There's no way to sugarcoat this, so I'm not even going to try. Aramis Ramirez dislocated his left shoulder last night diving for a ball at third base in the third inning. The best-case scenario has him out for four to six weeks, so we'd likely see him around the All-Star break. Worst case is that he's out for the year. We should know more after he has an MRI today in Milwaukee.
No sugarcoating, as I said. A-Ram is the Cubs' most dangerous and consistent hitter and comes up big time in game-changing situations so often that we come to expect it, even though that's not a realistic expectation. You can't replace that kind of bat, and his glove has also become more consistent during the almost six full years he's been a Cub. There's no comparable event in recent team history -- the only one that's even close was the knee injury that Corey Patterson suffered on July 6, 2003, when he tried to beat out an infield hit during a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals. Patterson was off to a good start, with 13 HR and 55 RBI and an .839 OPS in 83 games, but he missed the rest of the season. Ironically, this injury directly led to the acquisition of A-Ram (and Kenny Lofton), because Jim Hendry probably would not have made that deal had Patterson not been hurt, and the Cubs likely would not have won the NL Central in 2003 without those two.
A-Ram, obviously, is headed to the DL. The Cubs acquired utilityman Ryan Freel from Baltimore yesterday for the nearly-useless Joey Gathright (how does Hendry get Baltimore to take all our rejects?), so Freel may get some of the playing time at 3B. But here's what I'd do, at least for a week or so to see if it works. With A-Ram on the DL, Bobby Scales will likely stay with the Cubs instead of returning to Iowa. Why not play Scales at 2B and Mike Fontenot at 3B, at least vs. RHP, for a week or two? Scales seems hungry to prove that he belongs in the major leagues, and his pinch-hit triple last night showed some hustle. Lou likes that. Maybe this horrifying injury will provide an opportunity for a player who's been buried in the minor leagues for a decade to produce. No, I'm not saying Scales is a Hall of Famer nor is he a long-term solution. But maybe he can give the team one good month. Freel can play vs. LHP.
It's way too early to speculate about whether the Cubs will try to acquire a bigger bat; a lot depends on the prognosis for Ramirez. If he's out six weeks, that's bad, but there would still be half a season left when he returns. Despite losing to the Brewers 3-2 last night, the Cubs remained only 2.5 games behind the division leading Cardinals, who also lost. About the game, little needs to be said except that Aaron Heilman, who's been pretty consistent this year, got himself in trouble by walking 8th inning leadoff hitter Corey Hart on four pitches. The two-run, game-winning HR by Ryan Braun was almost predictable after that. It ruined what might have been a saving-grace storyline from this game, Randy Wells throwing five shutout innings in his first major league start. Wells got himself into several jams, allowing five hits and two walks, but got out of every one of them, striking out five. Incidentally, what's wrong with this paragraph from the cubs.com game recap?
Wells labored initially, stranding four runners on base in the first two innings and throwing 42 pitches in the process. He stranded two more in the sixth but picked up the efficiency, and he finished throwing 84 pitches in five innings, allowing no runs on five hits.
"Stranded two more in the sixth"? How can you do that when you throw only five innings? He must have meant the third; that's the only other inning that had two runners on.
Finally, keep in mind that the Cubs have reached this point in the season -- 16-13 and 2.5 games out of first place -- with virtually zero contributions from Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley and Geovany Soto. If those three will step up and produce the way they are capable of producing -- and Bradley had a good game last night, with a tumbling catch where the ball wound up in his bare hand and his third homer of the season -- the loss of Ramirez' bat won't hurt that much. This is still a good team and Cub teams under Lou have stepped it up when key players were injured (as they did last year with Alfonso Soriano out for extended periods). I have confidence they can do that again this year.