As ludicrous as it may seem to have the player who hits 30-plus HR’s a year and is being paid a whopping $136 million in the lead-off spot, bleacher bums will have to accept it if Alfonso Soriano continues to launch baseballs out of Wrigley.
It’s amazing that less than a month ago many were lamenting the fact that manager Lou Piniella was sticking Fonsy back into the lead-off spot as he came off the 15-day DL. The Cubs were hot, and the streak happened to coincide with Soriano’s DL stint. Plus, he was off to a dismal start, hitting below the Mendoza line. Why ruin a good thing by sticking Soriano back into the line-up?
Reed Johnson, a more prototypical lead-off hitter, was doing a better-than-average job at the top of the line-up. Also, the player who replaced Soriano in the line-up, the immortal Ronny Cedeno, was swinging a big-stick at the time. So big that he was publicly thinking about the World Series in April! (Oh, how I would have loved to see Sweet Lou’s face after he heard Cedeno’s comments).
As much as I love the immortal Ronny and his proclamations, there is a reason that Lou is paid big bucks to manage. Fonsy came back off the DL with vengeance, sparking the latest Cubs streak single-handily by slamming 7 HR’s in his last six games along with a robust .500 average. He is swinging the hottest bat in baseball and has the Cubs broadcast duo, Brenly and Kasper, simply oozing during broadcasts.
However, the debate of moving him from the lead-off spot will still linger, because he is a streaky player and he will slump again, and when your lead-off hitter struggles, it drags the entire offense down. It occurred in the NLDS last year, where his .143 average was part of the reason the Cubs got swept by the Diamondbacks.
He has a penchant for striking out and does not move runners well, which are characteristics you absolutely do not want in your lead-off hitter. He’s not a stolen base threat anymore because his hamstring is more tender than filet mignon, and Lou does not want to risk another stint on the DL. Also, usually, you want the guys at the top of your line-up to set the table for your big sticks in the middle, but Soriano is the biggest power hitter on the team.
Therein lies the heart of Lou’s dilemma; Soriano is not your typical lead-off hitter, but Soriano is adamant that he is most comfortable at the lead-off spot. In his mind, he is only bats lead-off in the first inning, so it shouldn’t be an issue. That’s a valid point, but most of the time he bats with nobody on base because he’s batting behind the bottom of the order. This is the reason he hit 33 HR’s last year but only had a measly 70 RBI’s last year. A player with his power should easily have over a 100.
What should Lou do? I honestly don’t know, but if Soriano keeps hitting like this, it doesn’t matter where he bats in the line-up.