Chicago Cubs: Top 10 Keys to the Second Half
The Cubs have been very disappointing in the first half of the season. They start today 41-41, when in reality, they should be six or seven games above .500.
Luckily, they are not too far away from that. Any day now, they could go on a six game winning streak and be right back in the thick of things.
There are a numerous things that the Cubs need to do to win consistently over the next 80 games. If the Cubs can achieve the majority of them, they should find themselves a top the National League Central for the third straight year.
No. 10: Get Carlos Marmol on Track
You can't walk a batter per inning and be successful. Somehow, Marmol's ERA is 3.57, which shows just how electric he is.
If he can just regain his control, he would likely have an ERA around 2.00 in the second half and would once again be the most valuable piece in the Cubs pen.
Until that happens, Aaron Heilman and Angel Guzman will have to pick up some of the slack. Both have been more valuable thus far, but the Cubs need more from Marmol in the second half.
No. 9 - Keep Mike Fontenot at Second Base
Since April, which wasn't even great for "Mighty Mike" his stats have dwindled. That was right around the time that Aramis Ramirez went down and Fontenot had to fill the gap at third base.
In April, he had four home runs and three doubles for seven extra base hits with 10 RBI. Since then he has only eight doubles, one triple, two home runs and 18 RBI.
His average is a far cry from the .305 he hit last year, sitting at .231, but he has started July strong. Thus far, he has hit .333 with two doubles.
I said it numerous times while he was playing third. He is a second baseman, and the switch to third was too much for him in his first full season. It comes as no surprise, even in a small sample size, that he has been more successful since moving back to second.
No. 8: Rich Harden Becomes Half the Pitcher He Was In 2008
In 13 starts in 2009, Rich Harden has compiled a 5-5 record with a 5.35 ERA. Who saw this coming? Not sure anyone did.
The rap on Harden was that he couldn't stay on the field, but when he did, he was one of the elite starters in all of baseball.
In 13 starts with the A's last season, he had a 5-1 record and a 2.34 ERA. In 12 starts with the Cubs later that season, he was 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA. You can add those two together and get a 4.11 ERA, which is 1.24 lower than his ERA in 2009.
If Harden can make another 13 starts in the second half with an ERA between 2.75 and 3.25, which he is capable of, the Cubs already strong rotation would be that much better.
No. 7: Find a Staple in the Bullpen
It is said that George Sherrill is available for the taking in Baltimore.
The Cubs could benefit from acquiring him in many ways.
Right now, they lack of left-handed presence in the pen. Though acquiring Sherrill would probably supplant Kevin Gregg as the primary closer, George could also be used in late game situations against tough left-handed hitters.
This would also make a seventh, eighth and ninth inning combo of Marmol/Guzman, Gregg, and Sherrill. I think that would strengthen each three innings and you wouldn't need Marmol to throw multiple innings nearly as much.
For this to work to its best, Marmol needs to find his control and Guzman needs to continue his first-half succes (minus the DL stint).
There will most undoubtedly be more arms available come July 31 and the Cubs should be major players for at least one, if not two quality arms.
This could be someone that is already with the team.
No. 6: Get Jake Fox His At-Bats
It is no longer a Cubs minor-league secret that Jake Fox can hit.
At the same time, it is no secret that he is no Rawlings Gold Glove caliber fielder, either.
With the Cubs ineptitude to hit thus far in 2009, they need to continue to find him at-bats. The injury to Soto should help, since Fox has been a catcher and is now the back-up to Koyie Hill.
The knack on him catching will be that the Cubs staff isn't familiar with him, he hasn't caught much this year, and never in the big leagues.
Well, that means that the staff, which outside of Randy Wells are veterans, need to work with Fox. His bat can contribute a lot to the lineup, more now than when Ramirez was hurt.
If they refuse to do this, then they need to trade Fox while his value is at its peak. He could attract many American League suitors.
No. 5: Lou Piniella Needs to Use Common Sense
Batting Soriano first was only one of Lou's quirks that irritate me. Thankfully, that experiment is done, though long overdue.
Another thing that drives me insane is when a player has a solid day, then sits on the bench the next. What happened to riding the hot hand?
This was seen yet again early this week when Alfonso Soriano, after a couple days off, goes 2-4, then is sat the next day. Soriano was upset, and in my opinion, rightfully so. He wants to break out of this funk as bad as we want him to, sitting him after a successful game is counter productive.
Another thing that drove me nuts this year was the way he handled the Milton Bradley incident. From everything I have seen and read, it was no different than the Zambrano, Dempster, or Lilly incidents earlier this year.
Instead, it seemed that he used the likely candidate as a scapegoat.
While I don't think Bradley needs to be babied, I think it yet again was counterproductive to single him out that way.
No. 4 - Milton Bradley Batting Second
His contract doesn't support this theory. He is suppose to hit for average, power and drive in runs.
For whatever reason, the Cubs front office and coaching staff couldn't tell before signing him that he wasn't that guy.
Instead of the Cubs asking him to be like Eddie Murray, switch hitting in the middle of the lineup, they should have asked him to be more like Tim Raines in 1987 when he hit .330, with a .429 OBP, and scored 123 runs.
Only difference between the two players is the fact that Bradley couldn't steal bases at near the clip that Raines could.
The fact, though, is that Bradley's stats coming off of his 2008 season, would have been better suited in the number two-hole.
No. 3 - Kosuke Fukudome Leading Off
Yes, Fukudome is only hitting .265. This is because of his terrible June, in which he hit .169.
Up until June hit, he had been the Cubs most successful hitter. When June hit, Kosuke had a .309 average with a .439 OBP. What more can you ask for from a lead-off hitter?
I think the move to lead-off will help him. During June, he was trying to drive in runs and likely pressed himself. Trying to make up for the abysmal second half of 2008, he tried carrying this team and yet again lost his touch.
So far in July, with the majority of his at-bats being out of the one-hole, he has hit .346 with a .419 OBP. While it is not likely that he will hit that high, his OBP could very well stay around .400 during the second half, with him hitting right around .290.
There is not much to say about Reed Johnson. He is a scraper and plays the game hard. I don't think he will bring the OBP that Fukudome will, but he will find ways to score.
No. 2 - Jump-Start Alfonso Soriano
.232 average with a .292 OBP? Are you kidding me?
Whoever thought of putting Soriano in the lead-off spot was crazy. He has never liked to walk. He is your prototypical basher. He is going to strikeout more than he walks and by a wide margin.
I never understood the theory on him leading off. What does it matter if your leadoff hitter has power? Most of his home runs come as solo jacks. His threat behind Lee and Ramirez gives them protection they can not get from any other Cubs player, whether Soriano is hitting or not.
If he can hit .280 (career average) with 16-18 home runs the rest of the way out, the Cubs lineup will be in much better shape.
Hopefully Lou doesn't irritate him too much with the days off. Sori, hitting or not, needs to be in this lineup so he can break out of it. When he does, watch out NL Central.
No. 1 - Ramirez Needs To Return To Form
A healthy Aramis Ramirez changes the Cubs entire line-up, point-blank.
To top off this slide, I want to post what I think the Cubs lineup should look like in the second half.
1. CF, Kosuke Fukudome
2. RF, Milton Bradley
3. 1B, Derrek Lee
4. 3B, Aramis Ramirez
5. LF, Alfonso Soriano
6. 2B, Mike Fontenot
7. C, Jake Fox (while Soto is on DL)
8. SS, Ryan Theriot
Against really tough right handed pitchers, the Cubs could move Theriot to the two-hole and everyone back one, essentially giving the Cubs two number two hitters.