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Your Cub Town Post-Weekend Brain Dump
by Derek Smart
I'll cop to some trepidation on the eve of the Cubs' weekend series with the Pirates. Not because the Buccos are such a fearsome group, or because the Cubs don't have a record of success against them of late (they certainly do), but rather due to the fact that they were sending their three most theoretically vulnerable pitchers to the hill on consecutive days.
It was a potential recipe for disaster, but surprisingly enough, all three of the Cub starters came through with solid performances, with the irony being that the best of the bunch resulted in a loss for the club and Jerome Williams.
The Pirates' performance on offense may not strike fear into the hearts of men like the work of their marauding namesakes, but it's nonetheless still encouraging to see this trio get after it and give the club an opportunity to win, and but for an unfortunate error by Ronny Cedeno, the Victory Bunny may have come thrice rather than twice.
So, good work you three. Keep it up, because chances are, the harder the decisions are once pitchers start coming off the disabled list, the better off the team will be.
Aramis Ramirez looks like he's finally coming around. There had been some quotes in the paper about his little bum strain helping him to refrain from overswinging, and whether it did or not, the results have been better of late. I'd imagine the larger factor was just getting a couple of days to clear the cobwebs and get out of any mental rut.
If staying in the lineup when things are going well helps you ride the wave to further success, it only makes sense that sitting out when things are rough can help break the cycle of failure, and in this case, it at least appears that the time off did Aramis good.
Boy, Todd Walker looks good. He's still the same defender - while the Cubs were able to turn a couple of nice double plays yesterday, they were helped more by the sloth of the runner than by the speed of Walker's turn or the strength of his throws - but he's just locked in at the plate right now.
I might have argued that Walker was more valuable in the two-hole before yesterday's game, but he did just fine hitting fifth, and with both Bynum and Blanco in the lineup, it was probably the right choice. In fact, and I know there's a sort of heresy in saying this, Dusty Baker has been pretty sharp so far. He's made strong choices with his pitchers, and for the most part, has constructed solid lineups, even when he's been forced to improvise a bit of late. It's been quite the pleasant surprise.
One of the things I've been particularly pleased about with Baker's choices has been his willingness to have relievers go for two innings. Some of that has been dictated by the fact that Cub starters have failed to go deep into games, but Dusty could have just as easily sent three or four guys out there every day, ensuring that nearly the entire bullpen was less than fresh, but instead he's choosing to use pitchers who are throwing successfully beyond the standard single inning, which has been both theoretically correct, and practically effective.
As much as I get on Dusty when I think he's wrong, it's only fair that I point out when I think he's doing something right, and more often than not, that's been the case so far this season, which I'll admit, is a bit of a shock. A happy shock, but a shock, nonetheless.
I was sad to see Angel Pagan come up lame Saturday night, and the fact that he was so distraught that he was unable to speak to the press afterward tells me he understands the significance all too well. While he had a great spring, and offers some value off the bench because of his defense, speed, and ability to switch hit, he is far from indispensable, and the truth is, he's the type of player who can lose their shot at a career with an ill-timed injury such as this. It may not be fair, but it's reality, and for his sake and that of the club, I wish him a speedy recovery.
Now that I've had a chance to see Freddie Bynum play a little, I can see why the A's couldn't find a spot for him. Sure, he's fast, and he has defensive flexibility, but he's looked overmatched in nearly every plate appearance thus far. Some of that might be some anxiousness in trying to prove himself to a new club, but I fear most of it is just the level of his skillset.
That said, one could do worse for a 25th man. As long as he stays out of the lineup, and doesn't hit in critical situations, he should be fine, and outside of the necessity dictated the last couple of days, it looks like he's going to be used as a pinch runner/emergency replacement type, which is as it should be.
It's becoming clear the more I see him work that we're going to have to take the good with the bad for a while when it comes to Ronny Cedeno's defense. There's mention here of Chris Speier working with him on his throwing mechanics, so I'd expect an adjustment period while it becomes second nature, and in the meantime we're still seeing some of his throws go off the mark.
However, he's still getting to balls that most fellas can't reach, and managing to make plays on many of them because of the cannon affixed to his right shoulder, so fixing his throwing motion will be some yummy icing on an already tasty cake. Once he's more consistent getting the ball to its destination, I think we'll be treated to one of the better defenders around.
After Friday's blow-up, Michael Wuertz finally got the boot in favor of Roberto Novoa. If Wuertz had shown any ability to get people out in the spring I might cry foul, but he's been out of whack all year, and until he figures things out, he's better off in Iowa. It was only Novoa's Valley Fever and the trade of Todd Wellemeyer that made room for him anyway, so it's not surprising he was on a short leash.
A bit off subject here, but I have to tell you all about this: My daughter received a new set of alphabet blocks for her birthday. She already has several sets, but apparently there's a section of the Grandparent Code of Conduct stipulating that when giving gifts to a grandchild, one must be certain to eventually give all possible iterations of the gift-type, lest one version be preferred over another, the withholding of which may serve to permanently damage the child and stunt their development to the point of forcing them to live off the charity of the State for the remainder of their natural lives. But I digress from my digression.
The new set is, indeed, very nice. They're made of wood, with two opposite sides of the cube having a letter of the alphabet on them - one upper case, one lower case - and the remaining four sides decorated with pictures of people, places, or things that begin with the corresponding letter, with the word itself spelled out above. Now that the scene is set, here's what happened:
Ella was playing with the blocks this weekend when she picked up the one with the letter "U" on it. She turned it around, studying the pictures, when she came to one that depicted, of all things, an umpire. It is a side view of an official working behind the plate, crouching to see the pitch, with mask and padding all in place.
In other words, a two year-old without a corresponding frame of reference might not recognize that the picture is supposed to be of a human, but in spite of that understanding, I was still convulsed with laughter when, with her eyes lit up, she pointed excitedly at the picture and said to me, "Monkey! Monkey! Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!" She may not be able to pick Joe West out of a lineup, but she can recognize his species just the same. That's daddy's girl!
Word came down last night that David Aardsma would be taking Pagan's place on the roster, meaning the club is now carrying twelve pitchers again. In principle I don't like the twelve pitcher thing, but there aren't any obvious position player candidates to replace Pagan (bringing up Pie at this point would be a huge mistake), and since Aardsma's been throwing very well, and the starters don't seem able to get beyond six innings, the extra arm actually makes sense. The question is, does this arrangement stick through the summer, or will the Cubs go back to eleven pitchers at some point? I'd hope they would, but I wouldn't count on it.
Off to Los Angeles tonight to face one of the few teams around that can relate to our medical issues. It's a chance to keep the road trip going well, and since the following series is against a Cardinal team that's likely to be out for blood, it's all the more important to take the series.