Wednesday, August 23, 2006

one of the dog days, part two

continuing our examination of a day in the life of this team, we left off with the cubs getting back to 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh.

in the top half of the eighth, dusty baker brought on roberto novoa in a double switch that lifted ryan theriot and installed freddie bynum to second. novoa has come in for a great deal of criticism hereabouts as a proxy of hendry's problematic conception of what good bullpen pitching looks like. the cubs have benefitted tremendously from the work of bob howry and scott eyre, the two free-agent signees of last offseason which this page thought a good start -- but not nearly enough, with the likes of novoa, ryan dempster and glendon rusch still clinging stubbornly to roster spots. as a result, the cubs bullpen is exactly what this page said they would be -- average.

this page sees little enough reason to think that the cub bullpen will be radically improved upon 2005. should dempster defy a reversion to the mean and williamson both remain with the club and rehabilitate to something like his former glory, some improvement could perhaps be expected. but too large a role remains to be played by marginal actors like wuertz and novoa for expectations to run vastly higher than what was seen last year.

the cub pen ranks 7th in the nl in era, 8th in whip, 6th in obpa and 7th in slugging against. if a superior bullpen is the intended end, more is going to have to be done to exclude the likes of novoa from the roster. he, like michael wuertz last year, is leading the team in relief innings with 61.1 despite being a subpar performer across the board.

novoa did nothing in the eighth this day to dissuade this page from that opinion. pat burrell doubled and was moved over to third by a sacrifice fly. a drawn-in infield got a second out when novoa induced chris coste to ground to cedeno at short, but abraham nunez the singled to score the runner to make it 6-3. this ended up being the game-winner for the phillies.

the cubs made it close in the ninth on the backs of matt murton and jacque jones, murton leading off the last frame with a pinch-hit single. this page had modest hopes for the rookie left fielder, hoping that he might match the output of the piecemeal 2005 team. murton's power has disappointed some, but he has held down the position reasonably in going 296/359/429 with 8 hr and 46 rbi. particularly encouraging has been his performance against right-handed pitching (294/347/416), an area in which he was expected to struggle. this is as much as might have been asked for going into the season, and murton has been particularly bright in the second half (341/391/553 in 85 ab). on the whole, it seems here that he's certainly earned a look in left field for a team that will in all likelihood not be a contender in 2007. should he develop more consistent power, murton could well be a regular left fielder in spite of his limited defensive ability.

murton waited on first as ramirez first flied out and then jacque jones tagged his 20th homer of the year to make it 6-5. despite jacque's four hits in this game, his performance on the whole has been about what this page expected at christmastime when he was inked by hendry to a three-year contract.

change the name on the uniform, but the cubs essentially just extended the burnitzalypse in right by three long seasons.

indeed, jacque is currently on pace to go 282/318/491 this season with 27 homers and 82 rbi. burnitz last season went 258/322/435 with 24 homers and 87 rbi. and it should be said that, all things considered, this is a good year for jacque -- if he goes out as forecast above, he's going to tie a career high in homers an approach his best rbi total. despite the laughable throwing arm and the horrifying baserunning, the cubs have gotten more than they could have expected from jacque this season -- and more than they should expect the next two seasons. but it is all no better than the output of jeromy burnitz, a player many were rightfully eager to run out of town on a rail at the end of 2005. jacque has long been and continues to be a substandard rightfielder -- a fact that can be contextualized statistically in his ranking in runs created or secondary average. compound these offensive metrics with a defensive ability that is better contextualized by three stooges clips than statistics, and this page fears for the remaining years of jacque's white-elephant contract.

in any case, that's where the rally stuck -- phil nevin reached base, only to be stranded by a pinch-hitting michael barrett, chalking another loss for a cub team that remains 15th among 16 national league squads by record and on pace for 94 losses. barrett's career offensive year -- 326/390/546 with 15 homers puts him in a class with brian mccann, victor martinez and joe mauer atop all catchers in baseball -- has gone for naught, but it should be noted. barrett has probably been the best creative idea of jim hendry's tenure -- his offensive output, far better than the average at his position, has significantly exceeded his (considerable) defensive drawbacks as catcher, and at a price of $4mm a year has to be considered a bargain. this page spends a lot of time hammering on hendry for being the co-architect (along with andy macfail) of the laughingstock 2006 season, but even an incompetent general manager does some things right. barrett is certainly one of those few things.

that finishes this look at a day in the life of a lost year, so let it not be said that this page never talks about the games. it merely very rarely talks about the games -- call it a defense mechanism, if you like. there's only so much of this that one can consider well enough to comment on without jeopardizing one's sanity, after all. this writer, for one, is wistfully looking forward now to the end of the season, when the flagellation of being a cub fan takes its natural respite.

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