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by alex ciepley
I'm not one of those people who can remember his dreams. There are a couple nightmares I can recall vividly -- one from my youth involving Bambi and a huge, hairy spider -- but in general even the bad dreams are difficult to hold onto in the morning.
I'm going to treat yesterday's game like one of those forgotten bad dreams.
Instead, I'm thinking about what the Cubs can do to improve themselves for the balance of the year. I don't have a master plan, just some ideas about a few things that might help out.
The Cubs have a problem. They need to upgrade their offensive attack, but have only one real "hole" in their lineup -- and that's at shortstop, where there is a scarcity of available upgrades. You could envision bigger production coming from a couple other positions: center field and especially left field, but in both cases any upgrades would be marginal.
Despite our haranguing, Corey Patterson really has shown some more signs of development this year, and there are only a couple guys out there I'd rather have for the next 3-4 years: Carlos Beltran, Vernon Wells, and -- maybe -- Andruw Jones. The Astros aren't going to trade Beltran to their division rivals, Wells isn't going anywhere, and the Braves are suddenly poised to win possibly another NL East title. So Patterson it is.
Left field is another spot for an upgrade. Alou has shown more power this year, but where has his selectivity gone? Not that he was the world's most patient hitter to begin with, but the bump in Moises's slugging percentage (.517, up significantly over the past two years) is offset by the decline in his plate discipline (.334 OBP, fifteenth in the majors among the eighteen eligible left fielders). What the Cubs really need in left is a left-handed on-base machine... but sorry, Brian Giles isn't available, and does anyone think the Cubs have any interest in dumping Alouuuuu this year anyway?
This leaves shortstop, which does make the cut for "upgradeable offensive position". Here's a list of suggestions for that and a few other things:
upgrade offense at shortstop
Nomar's the man (318/364/523), the dream, the improbable. I'd give up a fair bounty (Guzman plus another top prospect, but not Brownlie or Pie) to get a chance at playing and signing Nomar this year. It doesn't look like it's going to happen. Other options include Orlando Cabrera (231/284/308), Omar Vizquel (297/363/387), and Julio Lugo (290/355/433). Cabrera's a mystery to me: ask me before the season, and I would have sworn that Lugo's and Cabrera's lines for the season were flipflopped. As recently as a week ago I probably would have told you to get Cabrera and sign 'em -- he can't be this bad -- but now I'm going to suggest renting Vizquel for a song and for this season only.
This goes without saying, though the Cubs have done a remarkable job of covering for the injuries they've faced this year. But just because injuries hit the team hard in the first half doesn't mean better fortunes are headed the Cubs way.
add a relief ace
I don't think that LaTroy Hawkins has some horrible mental block to closing, but I do know that he hasn't pitched particularly well in the past month or so. I'd like to see the Cubs pick up another big arm to help out Hawkins and the temperamental Farnsworth, whether to close games or nail down the middle innings. Eddie Guardado (1.96 ERA, 9.36 K/9) easily tops my list. Ugueth Urbina (10.62 K/9) would be there as well, but his asking price is supposedly too high (and he's walking a lot of batters), so he's not an option right now. Mesa? He's Jose Mesa, and I want no part of it. Second on my list, then, would be Baltimore's B.J. Ryan (1.80 ERA, 12.24 K/9), who's unhittable against lefties (2 for 57 this year!) and also darn good against righties.
start Todd Walker against all right-handed pitching
Todd Walker has the second-best OPS in baseball among second basemen. Every time Dusty starts Grudz over Walker against a rightie is a gift to the opponent.
oh yeah, and get rid of that Wendell Kim guy
Things like third base coaches usually don't make much of a difference on the field, but Kim's inability to make good decisions on sending runners has a tangible effect on Cubs games. He actually costs the team runs, and this is unacceptable. I don't understand -- not for one second -- how he can be allowed to still suit up for this team.
These are just some of my thoughts. The Wild Card is still well within reach, but a move here and there would sure help. Drop your suggestions for the Cubs in the comments.