Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
by Derek Smart
Finally, we got to see a game yesterday where the Cubs were in control from start to finish. Admittedly, I was still wondering what would go wrong right up to the final out (and even then, I had to wonder if there was some arcane piece of administrivia that could reverse the result, like bad math on a golfer's scorecard), but there it was: a win.
My only advice: enjoy it, but don't get used to it. There's a lot of crappy baseball yet to play.
Take what I say with a grain of salt, because I have made no secret of my Kerry Wood fan-boy-dom, but yesterday was a heartening outing for no-longer-a-Kid K. Early on, while he didn't have great control over his fastball, it was consistently in the mid-nineties for the first time since he rejoined the club, and while that velocity tailed off as the game went on and he grew tired, that he was able to rush it up there at all is a definite plus.
The other fun thing was that he looked to be pitching more and using his changeup to good effect, getting 10 ground-ball outs to 4 in the air. The five hits he gave up were all singles, and the runs that scored were due more to sloppiness in the pitcher/catcher exchange and the occasional defensive blip from Todd Walker, than any pitching issues from Wood.
When he gets all his strength back, it's the sort of outing where he could easily go seven, maybe eight innings because he not only kept his pitch count down (85 over 6 frames), but also managed to not have any truly taxing innings. It's the sort of work that he needs to do consistently if he ever wants to be an effective pitcher over the long haul, because if there's one thing we've seen, it's that he's not able to withstand the workloads his old style imposed on him.
His stuff, even in his current, depleted state, is good enough to let hitters get themselves out, and if he can do that more, keeping the strikeout in reserve as a weapon of necessity rather than the primary mode of attack, there's at least a small hope that he can have a decent career wherever he winds up after this season.
At some point when I get a moment this idea deserves a more extensive post of its own, but while the Cubs have been abysmal in every conceivable offensive category, I think the thing that's made this whole stretch exponentially less bearable has been the way the team has been completely unable to hit for power.
Granted, they were never going to be a big bopping club in the first place, but the degree to which they've been horrible in this respect of late is shocking. Let me put it to you this way: Niefi! through 2005 had a lifetime ISO (SLG - AVG) of .110. In the month of May, the Cubs as a team have an ISO of .106.
Care to get even more sick to your stomach? Neifi!'s career line through 2005 was .270/.301/.380. In the month of May, the Cubs as a team have a line of .248/.294/.354. In other words, this team would have been better off this month if it had consisted of an entire squad of Neifi!'s performing at their career norms.
Matt Murton needs to get the ball in the air more. Period. When he does, good things happen. He hits line drives. He hits doubles. He hits homers. I'm convinced that the issue for him is not a question of "power" in the traditional sense - he can hit the ball plenty hard - it's the way he hits the ball that affects things.
If he can find a way to make the adjustment in his swing without necessarily altering his approach, I think he can be very effective, but adjust he must, or he'll just be a guy who should have been better.
I have no explanation for Tony Womack. None. In the same way that there was no reason he should have been useful to the Cardinals in 2004, there's no reason he should be useful to the Cubs in 2006, but there he was the last two days, actually being what he shouldn't.
There are two things to curious about in this. First, how long he can keep it up, and second, how this might affect the lineup once Derrek Lee returns. I'm torn because I adore Todd Walker, but with the season effectively over, anything that might make Walker expendable in Jim Hendry's mind is probably a good thing, even it it comes in a form that will eventually explode in the club's face like a joke cigar. It might be annoying, but if it pops right it just might get some of the egg off.