If you tune into any one of the Cubs' four games against the New York Mets this week, you may get the impression that the umpires misread the calendar and bumped up the first pitch.
But, no fear, Cubs fans, the umps did indeed start the game on time, and, no, they aren’t playing any tricks on you.
That job is left for Lou Piniella, whose latest tinkering of the Cubs lineup may leave you experiencing a slight bout of déjà vu and a sudden onset of nausea.
Don’t tell me Lou’s gone back to Alfonso Soriano hitting leadoff…
No, it’s not quite that bad.
But Piniella did have to dig deep into his bag of tricks for this one, and you can thank the predominantly left-handed starting staff of the New York Mets for it.
And, okay, I concur–an underwhelming 25th ranking in both team batting average (.223) and runs scored (27) may have had something to do with it, too.
Nonetheless, Piniella’s annual lineup “fix” is underway, and we’re only 12 games into the young season.
Meet Marlon Byrd, the new exclusive leadoff hitter against lefties–that is, until Piniella gets another head-rushing wave of brilliance flowing underneath his cap.
Don’t be fooled.
This is, in fact, the same Marlon Byrd who signed a three-year, $15 million deal in the offseason to solidify the middle of the Cubs lineup.
A dependable, daily 3-4-5 of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Byrd. It gives me chills just thinking about it.
When the Cubs signed Byrd back in January, the possibility of the center fielder leading off at any point during the season was, oh, I’d say, less than one percent.
And even that might be generous.
Here’s what ESPN.com’s Bruce Levine had to say when the Cubs signed Byrd back in January:
“Byrd is not a top-of-the-order hitter, posting just a .329 on-base percentage last season with just eight stolen bases. He'll most likely bat fifth, sixth or seventh in Lou Piniella's lineup.”
Granted, Levine, and none of us, for that matter, have the ability to read Piniella’s crafty mind.
It took Piniella almost the entirety of spring training to decide between Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome in the leadoff spot, and, now, just 12 games into the season, Sweet Lou’s patience is already worn thin.
Maybe I’m missing something, though, so let’s take a look at Byrd’s numbers in the one-hole.
Hold on, I can’t seem to find the last time Byrd batted leadoff…Oh, here it is.
In 2007, Byrd batted leadoff for the Texas Rangers in three games with only two official at-bats. Not much of a sample size, there…
A year earlier, Byrd batted .250 with a .379 OBP in 48 bats. Still, not a whole lot to break down for our purposes.
I think I’ll have to go with Byrd’s career stat line for this one.
And here it is: In 140 games and 574 career at-bats, Byrd has a .280 AVG and a .346 OBP with 93 runs, 53 RBIs, 27 doubles, six triples, 11 home runs, 52 walks and 101 strikeouts.
It’s certainly a serviceable line spanning the first five years of Byrd’s career, but it still falls short of what you desire from a leadoff man.
There is one thing that’s for sure: Byrd’s not going to be tearing up the base paths for the Cubs.
The last time Byrd stole more than 10 bases was in 2003 with the Philadelphia Phillies when he stole 11 bags.
Personally, I feel like I should have seen this coming. Maybe not this, exactly, but something like it.
Until Ryan Theriot took over the final 42 games as leadoff hitter last season, Cubs fans were subjected to watching Alfonso Soriano exchanging swings in the dirt for the occasional home run.
Theriot ended up hitting .283 in those games, and, towards then end of this year’s spring training, he was awarded the permanent leadoff duties for 2010 by Piniella.
But, as Cubs fans already know, permanence has little meaning for Piniella.
Soriano and Theriot flip-flopped in the No. 1 hole more than once last year, so it wouldn’t be as a shocker if Byrd’s stint as the 245-pound leadoff man is short-lived.
Look, I get it.
Piniella is looking for a quick fix.
And you cannot totally blame him for it, either.
But we’ve seen this song and dance with Lou before, and not just in the everyday lineup.
Ask Scott Eyre, Bob Howry and Michael Wuertz how secure they felt in Piniella’s bullpen before being singled out and exiled.
Eyre went on to win a championship with Philadelphia and Wuertz became one of the game’s most dominant setup men just last year, but, for the Cubs, no one did ever step up and replace their spots in the pen for Piniella.
Quick fixes are nice if you have them, but the Cubs don’t.
Theriot is the best option in the leadoff spot, and, quite frankly, Byrd was just starting to prove his worth as a potential No. 2 hitter.
But for now, against lefties, Byrd will be hitting one and Theriot will slide all the way down to eighth.
I don’t expect it to work, but that’s just from my experience watching Piniella work his personnel “magic.”