of them.
The end of Saturday's game was the first missed opportunity for Patterson. The second came in the bottom of the sixth of game 3 with two out. The contest had just been tied and an intentional walk to Damian Jackson (Damian Jackson!?!) had just loaded the bases. As if the ignominy of preferring to face him over Jackson wasn't enough, Patterson struck out on four pitches, every one of which was at least a foot outside the zone.
But you know what they say about the third time and its charms. Fast forward to the bottom of the 13th, where there are two out again, and yet another intentional walk is issued to the now thoroughly confused Jackson (his two IBB on the day increased his career total by 25%), once again loading the bases for Patterson. Luckily for Corey, redemption is just around the corner, and so is Jeff Fassero. All it took was a high pitch grooved down the middle for our hero to launch the ball to the right center field wall, bringing home the run, the victory, and the series (a three game set won, in no small part, due to the lackluster efforts of two former Cub pitchers, making the whole deal strangely sweeter).
Back in the present, today sees the beginning of the Cubs' annual SoCal road swing, spending three days in Chavez Ravine, followed by a sojourn to the shiny new Petco Park.
On paper, I like the matchups against the other boys in blue, but we're catching them at a time when the team is playing over their heads offensively (the team is hitting .277/.334/.442 after collectively posting a .243/.303/.368 line last season). True, they've added Uber-Nutbar Milton Bradley, Shawn Green has gotten some of his power back, and Adrian Beltre seems to have finally figured out whatever it was that needed figuring, but there are some sizeable chinks in the armor.
Beltre has been blistering thus far, but there's no way he can continue to hit .385, let alone do so while only walking twice in 122 at bats. Paul LoDuca will become another victim of the law of averages, as his .364 average - unsustainable as it seems on its own - is likely to fall victim to the August and September dropoffs that have plagued him over the last two years. Plus, the team continues to start Juan Encarnacion at an outfield corner, while allowing Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora to play, period.
However, that's the long term outlook, which doesn't help the Cubs much in the near term. Although, if there's a group of pitchers likely to start an overachieving team on the long slide to its natural level of production, its the trio of Wood, Clement and Zambrano that Jim Tracy's players will face over the next three days.
Hey, slides are fun. How 'bout we give those nice Dodgers a shove.