Wow, the first half of the season has been quite the ride! More downs than ups for sure, but just when the ship is listing and taking on water the team rises to the occasion. Personally, I have serious doubts that they can play well enough to make the post season, but I am looking forward to the balance of the season. So I guess I'm cautiously optimistic that this team will be competitive after the break and competitive baseball is fun to watch.
That being said the last few days have been exciting and very interesting. From the surprise demotions of Patterson/DuBois to the sudden newfound patience at the plate. Hendry and to lesser extent Baker have shaken up this team recently and it seems to have gotten them moving in a positive direction. After sleepwalking through nearly four entire games in Atlanta, the Cubs came out with enthusiasm and a bounce in their collective step in Miami. The oddest thing to me was Michael Barrett hitting in the middle of the order and going 4-8 with 6 (count 'em 6) BBs. This raised his season walk total by 50% in three days!!!
Reasons for my cautious optimism...
- Jerry Jr. looks much more comfortable both at the plate and in the field since the demotions late Thursday. Al over at BCB stated the same thing, so maybe it wasn't just in my mind. Hairston is no superstar and doesn't have alot of upside potential, but he's shown that he does have a knack for getting on base. If he's in the line up regularly and leading off, the Cubs offense should be less likely to stall out.
- Walker in the 2-spot!!!
- A healthy starting staff, finally!
- Infusion of youth. Cedeno, Murton, Greenberg, and likely Pie soon. Not sure if all these guys can play, but they should bring with them a healthy attitude and good work ethic.
- Nomar on the mend. Tentative date of August 1 set for Nomar's return. This should at least save us from re-runs of the Neifi show. As many of us predicted, Neifi! changed back to Neifi and then became just downright horrid to watch. He was tolerable the last few days due to being placed in the lower half of the order.
- Bullpen help on the way. With all the talk of getting a big OF bopper, I believe the first move made (if the Cubs do not decide to become sellers) will be for bullpen help. I suspect that Mitre and Rusch may be shopped for a power reliever. Combine this with Scott Williamson's come back (assuming a positive impact) and another call up of Rich Hill, the bullpen could become pretty decent, maybe even a positive.
- There are likely more moves coming from the front office. Not sure they'll be as shocking as the Patterson demotion, but with Hendry's track record there's a very good chance they'll be effective.
So are the last three games just an aberration (e.g. Neifi hitting over .300) or do they signify a long term upswing in the team's fortunes?