The 1st half of the 2009 MLB schedule had an anti-climactic ending on Sunday, as the Cubs split a day-night double-header with the 1st place Cardinals. After winning the 1st game 7-3, the Cubs were in perfect position to sweep the double-header and move ahead into 2nd place, just 1.5 games behind the Cards. But it wasn’t meant to be – - Randy Wells served up 2 2-run home runs to Ryan Ludwick and the Cubs offense couldn’t muster more than 2 runs against Cards starter Adam Wainwright. With the loss, the Cubs fell back to .500 – 43-43 – and into a 3rd place tie with the surging Astros.
That being said, Manager Lou Pinella still likes his team’s chances of making a strong showing in the 2nd half of the season. “We have to swing the bats better in the second half than we did in the first half… We swing the bats, stay healthy, we have a good chance to win the division. We’ve been through a lot this summer. If we don’t we’ll see what happens. I’m curious myself.”
Key components of the Cubs offense have been missing for good portions of the 2009 MLB season.
Aramis Ramirez missed 2 months with a dislocated right shoulder – he had been the Cubs best hitter up until the injury.
Alfonso Soriano has been a disaster after starting off the season on a tear. Although Soriano has had 9 game-winning hits for the Cubs this season – the most on the team – his batting average is down to .233 and his on-base percentage is down to .298. He has 14 HR’s, 33 RBI’s and 50 runs scored, but he has not hit a home run since June 7th. Soriano has struck out 82 times and walked only 29 times. Because of his miserable numbers, Pinella recently dropped Soriano down in the lineup and will likely hit 5th or 6th the rest of the way.
Lastly, GM Jim Hendry’s big off-season signing – switch-hitting right fielder Milton Bradley – has been a complete bust. Bradley is batting just .243 with 6 HR’s, 21 RBI’s and 28 runs scored. Although his on-base percentage is above his career average – .379 – he has not been the run producer that the Cubs need him to be. Plus, because of injuries, he has registered only 210 at-bats while playing in 210 games – not a great average for a starting outfielder. Bradley recently declared that he is back and will have a far better 2nd half than the 1st three months of the season. This after going 0 for 1 with 3 walks in the 1st game of Sunday’s double-header and 2 for 3 with an RBI and a walk in the 2nd game of the double-header. Woohoo – Milton is back. He had this to say about why he thinks he will be ready to break out in the 2nd half: “I’ve been working ever so hard to get my stroke, get my rhythm, get my eye, and to end it like that was disappointing [referring to being called out on strikes to lead off the 9th inning on Sunday night]… I walked about 37 times today. Suddenly, I’m going to take a thrid strike right there? I got my rhythm, I feel good… It’s disappointing, but what can you do? You move on. It ain’t the first time, it won’t be the last… Don’t read the newspapers, don’t watch TV, just play. We’ve got everything we need right here. If we stay together in here, cut out all the outside stuff, we’ll be fine. There’s way too much hoopla, there’s way too much talk, there’s way too much speculation.”
I like the optimism, but the Cubs have not shown any real fire this season, and I’m not sure what we should expect that to change over night. The team seems resigned to the fact that it will lose close ball games, and when you don’t have that confidence, it’s hard to put together big winning streaks. Last year, the Cubs played like they could win any game, even if they were losing in the 7th, 8th or 9th innings. This year, if they’re down after 6 innings, you might as well write off the game.
Pinella had 1 more quote that summed it up best. It also doesn’t seem like he’s really that confident that his team will be able to pull off a 3rd straight NL Central title. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. “I feel we’re in good position to win this division. Two things – - stay healthy, get healthy and swing the bats. That’s it. We do those 2 things, we can win the second half. Those are two big ‘ifs’ though.”