The Cubs really, really, really, really miss Aramis Ramirez.
It's kind of an insidious slide. It wasn't noticed too much during the five-game winning streak a week ago -- but on the other hand, might they have won the game against the Astros last Sunday with Aramis in the lineup and at third base?
There's no doubt that having Ramirez' bat in the lineup would have helped the Cubs score more than two runs in the three games in St. Louis. And last night, his presence at third base likely would have prevented the throwing error that Ryan Freel made in the third inning on what looked like a routine play, helping lead to another Cardinals run. Who knows what might have happened after that?
Instead, it was another dispiriting loss, 3-1 to the Cardinals, and let's hope the Cubs are getting some rest this morning, as their flight to San Diego didn't arrive until about 3 am Central time.
All of this is happening during a time when the starting pitching is doing quite well. Sean Marshall was lifted after five innings last night when he probably could have gone longer -- he had thrown only 78 pitches -- but in an effort to generate some offense, Lou must have felt he had to bat for him. It worked, sort of -- Bobby Scales drew a pinch-walk and scored the only Cubs run of the night on a Kosuke Fukudome single after advancing to second on a groundout.
Yawn, right? The Cubs managed only four singles, a double and the walk by Scales off Adam Wainwright and Ryan Franklin. Lou says he's going to contemplate some lineup changes:
Piniella put [Mike] Fontenot back at second base Thursday in hopes that his hitting would improve by returning to his old position.
"You ask a guy to move over to a different position, and all of a sudden he starts to put a lot of thought into that, and it might detract from [his] hitting," he said.
It didn't help, as Fontenot went 0-for-3 before leaving the game in a double-switch and Freel's error at third base gave St. Louis a run. That article says that Lou would only try Alfonso Soriano at 2B and Micah Hoffpauir in LF as "a measure of last resort", and I don't think we have gotten to that point yet. Give some credit to the pitching staff in this series; they gave the Cardinals only eight runs (seven earned) in three games, and when you do that, that positions you in an excellent chance to win.
But the team has to score some runs to do it. They miss A-Ram, but the reality is, they'll have to go likely almost two more months without him at least, so they'll have to find other ways to score runs. Milton Bradley appears to be pressing; he didn't have good at-bats last night and went a weak 0-for-4.
Tracers, which also have a relevant point to this year's Cubs team: I happened to be out for a while last night and was listening to the game on the radio during the Judd Sirott inning. In between butchering calls on several deep fly balls in that inning, Sirott related a story he said Alan Trammell told him about slumping in the first half and slowly improving -- I think Sirott was trying to relate it to Mike Fontenot's slump, but with Sirott, you never quite know what his point is. Anyway, Trammell told Sirott he was hitting .203 at the All-Star break and said to himself that he wanted to hit .210 at a certain point, then .220, etc. On the last day of the season, Trammell said, if he had gotten a hit in his last at-bat he would have hit .260 and instead struck out, finishing at .258. Trammell told Sirott that experience helped him learn the mental side of hitting and how to approach it, and that helped him to have the career he had after that.
Trammell's memory is right on, within two BA points. In 1982, he was hitting .205 at the ASB, and wound up hitting .258 after striking out in his last at-bat.
This anecdote caused Ron Santo to chime in with a story of his own. He claimed he was hitting .220 in "Don Sutton's rookie year", when one day they were playing the Dodgers and "Sutton knocked me on my butt" and, according to Santo, that "woke him up" and he wound up hitting .300.
Santo got the story exactly right, except for the year. He's describing his 1967 season, which was Sutton's second year in the major leagues. The Cubs faced Sutton at Wrigley Field in the second game of a doubleheader on May 21, and Santo was hitting .202 going into that game. There's no HBP listed, though Santo didn't claim he was hit, just knocked down. He went 3-for-4 in that game, doubling off Sutton and later homering and wound up hitting exactly .300 in 1967.
Ron may not get a lot of things right, but he nailed that one. Now it's up to some of this year's Cubs to "wake up" and hit the way they are capable of. A series in San Diego starting tonight is the perfect place to start.