Just when most everyone (including myself) was ready to put the proverbial nail in the Chicago 918kiss Cubs coffin, looks as though they are back in the NL Wild Card race to stay. After soundly thumping the Pittsburgh Pirates once again at Wrigley on Friday Afternoon, they currently sit 4 ½ games behind Atlanta and look ready to pounce despite a rash of injuries to their starting rotation and offensive lineup.
I must give credit to the much maligned Dusty Baker for keeping this team together when it appeared they were likely candidates to fold up like a tent. Also, much praise goes out to the guys who filled in on Kerry Wood and Mark Prior while they were on the disabled list, Glendon Rusch and Sergio Mitre. Baker has plenty reason to be optimistic. “We feel very good and confident that we finally got our pitching staff back that we were starting with,” Baker said. “When you can put a guy like Rusch in the bullpen and Sergio, it builds everything. Now it’s kind of the glue putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I feel a whole lot better having those guys back. It’s like having your whole army back.”
Now comes the hard part for Chicago; they begin a critical stretch of 16 games in 16 days. After finishing up the Pirate series, they head to Cincinnati and then face the NL Central leading Cardinals. When they finish up this stretch at home vs. Arizona and San Francisco, we’ll all have a better idea of where the Cubs stand as contenders or simply another tease to the long suffering faithful.
This team still has issues, namely in the bullpen and in the outfield, where centerfielder Corey Patterson was recently optioned to Triple A Iowa, and Jerry Hairston Jr. looks like the current incumbent and lead-off man. In leftfield, the Jason Dubois/Todd Hollandsworth experiment failed to produce the results the team was hoping for. Cubs GM Jim Hendry will be looking to add another bat, after coming up short in pursuit of Preston Wilson and Mark Kotsay. A package deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Aubrey Huff and reliever Dannys Baez remains a possibility; which would help sure up the bullpen as well, with the demoted Patterson and a couple minor leaguers dealt to Tampa in return. The Cubs also hope to have shortstop Nomar Garciaparra back in the lineup within the next month, which would help ease the burden on Derrick Lee and Aramis Ramirez. Baker has remained quiet on commenting on team needs in the trade market. “I can’t say that,” Baker said. “It’d be like me asking you what does your company need, a cameraman or a reporter. That’s a good question, but a question I can’t answer. I have to go out and tell these guys to give us all you’ve got. We talk about that in private.”