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.
The BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots have officially been released. One name that is not among the candidates to be enshrined is Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader.
Some names that will appear on the ballots are names connected with steroid use. There is no forgiveness in baseball, unless your method of cheating was by steroid use. Why? Why is betting on baseball a worse crime? Pete Rose never bet against the Reds so it wasn’t like he “fixed” the games to ensure he would win a bet. He lied about his gambling at first, but finally broke down and admitted his wrong-doing. He regrets his mistake. Players like Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro denied any wrong doing despite the evidence that proves otherwise. Roger Clemens will deny his actions till the day he dies and even then, will never admit it. Alex Rodriguez denied reports of his usage, but finally revealed the truth after the evidence was leaked to the press. His reward? He gets to keep playing as if he did nothing wrong. Why? Why does a player that tests positive for steroid use gets to get caught 3 times before he faces a lifetime ban? Why are steroid users allowed to be on the Hall of Fame ballot? Are they not cheaters?
Dear Mr. Selig, I don’t understand why Major League baseball has crucified Pete Rose. Sure, he made a mistake. He bet on baseball and that is strictly against the rules. He made a mistake and is truly remorseful. As the Commissioner of MLB, are you afraid to overturn a previous Commissioner’s ruling? Why? Is there no forgiveness in baseball?
In light of the steroid era, haven’t we learned anything? The steroid users have been glorified. In 1998, fans of MLB enjoyed the greatest homerun race ever. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire slugged it out and the fans went wild. At the time, we thought we were witnessing history, only to discover that it was all smoke and mirors. In hindsight, it was a major disappointment. Then there’s Barry Bonds, who belted 70 homeruns to become the homerun king. Again, it was all an illusion, wasn’t it?
Considering the fact that steroids not only tarnished the game, it destroyed the integrity of America’s past time. So why do players like Palmeiro get rewarded by appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot? I don’t get it. MLB has always taken the stance that baseball is a pure sport, a sport with integrity. Let’s face it, baseball has been stained by steroids. Players looked for an extra edge and found it. They cheated, pure and simple. The problem that I have is that if a player fails a drug test, he gets suspended for 90 days or whatever it is. then, if he tests positive again, it’s a 180 game suspension. The third offense results in a lifetime ban. So why is it, that Pete Rose received baseball’s death penalty for one mistake made after his playing days were over? Pete Rose played the game the way it should be played. He set the example for everyone. He never used steroids or cheated in any way, shape, or form as a player. As a manager, he bet on his team to win. Big deal. Why is his case a greater crime than steroid use? I think there is something wrong with that picture.
Here is my proposal, Mr. Selig. I have an idea that might actually prove to be the right thing to do. I hope that you read this post and seriously consider what I am about to suggest. Why? It is the right thing to do and I am confident that you are a man of integrity. Here’s my idea.
Since Pete Rose bet on baseball while managing the Reds, then he should be banned as a manager. However, since Pete has alot to offer, he should be allowed to coach, mentoring young players and teaching them how to play the game the way it was meant to be played and teaching them about the dangers of cheating. Pete Rose should be allowed to participate in the game of baseball in some capacity. He was the greatest hitter ever. Have some respect and give him his due. Pete Rose has paid the price for his mistake and is sorry. He should be forgiven. Perhaps a little forgiveness would bring back some of the integrity that has been lost in Major League baseball.
In addition, Pete Rose deserves to be in the hall of Fame, period! His numbers speak for themselves. His success came the old-fashion way, he earned it. He worked hard to get where he had gotten. He deserves to be on the ballot to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It doesn’t mean that the writers will vote him in, although I think he deserves it. He should at least have the opportunity to be on the ballot. It’s time to be a leader, Mr. Selig, and give Pete Rose a reprieve. It has been long enough. Don’t you believe in giving people second chances? Steroid users get second and third chances. Pete Rose needs only one second chance and you are the only one that has the power to forgive. There is no forgiveness in baseball, but maybe there should be.
