Chicago Cubs: Tale of Two Seasons

Ricky ButtsCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

CHICAGO - JULY 26: Aramis Ramirez #16 of the Chicago Cubs hits a run-scoring double in the 7th inning against the Cincinnati Reds on July 26, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 5-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It has been a frustrating first ninety eight games on the north side of the "Windy City."

They were pre-season favorites to win the National League Central Division and make a run at their first World Series appearance since 1945.

Up until now, it has been a tough go at it.  At some points, they found themselves scuffling and making a run at the bottom dweller in the division they were supposed to run away from.

Some blame Jim Hendry for partially dismantling the team from one year ago.  The trade of Derosa still has some reeling, but the point is, not even he could have saved the team in the first half.

Many also were stung by the allowing to let Kerry Wood walk and the trade for Kevin Gregg.  I think it is fair to say that Gregg has been the most consistent pitcher in the Cubs bullpen this year. 

The piece that was missing wasn't traded or allowed to leave in free agency.  It was on the DL after a freak injury.  Losing Aramis Ramirez for the majority of the first half dismantled this team in many ways.

First, with the way the lineup was structured, there was no protection after the four-hole (Milton Bradley). 

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Two, a good number of players couldn't pinpoint where they would be playing from day to day.

Mike Fontenot didn't know if he was playing second or third.  Fukudome didn't know if he was playing center or the dreaded right-field.  Micah Hoffpauir, Bobby Scales, Reed Johnson, Andres Blanco, and Jake Fox didn't know whether they would be starting or coming off the bench.

This made it hard on everyone.  Yes, you prepare to play everyday, but when you are a bench player you have to have a different mindset.  How do you stay prepared for eight innings before you play.  The flux in playing time and the uncertainty put extra stress on the players, impairing their ability to get the job done.

Now, I understand the most people are saying that this is an excuse that players do not deserve.  They are paid to play and they should be able to handle it.

True, to a certain extent.  These guys aren't programmed like a computer.  You can't just turn them on and off or move them from one desk to another and expect them to play the same way every day.

The absence of Ramirez led to a slow start and a great deal of adjustments for Lee and Bradley.  It took them both about a third of the season to get acclimated to the new found revolving lineup that was forced upon them.

At that point, the Cubs began to get a little more consistent, but were still in need of that protection.

Now, most people thought it would take Aramis Ramirez a while to get back to form.  His success so far in his return just proves how valuable he is to this lineup.

Another big move, was Soriano to the six-hole, adding more protection and power to the middle of the line-up.  Since July 5th, about the same time Ramirez returned, Soriano has hit much better, but he isn't the only one.

Stats since July 5:

Alfonso Soriano - .377 with a .434 OBP, 4 HR, 13 RBI and 9 runs.

Kosuke Fukudome - .308 with a .392 OBP, 1 HR, 7 RBI and 9 runs.

Milton Bradley - .235 with a .426 OBP, 1 HR, 5 RBI and 6 runs.

Derrek Lee - .324 with a .410 OBP, 6 HR, 15 RBI and 15 runs.

Plus, you have to add Aramis Ramirez into that line since they were getting nothing from him.

Aramis Ramirez - .309 with a .382 OBP, 4 HR, 12 RBI and 11 runs.

Despite the season long average that Bradley has continued to sport, the average and on-base percentages have gone up. 

Bradley has almost been a second lead-off hitter from the sixth hole which has proved successful in front of the hot Alfonso Soriano.

I understand it is still a short sample size, but these are all guys that can hit, and have proved it, even though most think Fukudome is a bust.  I believe he is where he belongs, leading off that is.

If this offense can stay healthy and get Geovany Soto back, I believe they can once again be one of the top in the National League. 

If the starting pitching can come close to being as good in the second half as the first this team can still run away from the division.