Monday, July 18, 2005

hollow pleasures

on the cusp of a four-game series against hapless cincinnati, riding a rebound that has kept the wolves at bay, you might think that things are really looking up for these cubs -- that they might be on the brink of something.

think again, folks. i enjoy winning six out of seven as much as the next guy, but the promise has gone out of it for this year, leaving only a hollow sort of transient satisfaction in any win. when taking six of seven still leaves you one over even and five out of the nearest playoff spot with 71 to play, things are not all wine and roses. the most appropriate way to see these cubs now is not with the innocent love of a child but the jaundiced eye of a coroner.

that said, the rebirth (however temporary) of the cubs offense has at least thrown light on the idiocy of dusty baker. with patterson forced out of the picture, baker finally committed to the revamped top of the order he stubbornly resisted for most of the first half in jerry hairston and todd walker -- and the cubs have looked almost a scoring juggernaut since, plating 50 runs in seven games. hairston has reached ten times in 34 plate appearances (.294 obp), but walker has sparkled in reaching 15 out of 34 (.441) and scoring 8 runs (to hairston's five). hairston's season obp has now dipped to .348; walker's stands at .356. both look all-world in comparison to neifi's horrid .292 and whatever the klown ended up with, and derrek lee even managed to drive in six in the six games he played with people now actually on base when he got to the plate.

dusty, just so that he can appear a duplicitous slimeball as well as a moron, now says he knew all along what the problem was -- even though he clearly didn't and probably doesn't still. just for the record.

but, while trading in the klown and neifi for hairston and walker is a positive step, it isn't a magical ticket to the playoffs. even yesterday's winning lineup still features three of eight regular position players with on-base percentages at or under .330, and this remains a team with a collective obp of .328 (although k-pat's permanent demotion will make that number better). and there's a whole other side of the game, where the cubs suffer from an inconsistent, fragile rotation and a weakened, unproven bullpen, which rate 8th and 7th in the NL, respectively.

and, of course, there's that pesky matter of being five back of playoff-bound atlanta.

but still -- enjoy it for what it is. maybe the braves and phillies will get on terrible losing skids and open the door for this team to back in. there's always a chance, even if it is a snowball's chance in hell. i had rather thought -- even hoped -- that the cubs could take the opportunity to take a close look at players like murton, cedeno and van buren with an eye toward 2006 and getting a good idea of what holes needed filling and which didn't.

but, should the cubs continue to win convincingly in cincy this week, false hope is likely to surge through the cubs fan base that the management is oh-so-mindful of alienating. the last thing hendry would be allowed to do is make a trade that becomes an industry-wide euphemism for ownership betrayal and part of the cubs' wikipedia entry. there's already too many of those.

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