Pete Rose was my favorite player when I was a youngster. He inspired me to play baseball. He inspired me to hustle. He inspired me to dive head first into whatever base I was trying to reach. He inspired me to aspire to becoming a big leaguer some day. Pete Rose was awesome. My very first MLB game was at Riverfront Stadium and Pete Rose was playing third base. He was the reason I wanted to see the Cubs and the Reds play. Rose captivated my imagination and made me realize that a player had to work hard and give 100% all the time. He inspired a strong work ethic in me. Watching Pete Rose chase Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak was unbelievable. Every game was exciting. That was what made baseball so great. He chased the 3,000 hit milestone. Then, the incredible 4,000 hit milestone. He finally broke Ty Cobb’s record for most hits all-time. It was amazing. Pete Rose kept me interested in baseball, no, more like obsessed. Pete Rose deserves some credit. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Have a heart and reinstate his eligibility status. It’s the right thing to do. If it wasn’t for Pete Rose, I would not be the diehard baseball fan that I am today. I hope that somehow you read this, Mr. Selig. I have the utmost respect for you and your integrity and I trust that you will consider doing the right thing. Thank you, Scot Blust.
Allow me to create a hypothetical situation. What if Starlin Castro made a transition to second base? It would create an opening at shortstop, which with a trade, could provide the Cubs with a legitimate lead-off hitter.
A switch to second base could provide the remedy to Starlin Castro‘s defensive woes. Castro has excellent range and could develop into a solid defensive player. Playing second base would allow Castro to make shorter throws thus cutting down his throwing errors considerably. It would also allow room for a shortstop that can lead off and ignite the offense. But who?
What we’re looking for, is a player that can lead off, has a high OBP, steals bases, and plays solid defense. That’s it. Any player that fits that description is worth consideration. I may miss a few. There are many minor leaguers who could meet the requirements but, for all intents and purposes, I will focus on established veterans.
Let’s examine shortstops with a combination of these attributes.
While there are many “untouchables” out there with high on-base per centages, here are some players that may be fair game.
Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. His OBP last season was .378. He also stole 32 bases. The Marlins have a history of cleaning house and Ramirez could easily be on the trading block. He is an all-star caliber player.
Hanley Ramirez and Starlin Castro would make a lethal combination up the middle and a powerful and speedy 1 – 2 punch at the top of the order. I wonder if Jim Hendry could pull off such a deal.
Consider this: The Cubs have a highly touted shortstop in the minors. Hak- Ju Lee will be ready for the big leagues in a couple years and the Cubs will have to decide whether or not to move Castro to second base anyway, so why not make the transition now and acquire a shortstop that can leadoff and provide defensive prowess?
Jose Reyes is another possibility. The New York Mets may want to trade Reyes. Like the Cubs, the METS have paid a ton of money and have been disappointed by the results. Perhaps a contract for contract trade would work out for both teams.
Jose Reyes hit .282 and had 30 steals last season. Starlin Castro could benefit by having a veteran double play partner, someone that can also teach him to lead off. Castro needs a mentor to inspire him.
Rafael Furcal is another possibility. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in turmoil and it sounds like they are prepared to clean house.
The time may be right to swoop down and pluck Furcal from the Dodgers. In 2010, Furcal batted .300 with a .366 OBP. He stole 22 bases.
There aren’t any fits on the free agent market so a trade would have to happen. Possibly a better solution to the leadoff dilemma would be a free agent second baseman, but that’s another blog. For now, I will have to explore the possibilty of adding a shortstop and moving Castro to second base, a position that Castro may be better at. We have to explore the possibilities and wonder…What if?
A legend has passed away today. Sparky Anderson will be remembered for his World Series Championships in Cincinnatti and Detroit, but I will never forget my very first MLB game in 1977 between the Cubs and the Reds. Sparky was managing The Big Red Machine and I got to see the legend with my own eyes. I was only 9 at the time, but even then, I knew that I was witnessing a part of history, a legend.
