Saturday, March 22, 2008
First and Third
Heading into the final week of spring training, the Cubs oriented chatter is focused on two issues: 1) Who is the odd man out of the starting pitching rotation; and 2)What's the lineup going to be.
As to issue one, the answer is either Jason Marquis or Rich Hill. Marquis could relinquish his spot via a trade. But if Marquis can't be traded, Rich Hill could Ankiel his way to the minors for a stint. Given that Hill still has minor league options left and a trip to the minors could have the effect of delaying Hill's eligibility for salary arbitration, his being sent to Iowa is a distinct possibility.
As to issue two, the questions still revolve around who is leading off:
(Cubs manager Lou) Piniella did some out-loud thinking Friday morning, before the Cubs' 7-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
The upshot -- for now anyway -- is that Alfonso Soriano will not go back to leading off and that Piniella has toyed with the idea of batting Kosuke Fukudome first and mixing Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez among the 3-4-5 spots.
Most likely, however, Piniella will continue batting Ryan Theriot first, with Fukudome returning to the second spot, where he looked comfortable earlier this spring before being dropped down to fifth, where he has struggled.
"I haven't been all that pleased with the fifth spot," Piniella said. "I don't know what we can do. It's spring training, but we want to make it as comfortable as we can for Fukudome, also. We've just started to swing the bats a little better, which makes it a little easier to look at.
"It seems to me the 2-hole would be right now the best hole for Fukudome, too."
Hearing that Soriano is out of the leadoff spot is a huge plus. Leadoff will be a sore spot for this team unless Brian Roberts gets a "Get Out Of McPhail-Jail Free Card." But Lou was also being coy when he said the problem is the 5-hole. The OTHER problem with the Cubs offense is not the fifth spot, it's the spot for who bats third. The Cubs don't have a player who is really a good #3 hitter.
Publish Postcareer that also looks more like a 5th place hitter. In his final two years with the Marlins, he hit primarily out of the 6th slot followed by the 5th slot. The Cubs batted him 6th, 5th and 2nd when he got here in 2004 and only moved him up to #3 in 2005 after Nomar Garciaparra's groin divorced his femur.
If Lee can return to 2005 level performance, they have a #3 hitter. But given that his performance that year saw him exceed his career averages in hitting, OBP, slugging and RBI by 54 points, 51 points, 160 points and 21 RBU, the chances of seeing him post those numbers is on the small side.
If the Cubs had a leadoff hitter, a lot of problems would be solved. But they also need a real third place hitter, too.
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