Tuesday, August 22, 2006

one of the dog days, part one

this page hopes that you can pardon us, dear reader, for the lack of coverage of actual game events for the latter part of the summer. but there just hasn't been a hell of a lot to get excited about regarding the day-to-day operations of the cubs for some time now. a bevy of low expectations manifested themselves as reality early on in this year, and since then it's been yet another season of waiting 'til next year. what really is the point of covering meaningless wins and losses in a year that is lost?

so this page has busied itself following the stories of developing players -- good, bad, broken and bewildering -- as well as ownership and the front office.

but they are still playing games, and so we might as well take a look at one, a 6-5 loss to the resurgent phillies at wrigley in which rich hill took the loss.

the game was put out of reach in the fourth when hill opened the inning with a walk to pat burrell. much of hill's improvement since august 1 has been predicated on improved control, and in five august appearances he has compiled a 1.23 whip in part by posting a 26:11 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 27.2 innings. but hill does live up in the zone with his rising fastball, leading to five home runs over that span and giving more credence to the view sometimes espoused that hill really needs a third pitch to complement his stunning curve and low-90s four-seamer to keep hitters off balance. of his three walks this evening, only burrell's would come home -- but the home runs would weigh heavily.

aaron rowand doubled burrell over to third, and hill induced a shallow flyball to right which kept burrell at third for the first out, setting up a critical play. cesar izturis has strained a hamstring the previous inning -- he's expected to miss a little time, which is no great blow to the cubs considering izturis' horrible offensive performance -- which forced a move in the top of the fourth of ronny cedeno back to shortstop from second with ryan theriot coming on.

izturis is now just 14-of-60 since coming over, posting a 233/292/267 line and only four runs scored in 17 games. with apologies to those who thought hendry's trade of greg maddux had netted the cubs something worthwhile, izturis is now a career .295 obp player -- and it seems here that neifi perez (recently traded, praise god) has merely been replaced by a more expensive model of the same basic offensive void. izturis is very unlikely to be any more a viable major league shortstop than neifi was, and indications that jim hendry considers shortstop to be "fixed" for 2007 give this page more evidence that he hasn't the faintest idea of how to build a winning ballclub. it may be that hendry made a good effort to get anything at all in return for maddux -- but this page is not at all certain that he did in fact get anything at all worth having.

but that izturis is an improvement over ronny cedeno is hardly a question, as he subsequently demonstrated. cedeno fielded an abraham nunez grounder only to, rather than take the sure second out of the inning at first with the pitcher coming to the plate, inexplicably throw home in the fourth inning of a no-score game. the mental mistake was compounded by cedeno's trademark throwing inaccuracy, as the ball hit burrell and skipped away, allowing not only burrell but rowand to score on the error. when jon lieber then struck out for the second (and not the third) out of the inning, jimmy rollins punished the cubs for giving the extra out by taking hill deep, drving in nunez and capping a four-run inning.

this page spent a number of posts following the failure of hendry to land rafael furcal -- here and here and here and here -- warning about just how bad cedeno would be. sadly enough, it seems that such warnings were completely justified. cedeno is not a major league baseball player -- he never was, and no amount of wishing is going to make him one. the lesson once again, dear reader, is that the cubs are more than willing to address their failures with pleasant lies. and if the cubs continue to insist that cedeno really is a major league player -- though this writer can't imagine they have the temerity -- by penciling him in for second base on opening day 2007 opposite izturis, one can expect a similarly disastrous year.

theriot, on the other hand, continues to make the best of his situation even as cub management misguidedly attempts to save face by refusing to demote the abysmal cedeno. theriot has gone 290/371/452 in very limited opportunities, playing hard, managing to steal five bases without being caught, come up with some clutch plays and play flawlessly in the field. in the estimation of this writer, he's done more in 38 plate appearances to justify a look at second base on opening day next season than cedeno has in 443.

the cubs staged a comeback in the seventh, however, when pinch hitter freddie bynum and juan pierre singled consecutively with one out. theriot flied out to center for the second out, but not deeply enough to bring bynum home -- but a rare lieber wild pitch remedied the situation, and aramis ramirez then doubled to bring in pierre, chasing lieber. jacque jones then singled off aaron fultz to bring in aramis, making it 5-3 cubs.

ramirez has overcome his much-ballyhooed disappearing act from may to go 348/410/732 since the all-star break. with his option approaching and looking ever more likely to be exercized if no renegotiation with the cubs is undertaken, this page still thinks that the cubs would be well served to bring him back if at all possible. this is a third baseman who rated in the top five among all third basemen in vorp rate in both 2004 and 2005, and despite a sluggish start this year is 12th in 2006 and probably leading baseball in the second half. in a free-agent environment in which no replacement even remotely in his talent bracket is available until 2009 and considering a farm system that harbors only scott moore as a potential replacement -- a player who could set the national league record for strikeouts given half a chance -- this page sees little way of replacing ramirez at third.

of course, the cubs are not the only party -- ramirez has to want to return, and other teams may well outbid the cubs in the absence of a renegotiation. and it must be said that the cubs' priority should be on sorting out their young pitching situation -- a process that may preclude them from any viable hope of a playoff appearance until ramirez is aging and on the downswing. but, at 28 this season, ramirez should continue to be a fine hitter at third base for several more seasons, and if the cubs have real ambitions of winning the pennant before 2012 they should consider locking ramirez up.

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