Wednesday, April 18, 2007

a tale of two prospects

it is hard to know how to frame a game such as yesterday's, dear reader. the cubs lost and they deserved to lose. cub pitching was mired in trouble all day -- san diego stranded 17, notching 14 hits a ghastly 8 walks, with men getting into scoring position in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th and ultimately 14th. meanwhile, just 11 cubs reached -- maddux was very good through five, and the padre bullpen allowed just two hits in nine innings of relief.

by rights, the cubs should have lost by at least three runs, and a couple of times at that. and when the end at long last came in the fourteenth at the hands of geoff blum and trevor hoffman, it was just. as such, it was an unremarkable game.

but what a remarkable game it was! it is rare to get such a dramatic day, with the home club constantly imperiled and yet again and again cheating the end. a brilliant assist from greenhorn felix pie saved the game in the ninth, striking down russell branyan at the plate. another scintillating catch by just-inserted mark derosa saved the game again in the twelfth. one waited endlessly for the law of averages to bite the padres for their refusal to put the game away, for some random lance to strike for the cubs and end the thing. but it just never came.

this game may be remembered for some time, for pie's pressure-packed saving strike to michael barrett to keep the game alive, if nothing else. pie's debut from the farm has been as anticipated as any for the cubs since korey patterson (to whom he has sometimes been compared) and gratification was instant. pie also showed some poise, taking a few pitches and striking out just once -- and some guts, knocking a run-scoring double in the fifth off legend greg maddux. going 1-for-6 has rarely been so interesting, and though pie can be expected to struggle adjusting to the majors this has to be booked as a success.

such an auspicious debut falls in stark contrast to the painful wretching of the last touted cub position prospect, both in this game and early this year. there was plenty of blame to go around, but ronny cedeno did as much as anyone to sink the cubs in this one. he took an ugly 0-for-5 with two fans and a walk, but that really cannot tell the whole story. there was first cedeno canceling his full-count one-out walk in the ninth -- with cliff floyd pinch-hitting and driving a rocket to khalil greene at short, he inexplicably charged off to second without ensuring that the ball went through, allowing greene to snare the liner and easily double him off. cedeno has a long history of mental mistakes that isn't getting much better, it would seem. then there was cedeno, pitifully charged with the last at-bat of the game against all-time-saves-leader hoffman, going away meeking on three pitches, the last a called third strike.

the play of cedeno has come in for plenty of criticism here -- since well before he arrived, indeed -- and it is perplexing to consider how he continues to be placed in a position to fail by cub management. this page takes no joy from running cedeno down; it could not be happier than to see cedeno removed from this extremely uncomfortable situation in which it seems he simply cannot help but fail, and never to utter another word about him. there are good prospects and bad prospects -- and the arrival of pie reminds us of that fact through the sharp relief he presents when placed against cedeno.

jacque jones requested to be traded from this club months ago, and yet remains in the cub outfield where his early performance has marked him as the second-most-destructive player on the club thusfar in terms of win percentage added (next to, of course, cedeno). there may not be a great deal out there to be had for jacque, but jim hendry could do this club a significant service by moving him for a competent major-league middle infielder. not only would the acquisition expunge any need for cedeno, but room would be created in the outfield for both pie's defense and soriano's bat.

as has been said here, the cubs don't have time to fiddle about -- the margin of error for this flawed club is too small, and three games under .500 is a big deal even so early in the year precisely because it is more probably an indication of the reality of both things as they are and things to come than it is some sort of aberration from prior expectations which will soon yet be proved. it is time to a deal for jones and help this club to get better in a way that may not be beautiful but can be pragmatic.

and if hendry can further see his way clear to finally ending the clearly failing wade miller experiment -- whose hard-fought attempt to return from the graveyard of pitchers is simply not happening -- so much the better. miller has as little choice about failure as cedeno, with his once-powerful arm now crippled and his fastball and control simply not sufficient. he has managed only 9 innings in two starts, allowing 21 baserunners and almost blundering into a pitiful three strikeouts. as one who can too easily recall how this club stuck with glendon rusch for far too long, this writer considers that a good step would be recalling impressive yet demoted righthander angel guzman, who made way for pie yesterday -- guzman may not be a great pitcher, but it would not take a great pitcher to be a significant improvement on miller.

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