Let me tell you a little story about a team replacing its hitting coach. The team in question was the 2001 White Sox, coming off a 95-win division championship season in 2000. They got off to a horrendous start -- 14-26 on May 20 -- and decided, as the Cubs did today, to fire their hitting coach.
That hitting coach was... Von Joshua, who was hired today to replace Gerald Perry as Cubs hitting coach.
Perry was a scapegoat rather than the real reason the Cubs had scored only six runs in the four-game losing streak, a streak that ended today in dramatic fashion when Ryan Theriot singled with the bases loaded and one out. The Cubs beat the Twins 3-2 and jumped up and down surrounding Theriot as if they had just won a postseason series, which was a little bit much. I guess you can forgive the Cubs some celebrating; it was their first walkoff win since May 16 vs. the Astros and the first time the strains of "Go Cubs Go" had been heard wafting over Wrigley Field at all since May 30.
I tweeted earlier today that replacing Perry with Joshua was the proverbial "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic", which is a little overblown, of course -- the Cubs haven't played well but aren't really a sinking ship. The win today combined with the Brewers' loss to the White Sox brings the Cubs back to within 2.5 games of first place (and only one down in the loss column). The NL Central is once again becoming the "Comedy Central" -- the Brewers lost two of three to the White Sox at home; the Reds got swept by the Royals, and the Indians have a chance to take two of three from the Cardinals tonight.
Today's win was satisfying in many ways. Obviously, Von Joshua couldn't possibly have helped anyone on the team this soon after being hired, but the team had better at-bats and I was especially pleased to see Geovany Soto hit the ball hard three times; his first double, in the second inning, would likely have left the yard on another day when the wind wasn't blowing in. His single in the ninth sent Derrek Lee to third base -- that was a pretty daring move by D-Lee with the play right in front of him, but he got away with it, and that set up the intentional walk to Mike Fontenot, followed by Theriot's game-winning hit, the type of hit we have become accustomed to seeing him hit over the last couple of years, going to right field with a pitch up and out over the plate. In the postgame press conference Theriot credited Lee with "carrying us on our backs" the last couple of weeks; Lee's two hits today moved him up to .278/.360/.444 and I don't hear any calls to move him down in the lineup any more, do you? He's also got a 13-game hitting streak and has reached base in 23 straight games.
All of this was after Ted Lilly and Scott Baker had matching outstanding outings as starting pitchers. Baker gave the Cubs a pair of runs in seven; Lilly managed to get to two out in the eighth with that same pair allowed (one on Carlos Gomez's first HR of the year, a ball that was really pounded and that might have wound up on Waveland on another day). Lou was clearly trying to get Ted through the eighth to see if the Cubs could get him his 8th win, and I'm not so sure I'd have let him pitch to Delmon Young. At this point the team need wins any way they can get them, and individual stats need to take a back seat.
Watching the Twins play is like attending a baseball clinic. I don't think I have seen all year, and maybe not in several, a team as fundamentally sound as the Twins. With the hitters they have, their pitching must be awful for them to be only a .500 club; Joe Mauer is a hitting machine (now at .412) and about 20 plate appearances short of qualifying to appear on the leaderboards. The uncontested stolen base that Gomez took in the second inning clearly had to be setting up exactly what happened -- Nick Punto's perfect bunt single that scored Gomez -- and even though many of us in the stands and probably everyone in the Cubs dugout knew what was coming, the Twins executed it perfectly and scored a run after two were out and no one on base. The Cubs could take a lesson from this kind of execution.
It's hard to imagine that changing one coach would make all the difference for the Cubs' sinking offense, although I posted on this site in favor of promoting him from Iowa three years ago -- that link also, coincidentally, happens to be the recap of the famous Michael Barrett-A. J. Pierzynski fight game. Joshua is well-respected by the organization, especially those who came up in the system with him as the hitting coach at Triple-A, where he has been since 2006 (and at Double-A since then). The current Cubs who have had him in the minors as hitting coach are: Soto, Theriot, Fontenot and Micah Hoffpauir.
If he can do anything with Aaron Miles, it will be a miracle. Miles had three poor at-bats and again mishandled a ball in the field. Can we please see Andres Blanco out there every day? At least he can field his position.
That's the only complaint I have from a nice day's win, with fewer and less noisy Twins fans in attendance. Keep the faith. This is still shaping up as a winnable NL Central for the Cubs.