Wednesday, June 20, 2007

sammy's 600th sinks cubs

that lead isn't really correct, dear reader -- the cubs were already down 4-1 in the fifth when jason marquis lobbed the pitch that sammy sosa catapulted into the right-center texas bullpen to join hank aaron, babe ruth, willie mays and barry bonds in the six-hundred-home-run club. with three early cub errors defining what appeared a listless effort in the aftermath of the michael barrett trade, with a lineup that suddenly looks shockingly weak, there didn't seem a lot of reason to think the game wasn't already pretty much over. and, as subsequent events demonstrated, it was.

and from a different perspective, the cubs were sunk as long ago as april 24.

but the irony is simply too rich to pass over. the man who tribco made the drones hate in order to try to wear the white hat in dumping him for nothing (and paying for the privilege) exacted a very small slice of retribution the right way -- adding the indignity of allowing a historic shot to the still-productive former centerpiece of the franchise to the embarrassment of crashing jim hendry's faux-$300mm experiment back into the morbid mire at a season-high eight games back of the division-leading (and streaking) milwaukee brewers.

the disillusionment of the more slavish quarters of the fan base must surely have been accelerated by seeing lou piniella -- having shipped barrett and with aramis ramirez losing time to patellar tendonitis -- reduced to fielding an american league lineup that in spite of the designated hitter featured sprightly mike fontenot batting fifth. this manner of offense figures to continue longer than anyone would like even if ramirez comes off the disabled list as hoped later this week -- derrek lee's suspension looms, and new-boy rob bowen isn't likely to make anyone forget barrett at the plate.

further contributing to the sour state of affairs is jason marquis, whose merciless mean reversion continued apace alongside those of ted lilly, rich hill and ryan dempster from the luck-enriched early season successes which apparently fooled a great many into believing that the 2007 cubs were good in spite of the available context which illustrated the ephemeral nature of such episodes. it seems here bizarre, dear reader, that some still cling to delusions of a turnaround based on little but that first three weeks' babip-derived strangeness -- in the seven weeks since april 30, the cubs have scored 203 and allowed 206, and appropriately enough have gone 22-24. there's no run differential savior in that, and the team has not been cheated.

the club sometimes seems to understand better than its fans the dire straits it is in, and have rearranged the pieces frenetically in an effort to find a combination that would put some lipstick on this pig. but it would seem here that, at most draws from the deck, the cubs have succeeded only in treading water. cesar izturis is benched and appropriately -- but is ryan theriot's 263/323/333 really any improvement? matt murton is in iowa and it is no travesty, but is felix pie's 246/287/404 a material gain? jacque jones continues to justify this page's every criticism of his signing, but can mike fontenot really be expected to be his better over any significant sample size? and now exchanging barrett for bowen, who is precious little better defensively and cannot hit half as well... it seems to this writer that the one clear gain has been losing wade miller from the rotation in favor of angel guzman and sean marshall.

the benefit of these moves, dear reader, is mostly in the quiet revolution they represent. as was pointed out by local shaman ccd, there is a youth movement underway much the same as 2006's accidental version. but it very probably means nothing good for this year.

july 31 is fast approaching, and this club -- having done essentially what this page thought it would in the offseason in spite of the utter and demonstrable foolishness of a halfhearted one-year turnaround -- has another opportunity to demonstrate that it might have learned something from its folly. trading four months of barrett yields little and that is no surprise; jacque cannot be moved for a bag of balls and we are not at all shocked. but in derrek lee, jason marquis, ted lilly, alfonso soriano, aramis ramirez and carlos zambrano, the cubs have assets of varying quality under contract at varying terms, some of whom might fetch the kind of bounty that could inject real promise into the farm system -- if only the front office is both free to and (finally) sees the wisdom of arbitraging service time and using player-development risk as leverage in an effort to build a winner from the ground up.

this group of players is what you see -- a .500-or-slightly-less baseball team that is going to get a lot more expensive in the next two years and which no cub fan should miss when it is gone. watching it get old after jim hendry is fired will not be any more pleasant than 2007 has been. breaking it up, on the other hand, may offer some real hope for a better future in which a young core of high-ceiling talent under controlled contracts can be augmented by a few tailor-fit free agents.

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