Positions the Cubs need to improve
Sure, Kerry Wood is coming back. Mark Prior is already back and pitching like the 2003 version of The Franchise. Carlos Zambrano is still a maniac, and Derrek Lee has already created this year's version of Cubbie Amnesia (Sammy Who?)
But I ask you: does anyone really think that this is a playoff team?
I think I usually sound pretty optimistic about the Cubs, mostly because I assume a glorious trade will take place that will get the Cubs into the playoffs. But a trade for who? From where?
Forget about looking at the players available - if there even are any. Let's just look at the Cubs and see the glaring holes which litter this team like empty 40's around Ronnie Woo's bed.
To start with, the Cubs desperately need a leadoff hitter, and it's going to have to be a guy who plays outfield.
As a team, the Cubs are batting .258 from the leadoff spot, with a .320 OBP. That just won't do. For comparrison's sake, the Chicago White Sox are batting, as a team, .289 from the leadoff spot with a .370 OBP. Just one reason as to why they're playing so great.
Also as a team, the Cubs are batting .265 in the #2 spot, with an anemic .302 OBP. That's just terrible - it's the sort of production you'd expect from a last place team like the Devil-Rays (who, ironically, are batting .295 from the #2 spot with an OBP of .357.)
It is of my opinion that the Cubs can fill the top of their order from within. In the past three seasons, Jerry Hairston Jr. has had an OBP of .341 from the leadoff spot, and this year, his OBP is .380. That's a damned sight better than .320. And Hairston should be able to play left field at least as adequately as Jason Dubois or Todd Hollandsworth. Why Dusty refuses to consider this option is mind-boggling.
Also in the past three years, Todd Walker has batted .295 with a a .347 OBP from the #2 spot in the lineup. This year he's only batting .265 there, but his OBP remains at .345 and you have to think he'd be a damned better choice than Neifi Perez.
Regardless, the #1 and #2 spots have failed to produce, and may ultimately be the reason Derrek Lee is denied a triple crown. Dusty needs to stop batting Corey, Neifi, and Hollandsworth in those positions. For a guy who's willing to consider a variety of options, he's way too hard-headed to consider Hairston/Walker, and that may be a reason the Cubs will have to look outside the organization to find a left fielder capable of leading off for the team. (Although rumor has it that the Cubs are interested in Moises Alou again... something that I think would ultimately be a mistake.)
Now then, what about the bench?
As a team, the Cubs are batting a terrible .222 off the bench, led mostly by Jose Macias. There are a lot of teams that do worse off the bench (like the White Sox and Cardinals), but there are teams that do a lot better, too. Like the Padres, who are batting .289 with a .397 OBP off the bench this year. The Cubs are hurting in this category, especially because Dusty has insisted on keeping twelve pitchers. The Cubs need to buckle down and find a good veteran bench player or two who could give the Cubs some clutch late inning hits. Again, I have no suggestions right now, but if you guys have any thoughts, you should definitely leave comments.
Next, we have to look at the bullpen. The bullpen has at times been immaculate, but generally speaking they've been about as reliable as a crackhead just out of rehab.
Leading the Cubs bullpen is Wil Ohman, who in 16.2 innings pitched has allowed a total of 4 earned runs for an ERA of 2.16. Rusch, Dempster, and Novoa have also provided sub-4 ERAs, although Glendon hasn't pitched there in a few months and Novoa is also pretty untrustworthy. Otherwise, the Cubs have given their trust to guys like Mike Wuertz (4.05 ERA), Todd Wellemeyer (4.74), Cliff Bartosh (5.49), Mike Remlinger (5.66), and Joe Borowski (6.55).
I think the Cubs could probably get by with Rusch, Ohman, Dempster, and Wuertz, but they might need to pull off a trade to land a couple of other prime relievers. I don't believe that Sergio Mitre is a viable choice - when he's on, he's fantastic, but when he's off, he's having a typical day, if you think about it. I also wouldn't trust Novoa to a full season. Maybe next year, but not just yet.
That leaves Scott Williamson, who was signed with the hopes of rehabbing his way back to the majors this year, but is apparently yet to throw an inning this season. In other words, the Cubs will need to look elsewhere to improve their pen, although I feel pretty safe with an 8th inning lead at this point. Again, I don't know who's available, but it should be Hendry's job to find adequate guys whose names aren't Matt Karchner or Felix Herredia.
So, where does that leave us? In my estimation, in order to be a really competitive baseball team the rest of the season, the Cubs will need an improved left fielder (leadoff hitter), at least one new bench player (preferrably one who can play the infield), and one or two reliable relievers.
Who thinks this can be done in time? Anyone?