The Cubs have been busy this offseason improving the team for 2011, but there is still one piece that has yet to be addressed to elevate them to the next level – a legitimate lead off hitter.
In 2010, the Cubs lacked one crucial element which failed to spark the offense. All season long, the offense struggled to score runs. There was nobody at the top of the batting order to ignite the spark and put pressure on the defense. Lou Piniella and Mike Quade exhausted every option at their disposal to find somebody that could fill the role. Ryan Theriot was traded to the Dodgers and consequently left a huge hole to fill. Many attempts to try different players were unsuccessful. As a result, the offense struggled to offer much run support. Too much reliance on the long ball resulted in a lack of run support for a pitching staff that deserved better.
During an interview, Mike Quade was asked who would be the Cubs’ lead off hitter in 2011.
His response was disturbing. He admitted that the Cubs did not have such a player that he would consider a true lead off candidate. He acknowledged that the Cubs simply lacked what was needed. At least he was honest. Given the fact, his response was that the lead off role would be by committee. In other words, he would be forced to pencil in anybody and everybody to fill the slot. A repeat of last season apparently. This disturbs me because last season was a disappointment due to the lack of run production. There was no spark to ignite the offense. So is 2011 doomed to failure?
What exactly is the role of a legitimate lead off hitter? A lead off hitter, first and foremost, must be able to get on base. He should be able to draw walks, bunt for a base hit, and hit for average. In other words, he must have a high on-base percentage. Secondly, he must have speed. Once on base, he must apply pressure to the opposing pitcher and defense. He must be a base stealing threat. He must cause the pitcher to be nervous and disrupt his concentration. He must draw the defense out of position and wreck havoc. Not only should he have the abilty to steal bases, but have the abilty to reach third base on a hit and run. He must be able to get himself in scoring position, somehow. He must be fast enough to score runs and make things happen. Such a player causes the opposition to make mistakes and opens the door for the offense to score runs.
The Cubs have made some improvements this offseason, but still lack the necessary spark to ignite the offense. With all due respect to Mike Quade and the current roster, the Cubs will be in for another long season if this isn’t addressed.
The Cubs’ General Manager, Jim Hendry, needs to find a way to fill this hole. It is too important not to. I was reading another Cubs’ blog, Strictly Cubs Baseball, http://strictlycubsbaseball.mlblogs.com/, I began thinking about this problem and reached the conclusion that this IS a HUGE problem. The lack of offense last year is directly attributable to the lack of a legitimate lead off hitter. There simply was no run support. Opposing pitchers were entirely too relaxed while facing the Cubs. Jim Hendry still has work to do. I hope and pray that he does something to address this glaring hole or 2011 could be disastrous. The Cubs are on the right track, but to be truly competitive, we need a solid lead off hitter. Only then, will we be in good shape to reach the playoffs.