By Craig Pearson
For the Cubs, there’s always next week.
The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals provided an exciting weekend of major league baseball, and the two struggling teams will conduct Act II next weekend at Busch Stadium.
Cardinal fans can thank the windy city — along with the Cubs’ poor bullpen — for helping the St. Louis offense break out of its recent struggles.
As for the Cubs’ struggles, manager Lou Piniella will get them worked out. He’s still getting a feel for this team. The skipper will need some more help from general manager Jim Hendry though.
What do the Cubs do with Felix Pie?
Piniella can’t feel comfortable with Jacque Jones in center and 34-year-old Cliff Floyd in right, although Matt Murton would definitely get his share of playing time in right.
Pie is clearly ready to play center field. It is worth him struggling through inconsistency at the plate to have him in center helping out the pitching staff.
“We hit the ball hard,” Albert Pujols said after the Cubs’ 6-0 win Saturday. “We just didn’t find some holes. Their center fielder made a couple of good plays. If those balls that were hit today in the gap would have dropped, I think it would have changed the score around. But that’s part of the game. That’s all you can do is have good at-bats, and hopefully you get good results. That didn’t happen.”
Just bat him near the bottom of the order. It’s not like Jones is an offensive juggernaut. It’s too early, but Jones is the first trade that Hendry needs to find a way to make — and get bullpen help in return.
Jones is the odd man out in that outfield. Murton is not an option to trade. He’ll be a career .300 hitter before it’s all said and done. Floyd could be a solid bench guy and his value in a trade isn’t much anyway after a .244, 11-home run season with New York last year.
Is it too early to keep Pie in the big leagues full time?
I don’t think so. He’s not Corey Patterson, who thought he was the next coming of Ken Griffey Jr. Pie is an ideal No. 2 hitter behind Alfonso Soriano, who Piniella said will move to left field, where he should be the rest of his Chicago career.
If the Cubs choose to be patient with Pie — perhaps because you can’t trade Jones and his salary — then Ryan Theriot needs to be in the lineup in the No. 2 spot.
Piniella is learning that at Wrigley Field he needs to manufacture runs. Also, on windy days like Sunday, you need a lineup capable of knocking the ball out of the park. The Cubs have the players to do both.
“You need a combination of speed and power, there’s no question about that,” Piniella said. “It’s like going on a golf course and having to use all your clubs. You’re not going to just pitch and putt. You’ve got to be able to use all your clubs and putt because the greens are fast. I can see how this is going to get very interesting as the summer goes on.”
And the Cubs have two ingredients that have been missing the last couple years: a pair of left-handed starters that are pitching fantastic in Rich Hill and Ted Lilly. Supposed ace Carlos Zambrano will turn it around, and Mark Prior will resurrect himself. (Insert laugh track here.)
The Cubs still have a rotation as strong as anyone in the NL Central. The Cardinals’ rotation will turn out to be the best, assuming Chris Carpenter returns to his old form. The Cardinals are simply an average team without him.
Pujols will catch fire soon and St. Louis will be the team to catch, but the Cards won’t be running away with it by any means. The first-place Brewers have a solid rotation with the addition of Jeff Suppan and with lefty Chris Capuano pitching well. