Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lineup Against The Wall: Chicago Cubs

And here's another in our continuing series, where we subject the offensive lineups of each Major League club to our special form of analysis. Bank and Cecil have already hammered the East and West ends of the bigs, I'm lagging in the Central. Today we square up on Chicago, home of those lovable mugs known as Cubs. You may have had to wait a week into the season for this post, but when a team waits a century-plus to win it all is my tardiness really a big deal?

Thoughts on the sticks of the Chicago Nationals, after the jump...

Lou Piniella's Opening Day lineup:

1. LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
2. CF Kosuke Fukudome (L)
3. 1B Derrek Lee (R)
4. RF Milton Bradley (S)
5. 3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
6. 2B Mike Fontenot (L)
7. C Geovany Soto (R)
8. SS Ryan Theriot (R)
9. Pitcher

When you play in front of a packed house every day, in a huge media market, with a global fan base for your iconic franchise, you get a lot of toys. Toys like a $120 million outfielder who's often hurt. Or another outfielder who's one jaywalking ticket away from violating California's three-strikes law. Or yet another outfielder, imported from Japan, who seems like he forgot how to play baseball in August of 2008.

All these toys resulted in an NL-best 855 runs scored, a $118 million payroll, and a division title in 2008. They could not, however, get them past the Dodgers in the NLDS. So, like Sisyphus starting at the bottom of the hill yet again, the Cubs attempt to push that boulder to the mountaintop.

Soriano leads off, why I will never, ever know. Sure, he ran early in his career--he went 40/40 with the Nats in '06 and he's topped 30/30 three other times. But he stole 19 bases last year, 19 bases the year before that. He's slowing down as his age advances (and no one really knows what that age actually is), and the weaknesses in his game are becoming more pronounced. He strikes out a lot. He has an annual reservation on the DL. For such a spectacular athlete, he is as ungraceful a defensive player as you'll ever see--it almost seems like he grew up playing another game and has to think about simple acts like catching fly balls. But his power is, and probably always will be, monstrous. He should be batting cleanup.

Fukudome mans the two-spot, following a complete collapse in the second half and poor showings in the WBC and Spring Training. It's very early, both in the current season and his MLB career, but his outfield defense seems to have suffered a bit from standing next to Soriano at Wrigley. Perhaps he'll get it together, I do like his swing and his game.

Erstwhile Marlin Lee is the first-sacker and third-hitter. While he'll most likely never again see the power that posted 46 jacks and 107 ribbies in 2005 (I didn't say steroids, and I don't know why you brought it up), he'll always hit. I'd bat him lower, though, as well.

I always confuse Milton Bradley with Carl Everett, because to me all certifiably insane outfielders look alike. Except Albert Belle, he was special. Milton Bradley was the one who blew out his knee arguing with an umpire and wrestling with his manager, costing his team a playoff spot. He also likes firing projectiles at hecklers. Everett questioned the existence of dinosaurs and the viability of the gays based on the Bible. Crazy, yes, but good golly can these goofy fuckers hit. Bradley posted a .999 OPS as the Rangers' DH last year, but his already sky-high chances of getting hurt increase exponentially when he's asked to patrol an NL outfield. In fact, he's already dinged.

Aramis Ramirez is still, for some reason, under the radar. All this guy does is hit a buttload of home runs, come through with clutch knocks, maintain a respectable average, play rock solid D at the hot corner, and stay out of jail. I think he's one of the ten best hitters in the National League, give the man some love. Sweaty, public, inappropriate love.

Mike Fontenot plays the second base, unless Aaron Miles does. He's not that good, and he's not that bad. He is the iceberg lettuce of baseball.

Your stubby backstop is Geovany Soto, the suave Purto Rican Lothario currently serving as reigning NL Rookie of the Year. If he plays well, he just might become the first player ever to win the award twice. Seriously, Soto can mash, but please don't count on an average north of .260 this year--he won't see nearly as many fat fastballs in '09.

Bringing up the rear is Ryan Theriot, the only legitimate leadoff hitter on the team. Not that I'm telling Sweet Lou Piniella how to do his job or anything, but this is how I would do his job and set this lineup:

1. Theriot
2. Fukudome or Fontenot
3. Ramirez
4. Soriano
5. Bradley
6. Lee
7. Fontenot or Fukudome
8. Soto

But whatever, these dudes are going to score a bunch of runs, or as my wife calls them, points. The hopes of the North Side will rest on the health of these regulars, the integrity of the bullpen and the pitching rotation. Can Big Z squeeze one more good season out of his right arm? Can Rich Harden manage 30 starts, or even eight? Can Ted Lilly shake off the uneven workload he received in the WBC in March (looks like it, he one-hit the Rockies yesterday)? Can Ryan Dempster continue to excel in a starting role? And can ownership get their ducks in a row and make one more big push for Jake Peavy?

If the answer to a majority of these questions is "yes" you can pencil Chicago in for a third straight postseason appearance. Finally emerging from the first round and taking their rightful place as the NL's best club will require a little extra mustard.


bankmeister said...

Any time a post has a Greek-mythology reference in it, it's a home run in my book.

And, regarding Mr. Bradley, don't forget stalks commentators in his pile of laundry.

Cecil said...

I will never, ever--ever ever ever--understand the logic of Soriano in the lead spot.