Playoff Roster Thoughts
Lou Piniella is a man with a few decisions to make. For example - the Cubs have been carrying 12 - or, at times, 13 - pitchers all year long. They probably don't need more than 10 in the month of October. So, who stays home? Who makes the trip? And if the Cubs do indeed cut down on the number of pitchers they're carrying, then what hitters do they add to the roster? Sensibly, they'd be adding at least a few who haven't spent a whole lot of time with the team this year.
Let's break down Lou's likely moves, and why.
The Starting Four
The strength of the Cubs - well, one of the many strengths - comes from the rotation. Now, all year long, I've been an advocate of starting Carlos Zambrano in the first game of any short series. Then, The Big Moose started getting blown out semi-regularly. Oh, sure, he mixed in a no-hitter in between pumellings, and we could label him an epic tease, but at this point I do not trust him in the first game of a series. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a team with tremendous pressure. Momentum is huge, and getting blown out in Game One by a score of 9-2 might be all she wrote. Therefore, I suggest this order:
Game One - Ryan Dempster. Cool, collected, dependable at Wrigley, Ryan Dempster should be a no-brainer at this point. He's at the end of the best season of his career. In a word, capitalize.
Game Two - Carlos Zambrano. Carlos has been a big game pitcher. He still deserves the chance to pitch early. If Carlos is on his game, he could deal a death blow to the Cubs first round opponent.
Game Three - Rich Harden. And this is the true strength of the Cubs. Harden is a pitcher with ungodly stuff and an ERA bordering on 2. And he may very well be the team's third playoff starter!! That's insane.
Game Four - Ted Lilly. Only the Cubs will have a fourth starter in the playoffs who may enter the post season with as many as 17 wins. Again. Huge, huyuuuuge advantage.
Now, the real debate. The Cubs bullpen has been good, if not a little concerning as of late. Kerry Wood has been walking a wire every game he's pitched in the last month. Carlos Marmol, while dominating, has shown lapses earlier in the season and we still do not know if he has the mentality to handle a post season pressure situation. Jeff Samardzija is a rookie. And yet, Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, and Jeff Samardzija are our three no-brainer bullpen picks. If the Cubs go with three more, then their options are the following:
Sean Marshall - LHP, 59.2 IP, 3.62 ERA. The best lefty out of the pen, and he has the ability to throw 3 or 4 innings in a pinch.
Neal Cotts - LHP, 32.1 IP, 4.18 ERA. Cotts was looking great up until the end of July. He had an ERA of 2.79, he'd been shockingly effective, and then the clock struck midnight, his glove turned into a pumpkin, and teams began to light him up. In the last 12 innings he's pitched, the lefty reliever with bonus money should he be named World Series MVP has given up 9 earned runs. If Lou feels like he needs another lefty, then Cotts is his only choice. But does he - or us - really need the agony and the grief?
Chad Gaudin - RHP, 87 IP, 3.83 ERA. Gaudin's numbers as a Cub wouldn't be bad at all, except he took a bullet for Lou back on August 22nd against the Nationals. The Cubs got hammered that game, Gaudin gave up 6 earned, and his ERA as a Cub went from 2.75 to 4.99. Gaudin is just now returned from an injury stint, as he hurt himself while fending off a pack of wolves in order to save a group of young orphans. Or, he stumbled and fell onto a dumpster. Mine sounds cooler, so that's what we're going to claim happened to him.
Angel Guzman - meh. Next.
Bob Howry - RHP, 68.1 IP, 5.27 ERA. Insert your favorite variation of the has nude pictures of (team manager) and is blackmailing him in order to stay on the team joke. Bob Howry has passed his expiration date. Should Lou waste a playoff roster spot on him, I'll be nervous - especially if he's also included Cotts in that deal. It's just not necessary.
Randy Wells - RHP. Randy Wells is a force of nature. Teams just can't figure this guy out. He's never given up a single earned run in his career, and it would be a terrible mistake for Piniella to ... wait, he's only pitched like, 4 innings in his career? ...oh. Erm, moving on.
Michael Wuertz - RHP, 42.1 IP, 3.83 ERA. Poor Wuertz. His ERA in the month of May was 1.35. In June, it was 2.08. Then, in July, the Reds took him for a ride and Lou put him on a bus to Iowa. Since his return, Wuertz has been effective - except against the Reds. Man, seriously, between Jon Lieber, Ted Lilly, and Michael Wuertz, the Reds have had the Cubs number this year. That said, despite his reasonable ERA, I'd be shocked if Lou brought him to the Big Show.
If I'm Lou, and if I'm picking 3 of those guys, it's actually pretty easy. I'm taking Marshall and Gaudin for sure. Then I'm rolling the dice on either Cotts, Howry, or the forgotten about Jason Marquis, although I personally would feel better if Lou went with Wuertz.
That leaves the Cubs with 15 bats. The following are no-brainers:
C Geo Soto, Henry Blanco
1B Derrek Lee
2B Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson
CF Jim Edmonds
RF Kosuke Fukudome
That leaves 4 positions open. The likeliest picks are the following:
IF Ronny Cedeno - He can play both middle infield positions, although his mental lapses in big defensive situations scare the shiz out of me, and, while he's batting .284 with 11 doubles and an OPS of .718, I wouldn't trust Ronny as a pinch hitter, either. Unfortunately, the Cubs just may need him due to his versatility, but I will break out into an instant sweat should Lou Piniella ever sub him into shortstop in a close post season game.
OF/1B Daryle Ward - Is he likely to go? Yes. Should he go? I don't think so. Ward hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire with his epic hitting skills this year. In 94 at bats, the Badonkadonk is batting .223 with 3 homers and 15 RBI. In other words, he wouldn't exactly be my first choice in a big pinch hit situation. Actually, my first choice would probably be Carlos Zambrano.
OF Felix Pie - Defensively versatile, the young Mr. Pie is actually batting a respectable .363 since his return to the majors this September. Then again, he's 4 for 11. That said, Pie is defensively outstanding, and he might make for a keen late-inning defensive (or base running) replacement.
OF/1B Micah Hoffpauir - Chances are, The Hoff won't be going if Ward does. Granted, he's batting .315 in 54 at bats - that's not that many less than Ward's totals this year - but my feeling is that Lou will turn to the veteran before he turns to the journeyman in a playoff situation. However, if the Cubs do go with this many hitters, Hoffpauir is probably a reasonable fourth choice, Ward or no ward.
3B Casey McGehee - Colin wouldn't want McGehee to be one of Lou's roster picks, and I can see his point. Casey only has 2 career hits, and they both came today. However, the young man has one thing going for him - he can play third base. On the Cubs, after Ramirez, only DeRosa, Cedeno, and McGehee have any experience at third base this season. Considering that DeRosa will be starting and Cedeno is also the only qualified backup middle infielder on the team - as Fontenot will likely be starting at second while DeRosa starts in right - then the Cubs may want to turn to another third baseman just in case. Ideally, enough other players are versatile enough so that it shouldn't be an issue, and I'd say that McGehee has less than a 1 in 100 chance of making the playoff roster, but the lack of backup middle infielders on this team is a little concerning.
Should Piniella go with 11 pitchers - not entirely unlikely - then Hoffpauir is an odd man out. However, I think he's probably got a close-to-even chance of making the roster. I'm sure we'll find out all the details in the coming days. I'm even sure there will be a few surprises. Hopefully one surprise will be the lack of Ward and Cotts.
Now, on Sunday morning, I attempted in vain to open this as a topic of discussion. Considering how complicated it is, I can understand why it didn't work out. However, I'll try it again now ... who makes the roster? Who stays home? And why?