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by Derek Smart
Before any final decisions are made, I thought I'd entertain myself by going over some thoughts on the Cubs' potential playoff roster configuration. This is with the caveat that I may not fully understand the eligibility rules, so if you spot something amiss, please feel free to educate me in the comments, and I'll do my best to make corrections in a timely manner.
They've been the starters, they'll be the starters. Despite a horrific power outage in the opening half, Derrek Lee has come on strong in the last month, posting an ISO of .284, to go with an OPS of 1.077, showing flashes of his old self when the club needed him most. Ramirez has been rock solid all year, and Theriot's been surprisingly useful at short.
The biggest surprise for me, though, has been the play of Mark DeRosa. While I wasn't disdainful of the signing, neither was I enthusiastic. His .296/.357/.456 line in Texas was way out of line with his previous work and looked for all the world like a classic career year. Well, his .294/.373/.422 line this year begs to differ. Signings like Soriano and Lilly might have been bigger in terms of overall production, but the deal that brought DeRosa to Chicago looks more and more like the best value Jim Hendry's gotten in years.
The pattern appears to be that Soto plays against lefties, and Kendall against righties. That said, don't be shocked if the Cubs advance to see Kendall turn into a guy who's primarily a backup. It will get some bad press if it happens, especially from the likes of the Rick Sutcliffes of the world, but seeing as Kendall's stopped hitting, and hasn't been able to throw in years, the move would not only be merited, it would be overdue.
Ladies and Gents, meet your starting outfield against righties. Jacque stopped hitting for power after his blistering August, but he's still been useful. However, where Jones left off, Floyd and Soriano picked right up. Cliff's ISO for September was .375, while Soriano's was .434 - and in case you weren't sure, that's a lot.
When I was starting to write this last night, it was under the assumption that Jason Marquis was going to be on the roster, and that the only controversy would be who would take the ball in Game 3. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore, as today's shellacking may have actually put his roster spot in doubt, let alone his shot at the Wrigley playoff opener.
I'll be honest. Part of me wants to see Lilly pitch the opener. He's been the most consistent pitcher on the club all year, and has managed some moments of brilliance besides. Of course, Carlos is Carlos, and when he's focused and ready, he's clearly the best pitcher on the team, so I understand why he's getting the ball. I've just seen enough times over the years when he can't hold his proverbial liquor to be concerned.
Those of you who have read my stuff over the years can begin to imagine how thrilled I am to see Mr. Wood approaching his old form. He's had his shaky moments to be sure, but lately, he's looked like an emerging dominant force. After a horrible outing in Pittsburgh on September 9 where he gave up three runs on two hits and two walks while getting no one out, his last six appearances have seen him throw 6.2 innings of one hit, two walk, nine strikeout ball. That's ownership, my friends, and it couldn't be coming at a better time.
Speaking of ownership, if there's a reason (or reasons) the Cubs are currently a game over the .500 mark in one-run games after starting the year something like 1-75, it's the emergence of Carlos Marmol and the resuscitation of Bob Howry. Howry's been sporting a sub-2.00 ERA since August, and Marmol's worst ERA for a month was his 'terrible' July when he had an astronomic 2.16 figure. Truth is, I wouldn't be shocked to see one of the pair getting the save opportunities before the conclusion of the postseason.
The fact that either of these men can go two frames if need be, that they both get strikeouts, and that we're very near to a time when Kerry Wood can make this pair a troika, means that Piniella is in the enviable position of being able to yank his starters relatively early on a shaky day, and not only stay competitive, but actually increase his chances for victory by a significant margin.
I honestly don't remember a time when you could say the Cubs had a bullpen that could shorten the game to a six inning contest, but even with Ryan Dempster as the closer, I think the Cubs have reached that point. If I had to pick one quality in a playoff team, one factor that could put me over the top, it would be the ability to shut the other team down in the final third of the game, and for once, I think I've got my wish.
The only reason Daryle Ward's in the 'maybe' bin is because of his health status. If his injured wrist is a go, he's in. Never in recent memory have the Cubs had a legitimate threat off the bench, beyond those times when a starter was getting a day off. That's not been the case this year. Ward's been able to hit for average, hit for power, and be patient beyond reasonable expectation. Mark my words: if the Cubs are missing that going into the NLDS, there will be at least one game where Ward's presence will be sorely missed.
Cedeno, on the other hand, owes his chance to the fact that he has the good fortune to be right-handed, play shortstop, and actually have gotten a hit in the last week. That said, lose the positional flexibility, and he's nowhere to be found. Ronny's getting his shot because he's the only other guy on the 40-man who can manage the six hole.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Matt Murton is in, because he's actually hit since he came back. Felix Pie's in because he's done well as the late game defensive caddy, and he can run, run, run. Craig Monroe is in because he can play center without necessarily forcing the fanbase to invoke the Geneva Conventions, and his right-handedness gives the illusion of usefulness against lefties, at least when compared to Jacque Jones.
I still don't see the club going to Arizona without Marquis. Marshall isn't stretched out enough anymore to be the four guy, and I doubt they really want to start Z on three days rest again. In the end, Marquis still gets to be on the roster, but he'll likely have to sit through an earful of Uncle Lou's Motivational Expletive Opera to earn it.
Please proceed to 'Possible'
If Daryle Ward can't make it happen, his spot goes to someone else, which at this point, appears to be about the only way Mike Fontenot gets the call. The Cubs are already plenty left-handed, and Fontenot's clearly lost his favored status, due in large part to his production screeching to a halt (of course, his production drop could be due to his lack of at bats. Chicken or egg, madam?).
Still nothing to see. Didn't I tell you to move?
Sam Fuld, quite frankly, needs Daryle Ward to be hurt in order to get a spot, and despite his excellent speed and folk hero status, his presence on the roster would be a net negative for the team.
See 'Possible Catchers'
Here's where the really tricky decision comes in. The Cubs have said they're almost certainly going with 11 pitchers. If Marquis is in the mix, that makes nine spots you've committed to. Do you want a second lefty? If you have to have one, do you go with Ohman or Marshall? After that, do you go with the relative experience level of Wuertz, or the lights-out work you've gotten out of Hart?
If I'm putting this together, I'm likely to ditch Marquis and roll with the trio of Marshall, Wuertz, and Hart, despite the fact that I can likely get no more than four frames from Sean. I simply don't have confidence in Jason Marquis anymore, and I'd rather go with the guys I've seen doing something lately than try to shoehorn in a veteran who's been nearly worthless to me down the stretch.
That said, even if Marquis has to come along, I bring Marshall too, because if Jason's going to be throwing I have to have an insurance policy, and Marshall's all I've got. After that, I lean toward Hart. Much as I like Mike Wuertz, I worry about his longball tendencies and his walks. Maybe I shouldn't, but he makes me nervous, and there's just something about Hart that I like. It ain't science, but no one said that's all this had to be.
No offense to Henry Blanco, but his lack of recent playing time, and the simple fact of Geovany Soto's total competence package make Hank obsolete at year's end. If someone gets hurt and the Cubs advance, he would certainly get a call, and he'll be around next year to be Geovany's caddy, but barring owies that last into mid-month, we've seen the last of Mr. White in 2007.
If Jason Marquis might have pitched himself out of a spot this afternoon, I'm guessing that Steve did that a couple games ago.