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Cubs on the spot in the second half
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Cubs' Aramis Ramirez left, celebrates with teammate Milton Bradley after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in Chicago, July 11.

 

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Published: 7/16/2009 12:00 AM

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At the mythical halfway point of the baseball season, there's little doubt many Cubs fans view the glass as half-empty.

Instead of seeing the Cubs 1 game in the loss column out of first place, they see a 43-43 team that has underachieved all season after winning 97 games last year.

They see a dominant team significantly retooled, to the point of wrecking something that wasn't broken.

As for the Cubs, if they're honest with themselves, they'll acknowledge things haven't turned out nearly the way they had planned, especially with the offense.

Can it get better? Sure. Will it? It'll be up to these half-dozen guys who find themselves on the spot as the Cubs resume play Wednesday night in Washington:

GM Jim Hendry: Hendry, with a push from field manager Lou Piniella, tried to retool the offense to provide it with more "left-hand hitting," to use Piniella's term.

So Hendry got rid of popular Mark DeRosa and replaced him with switch hitter Milton Bradley, who has hit horribly from the left side of the plate. The DeRosa move also paved the way for the left-handed hitting Mike Fontenot to play almost every day. Fontenot takes a .230 average into Washington.

"We've got a lot of guys that collectively at the same time didn't swing the bats well together, and they've always been good hitters, and they've certainly shown spurts that they can (hit), even this year," Hendry said. "Hopefully we just stay healthier and get some guys back who aren't healthy and play like we can."

The Cubs may be OK once third baseman Aramis Ramirez shows he's over the worst of his dislocated-shoulder injury.

If Hendry can find the money, he may need to add another arm to the bullpen and perhaps a veteran hitter.

Alfonso Soriano: At least Soriano has a sense of humor about why he feels his second half will be better.

"I never had a first half," he said.

True, Soriano is batting .233 with 14 homers, but none since June 7.

His batting average/on-base/slugging line of .265/.324/.324 for July has been better than that of June, when it was .198/.274/.311.

Soriano has been moved out of the No. 1 spot, perhaps for good, and for the good of the team.

"I guess that every problem that I had in the first half, every problem that I could have in a season, I had in the first half," he said. "I think I'm not going to have any more problems in the second half because I feel great.

"All my bad moments came in the first half, and I think I'm going to have a good second half."

Milton Bradley: The guy who led the American League in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages) at .999 last season was nowhere to be found in the first half.

The on-base is on the uptick. He has a .500 OBP for July, up from a respectable .377 in June. Bradley has only 6 homers, and his slugging percentage is only .381.

If the Cubs' "left-hand" plan is going to work, Bradley will have to get his average against right-handed pitchers way up from the .200 it is now.

"I see the swing getting better left-handed," Hendry said. "I thought (over the weekend), he was on some balls. It's been kind of a slow process, but (hitting coach) Von Joshua is working on some things, and once it clicks, he'll stay sharp."

Carlos Marmol: One big difference between the 2008 Cubs and the 2009 version is the number of all-stars. Last year the Cubs placed eight. This year only Ted Lilly made the all-star team.

Marmol, the one-time dominant setup man, found himself after pitching in the All-Star Game last year. He wasn't in St. Louis for the Mid-Summer Classic this year, but he feels he has turned a corner after a rough first half.

"Last year I didn't have a good first half," he said. "I'm going to keep working as hard as I can and put up good numbers in the second half. The key is throwing strikes, and I'm throwing strikes right now. Hopefully it'll stay that way."

Marmol, who gave up 40 hits and walked 41 last year in 871/3 innings, already has walked 42 in 42 innings this year.

He's one reason Hendry may have to add bullpen help.

Ryan Dempster: Dempster enjoyed a career year last season with a 17-6 record and a 2.96 ERA, garnering him Cy Young Award votes.

He enters the second half on the disabled list, having broken his right big toe celebrating a victory. His record? A lackluster 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA.

"We've got to keep idiots like myself from doing stupid stuff," he said of the broken toe. "I was all right. Too many big innings. Other than that, I gave us a chance to win a lot of ballgames, but it could have been better. That's the most unfortunate part about this? I really felt like I was starting to throw the ball well again."

Lou Piniella: At times this year Piniella has seemed resigned and disengaged. Over the past weekend at Wrigley Field, he seemed as curious at what might happen in the second half as anybody.

"We have to swing the bats better in the second half than we did the first half," he said. "That's it. That's the theme. We swing the bats, we stay healthy, we have a good chance to win this division.

"We've been through a lot this summer. I'm curious myself, believe it or not.

"We just need to improve in certain areas, and if we do we'll be in the race. And if we don't it's going to be difficult."

Scouting report

Cubs vs. Washington Nationals at Nationals Park

TV: Comcast SportsNet today and Friday; Channel 9 Saturday and Sunday

Radio: WGN 720-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Rich Harden (5-6) vs. John Lannan (6-6) or Ross Detwiler (0-5) today at 6:05 p.m.; Carlos Zambrano (5-4) vs. Scott Olsen (2-4) Friday at 6:05 p.m.; Ted Lilly (9-6) vs. Jordan Zimmerman (3-4) Saturday at 6:05 p.m.; TBA vs. TBA Sunday at 12:35 p.m.

At a glance: This is the first meeting of the season between the two clubs. The Cubs were 3-3 against the Nats last year, 1-2 in Washington. Former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman has taken over for the fired Manny Acta as the interim manager of the Nats. Washington slugger Adam Dunn has a batting line of .266/.398/.544 with 23 homers. Dunn has 7 homers vs. Zambrano. The Nationals area a major-league worst 26-61. They are last in the NL in ERA, at 5.21. The Cubs are fourth, at 3.83.

Next: Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, Monday-Wednesday