Tuesday, August 03, 2004
A lot to talk about, and so little time...
Since I've been remiss about blogging for most of the last two months, I feel compelled to catch up. Let me synopsize for the sake of brevity:
July in general, including the Brewers and Cardinals sweeps, highlighted by the complete collapse of the Cubs bullpen in that morale-shredding loss to the Evil Satanic Fowl. Shades of Alfonseca in that ESPN game two years ago...
Mark Prior's on-again, off-again battle to regain his form. Punctuated by an elbow 'injury' that had Cubs fans everywhere looking for the nearest bridge, Prior's return has been anything but spectacular. Since the MRI, CT, bone scan, and physical exam have all proven negative, I can't be too despondent over Prior's health, but other blogs have ably pointed out that Prior has completely reversed last year's groundball / flyball trend, leading to a scary propensity for the gopher ball. He's got two months to get it straight, so we'll see. I'm still hopeful.
The Move. New house = lots of time and money dedicated to mortgage, moving, etc. It's over for now (save about 150 boxes worth of unpacking), but f*@king DISH NETWORK sucks and this very morning informed me that, for the THIRD TIME, they had failed to show up for an install ("just be home between 8-12") and had no record that the install had even been scheduled. I'll reserve further judgment on Dish Network until the fourth install attempt on Thursday, but I'M PISSED I CAN'T WATCH THE CUBS AGAIN TONIGHT.
(1) NOMAAAAAHHHHHH! It's hard to even say it, as I still can't believe it.
The recent scourge of Boston (if you believe Dan Shaunnessy) becomes our golden boy, ready to plug the remaining hole in the lineup as the Cubs make a run for the wild card. Nomar is, for reasons set forth in far greater detail in other blogs, a collossal upgrade for the stretch run and likely a key component in any push for the wild card. If Nomar plays to his capabilities for the next two months, the Cubs simply do not have any major holes in their offensive lineup. Coupled with a pitching staff that is 2nd in the league in ERA and first in runs allowed, this should put the Cubs in about the best position possible to make the post-season. Of course, games are played on the field, not on paper, so we will have to see what actually transpires as the Cubs take the field. Continued surveillance of Nomar's achilles tendon injury (see Mark Prior) will be one of the true keys.
Kudos to Jim Hendry, BTW, for pulling off yet another tremendous deal at the deadline. I can't think of any other Cubs trade in recent memory that even comes close to this for pure psychological value. More below...
(2) Health. Simply put, we are now seeing the team that Jim Hendry envisioned, even though we don't have a closer at the moment. Closer may be by committee from here forward, but I think the Cubs should have fewer one run games with Nomar in the lineup nearly every day. LaTroy has returned to the historical mean during his time as closer, which is not unexpected given his past struggles with the Twins. As I suggested two months ago on this very blog, we may see Ryan Dempster get a crack at closing once Dusty is confident his arm has returned to full strength. When on, Dempster throws mid-90's heat with a decent curve and plus changeup. Limited to a two-pitch repertoire, Dempster may have more success out the bullpen than as a starter, where he has been inconsistent over his career.
(3) Depth. Once again, the superior depth of the Cubs team assembled by Hendry has enabled Baker to mix and match to keep the Cubs afloat despite numerous crippling injuries. The depth of the farm system has also provided Hendry with the bargaining chips necessary to get deals like the Nomar trade done, and Hendry has plied his trade without giving up many of the big assets.
Justin Jones was the biggest loss, as he was likely the top lefty prospect in the system. If there was one area where the system was strong, however, it was in lefty starters, with Andy Sisco, Richard Hill, Sean Marshall, and Jon Connolly all showing major league talent (despite a poor season for Sisco and recent struggles for Hill and Marshall). Coupled with Reynel Pinto (having a fabulous season at AA West Tennessee), Carlos Vasquez (the best starter at High-A Daytona) and Luke Hagerty (returning from injury at Boise), left-handed pitching was a position of great depth and an area where the Cubs could afford to lose talent. Hendry was also smart enough to ensure that Jones went to the AL, where he will not directly affect the Cubs if Jones' talent turns into major league production.
As for Francis Beltran, there is no doubt that he had tremendous potential, but his appearances were hit-or-miss at the major league level. The Cubs were lucky that Beltran was still around as a bargaining chip, since Beltran was originally going to Pittsburgh in the Ramirez / Lofton deal of a year ago. Beltran's biceps tendonitis scared Dave Littlefield, however, and Bobby Hill went in the deal instead. With Beltran now gone in another deadline deal, the Cubs will turn to their deep stable of young minor league relievers to fill the gap, including Jon Leicester, Todd Wellemeyer, Jason Szuminski, Scott Chiasson, David Cash, WP favorite Jermaine Van Buren (who, at last check, was 2-0, 0.92 with 19 saves and 46 K's in 39 innings pitched at AA West Tennessee), and the rehabbing Jason Wylie (who led the Florida State League in saves and relief ERA last year). Given this depth, Hendry had no need to hold on to Beltran, while other teams looked at him as a key asset.
Finally, Brendan Harris' inclusion in the Nomar deal means that Richard Lewis is now the official #1 Cubs prospect at second base. Lewis continues to be on fire at West Tennessee, posting a .324 / 9 /55 line while leading the Diamond Jaxx. Look for Lewis to be in the mix next year at second, especially if the Cubs move to re-sign Garciaparra to a new deal.
Monday, August 02, 2004
Damn Cubs Traffic
We're all moved in to the new house, so life should be much calmer now. Everything is great, except for that darn Cubs traffic (we now live right off of Addison). I wouldn't mind if I was going to the games, but...
Anyhoo, Weeghman Park will be back, hopefully tomorrow. New satellite with TiVo goes in tomorrow - so no more missed Cubs games. Mucho to talk about, including NOMAHHHHH!!!!!