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AlfonSUCKa

Yeah, I know that's a pretty strong statement, but I knew the minute Dusty put him into the game that somehow, he'd lose it; I didn't figure it to be the way it actually happened (I thought he'd walk in the winning run, which he nearly did), but you could see it coming, in the look on his face if nothing else. The signing of Alfonseca is probably the worst move in Jim Hendry's career so far as Cub GM, not only coming off his poor performance of a year ago, but the price paid ($4 million) could have been used to upgrade the offense. Frankly, at this point I think I'd just eat the rest of the contract and release him, especially since Dave Veres is about ready to come off the DL. Maybe we could get someone to take him and get a couple of prospects back if we were willing to eat the rest of the contract.

Upgrading the offense is the key phrase in that last paragraph. The Cubs' last five losses have all been by one run, and all in their opponent's last at-bat, and yesterday's seemingly inevitable 4-3 loss to the Phillies wouldn't have happened if the Cubs had people who can hit.

I mean, seriously: when is Dusty Baker, a good baseball man and someone who's been around the game a very long time, going to figure out that Tom Goodwin and Lenny Harris not only are not leadoff men (Goodwin kept up Harris' fine leadoff tradition yesterday by going 0-for-4 and striking out twice and making a first-pitch out in the first inning), but neither of them is a major-league hitter any more. You'd think that Dusty would realize the value of walks, having managed Barry Bonds for a decade, but remember this is also the guy who gave Shawon Dunston 147 at-bats last year with a grand total of three walks.

Frankly, the pitching staff is, for the most part, doing its job. Every starter has thrown well since Shawn Estes' blowup vs. the White Sox on June 20, and yesterday wasted another fine Mark Prior outing. This time the defense let the Cubs down, with two of the runs Prior allowed being unearned.

Now that Mike Lowell is not going to be traded, the Cubs need to turn their attention to someone else. Sammy Sosa is in what may be a season-long funk; Moises Alou still isn't hitting home runs, and neither is Corey Patterson lately. The Karros/Choi platoon has been productive and if Dusty sticks with a strict left/right platoon, this will work. But the club has to stop leaving so many runners on base, and has to start getting to the late innings with more than a one-run lead, or tied. The Cubs have had the lead in every one of the last nine games, dating back to the June 22 win over the White Sox, and have won only four of them. Every team does go through funks like this; this same team went 30-24 over a two-month period and I see no reason they can't do that, or better, the next two months.

Rumors this morning include the possible acquisition of Mark Loretta from the Padres; Loretta is a decent average and OBA hitter (lifetime .293/.359 in those categories), and a good fielder, but he has no power. If the idea is to get him and lead him off, the Cubs could do worse, and it probably wouldn't take too much to get him, and maybe this would get Lenny Harris off the roster.

And even with all of that -- the Cardinals lost again to the Giants last night, so the Cubs, now 42-40, still stand only one game out of first place, which is now occupied by both the Cards and Astros.

The NL Central is still there for the taking. The White Sox made some dramatic trade moves last night because they see their own Central division also right there. C'mon, Jim Hendry. Make the moves. This year is winnable. Let's win it.