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Never Mind The Lineup Changes, Just Stay Healthy: Cubs 3, Cardinals 4

Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Marmol both had to leave last night's game with minor injuries, and the injury to A-Ram, which doesn't sound too good:

"We'll see how it feels [Saturday]," Ramirez said. "Right now, it doesn't feel too good."

... points up how poorly constructed this team appears to be. The Cubs really don't have a legitimate backup third baseman, and by the 9th inning of last night's 4-3 loss to the Cardinals, had they managed to tie the game up and send it into extra innings, the only position player left was Koyie Hill (who, incidentally, has not played -- at all -- in 11 days). Right now, with Milton Bradley only able to pinch-hit, if he gets on base (as he did last night by walking), he has to be removed for Joey Gathright, who is nothing more than a pinch-runner/defensive replacement (he has started zero games and pinch-hit five times, striking out twice and walking once). You can't afford to carry such a player on your roster when you also insist on a 12-man pitching staff. That means, that among the five bench players currently on the roster, even with a healthy Bradley, you have:

  • A fourth outfielder (either Kosuke Fukudome or Reed Johnson, whoever isn't starting)
  • Your backup catcher (Koyie Hill)
  • A backup 2B/SS (Aaron Miles)
  • A pinch-hitter who can only play first base (Micah Hoffpauir)
  • An outfielder who can only play defense or pinch-run (Gathright)

This has resulted from Lou's obsession with lefthanded hitters -- because if Reed Johnson is starting, all five of them can hit lefthanded (Miles and Hill are switch-hitters). To which my response is, "So?" Last year's team did just fine -- until October 1 -- with the righthanded hitters they had. As I have written before, the reason they lost the NLDS wasn't because they didn't have enough lefthanded bats. Finally, Lou agrees:

"We've got no bench," Piniella said. "We've got an extra catcher [in Koyie Hill] and [Micah] Hoffpauir and [Joey] Gathright. We're going to have to get somebody in here."

Great, Lou. You didn't think of this during spring training? Or the offseason when you and Jim Hendry were putting this team together? All these lefthanded hitters have stopped hitting. The Cubs managed to tie up last night's game due to some questionable defense by the Cardinals, not because they were hitting the ball. Micah Hoffpauir's popup into short left went off the heel of Skip Schumaker's glove, scoring a run after the Cubs had made it 3-1 on a Derrek Lee single and Mike Fontenot double. With the bases still loaded and nobody out, it looked like a possible big inning. Instead, a double play took that big inning possibility away, even though the tying run scored.

Aaron Heilman threw a nice inning to keep it tied, but Marmol hurt himself, apparently landing wrong on a follow-through; he claims he's fine, but we'll see today. In any case, Albert Pujols' stolen base -- his third this year -- set the Cardinals up for the eventual winning run to be scored on a Ryan Ludwick single. Both hits in the inning -- the singles by Pujols and Ludwick -- just made it through.

But the bigger problem is the bench. Despite good starts from some players at Iowa, there really isn't much help there. Jake Fox has no defensive position, Bobby Scales is a career minor leaguer and Andres Blanco has a career major league OPS of .605. Looks like Hendry has to start scanning the waiver wire. And if Milton Bradley is still hurt, put him on the DL already -- he seems wasted now, since unless he hits a PH home run, you have to send Gathright out there to run for him if he gets on base. It doesn't matter what the lineup is, if you're playing, essentially, with a 23-man roster.

I'm not on the ledge -- at 8-7, the Cubs' record is, at least, better than some other teams expected to contend, such as the Indians (6-11), the Rays (7-10) and the Mets (7-9). It's too early for wholesale changes.

But Jim Hendry needs to start tweaking, and sooner rather than later.