As a nine year old, I was all about baseball. I lived and breathed it. I collected baseball cards and made trades like a GM would, using my keen insight and intuition to determine what players would hold their value and who I could afford to part with. Back then, I could rattle off every stat for every player at any given time. There wasn’t much about baseball that I didn’t know at that age. I only wish I could have played the game as well as I would have liked, becoming a professional baseball player was my dream, but that’s another story. Anyway, I was really into the Reds at the time. The Big Red Machine was the ultimate team, in my opinion. Sparky Anderson was the Manager, arguably the best in his time. There was something special about him, you could just tell. He was like the grandfather everyone wished they had. I remember having his baseball card and refusing to part with it. It didn’t matter that I had duplicates, because I knew that I had something special. I had Sparky Anderson. Well, my child’s intuition was correct in that assumption. Sparky turned out to be a Hall Of Famer and deservedly so. When I saw Sparky in person while attending the game between the Cubs and the Reds at Riverfront Stadium, I was in awe.
At the time, I don’t think I fully appreciated his managing prowess as I do now, but intuitively, I knew. It was an honor to be in his presence.
Sparky Anderson exemplified what a Manager should be. He was a kind-hearted man and a fierce competitor. He was wise, intelligent, and a keen strategist. He understood the game of baseball and knew what it takes to win. He was a leader and a motivator. Sparky Anderson was beloved by all, especially me, because Sparky was the kind of coach that I would want. Even though I am a Diehard Cubs Fan, have been since 1978, there will always be a special place in my heart for Sparky. God bless his soul. He will be missed.
It’s October and there’s a full moon as Atlanta will brave the journey to the land of Giants on this night. The Braves had better beware because there are dangers lurking just around the corner.
In his final season, future Hall of Fame Manager, Bobby Cox, and the Atlanta Braves squeaked into the post-season winning the Wildcard, but are the Braves prepared to face the most dominant pitching staff of the National League?
San Francisco won the NL West with tremendous pitching. In the month of September, the Giants’ pitching staff touted a dwarfed ERA of 1.78. During the final month of the season, opposing batters’ hit only .182. The Giants will open the series tonight with “The Freak”, Tim Lincecum.
The 26 year old, Cy Young Pitcher, went 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA. He will be making his post-season debut. Lincecum led the National League this year with 231 K’s. Despite struggling in August, He made some adjustments and finished strong in September where he went 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. Make no mistake, Tim Lincecum is ready for the Braves.
Atlanta will have Derek Lowe on the mound. Lowe has won 5 consecutive starts and has gone 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 8 career games at AT&T Park. It should be a good pitching match up. While the Braves’ lineup try to figure out “The Freak”, Derek Lowe will try not to freak out when he faces the Giants’ hitters, like “Kung Fu Panda”, Pablo Sandoval, and Aubrey Huff. The Giants have staked the claim for Rookie Of The Year honors with the emergence of Buster Posey. The Giants’ catcher ranked 1st amongst National League rookies with a .305 batting average, 2nd in slugging per centage (.505), 3rd in on-base per centage (.357), 4th in RBI’S with 67, 5th in multi-hit games (38). Posey finished the year with 18 HR’s in 108 games played. He is the leading candidate for NL Rookie Of the Year as he helped the Giants overcome a 7 1/2 game deficit in mid-season.
The Giants are 63-19 when scoring first this season and 69-12 when they score 4 or more runs in a game. In addition, San Fran is 61-4 when leading after the 5th inning, attributable to a fantastic bullpen. As a team, the Giants have 37 come from behind wins.
Atlanta lost Chipper Jones earlier in the year, but added players like first baseman, Derek Lee and Rick Ankiel. The Braves have had a road record of 35-46 in 2010 and have struggled as of late. However, in Bobby Cox’s final season, the Braves will be trying to send their skipper out on top. It should be a good series. The Braves will need to find an answer to the Giants’ pitching staff if they are going to have a chance. We’ll see how it goes. Rock on!