Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Storm is Brewing

Sorry, but I could not resist the headline, because it is about to rain cats and dogs here in Arkansas. I say bring it on, I am supposed to cover the State Soccer Tournament Today, but I would much rather watch the Cubs. Well, unless Glendon is going to let the Brew Crew create their own storm of runs.

I have actually been able to see 19 of the 21 games to date (or watch via tape delay on the Tivo). Which brings me to a point of thanks. So far no one as ruined my experience of watching a game late. I thank everyone for that; it just makes it more enjoyable if I don't know what is going on.

I caught the first 7.5 innings yesterday on TV and the last inning on the XM. Clearly Greg Maddux did not have his best stuff yesterday, but all the solid hits did not split any gaps, thus limiting the damage. Maddux was also benefited from a nifty 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning. Cedeno really put something on his throw and Neifi made a solid throw.

While the Cubs are scoring runs, it feels like we are holding this thing together with smoke and mirrors. I was looking at some early trends of Dusty's madness. I think he might just put some names in hats and pull them out.

1. Juan Pierre has been as advertised. He puts the ball for the most part, even though he has 10 K's on the season already. And true to his past numbers, he doesn't walk. In the past he shown a little more patience at the plate, but right now his .297 OBP tells the story. Grade (B-), of course if we graded on a curve, he might get a (A-) for the fact he is so much better than anybody last year.

2. Ronnie Cedeno is actually playing better than I thought. Granted his throwing has been erratic at best at times, but he seems to be getting it. Right now Cedeno is putting up a solid .892 OPS, which is good for second on the team. The problem is Ronnie is a rookie and the league will catch up a little. It is how he deals with the teams that start to see him more often that will tell the story. Grade (A)

3. Todd Walker is playing like a guy that has something to prove. Prove away my boy. I have always liked Walker from day one. Dusty and Jim jerked him around all spring and thank god the rest of the league did not take them up on an offer. Walker just flat out hits. Now that Lee is out, Walker's .947 OPS leads the team. Granted his bat is of more value at second base, but right now we don't have a choice. Grade (A+)

4. Aramis Ramirez is getting close to breaking out. I hope. He struggled early, but it was not his eye that struggled as evident in his OBP. Ramirez has already drawn 12 walks and is getting on base at a .342 clip. Which is .047 points more than our leadoff man. That makes me believe he is just an inch or two away from crushing baseballs. Now that Lee is out, he probably will not get as much to hit, but if he continues to draw walks it will help the team, because of the two guys behind him. Grade (C-) Even though I like the walks, he is still hitting .212.

5. Matt Murton could be a very special player. He just gets it and it is evident in his early year numbers. Murton is second on the team in RBI (16) and he only has two HR. He has struck out 12 times, but I think that will improve as he gets more at bats, but he has walked nine times. I think years to come, we will look back and say it was steal we got Murton in that Nomar deal. Grade (A).

6. Michael Barrett is a key for the next 8-10 weeks while Lee is on the mend. His bat has been outstanding so far and he leads the team in RBI (18). He is probably the best hitting catcher in the NL right now and maybe only Victor Martinez is a better hitter in the entire league. Barrett has worked on the defense and he has worked cut out with him with two rookies now. Not to mention Glendon "Walk" Rusch. Grade (A)

7. Jacque Jones has to get better. It looks like he is starting to get better looks at the plate. Jones raised his average to .231 yesterday after three hits. He has also provided a couple big home runs already and played a solid right field. I said coming in if Jones hit .275 and gave us 80 RBI it would be just great. The problem is he still is getting starts against LHP. He is actually hitting .279 vs. Righties and a big .000 against lefties. Jim he is a platoon player. Grade (D).

8. Neifi Perez was a surprise last year, when he played out of his mind for about two months. Guess What? Those days are done and injuries have once again forced the weakest hitter in the league back into service. How has he responded? How about a .176 average in 34 at bats. If that gets you 2.5 million, then I am in the wrong business. Dusty has to see that Hairston is a better option. His defense is fine and his bat runs circles around Neifi, but that is the downfall of Dusty as a manager. Grade (D), but only for defense.

Also when our bench has guys like Freddie Bynum, we need to improve the bench now. There are rumors of Carlos Pena coming in to play 1B. I suppose that will happen in about a week, but the Cubs need a guy to hit LHP. Walker only has one hit and four walks against LHP.

There you have it four A's, one B, one C and two D's in the lineup. The pitching breakdown will come later. You can expect that a couple will fall off and a couple will rise, which might give the Cubs a chance to hang close if they get good enough pitching.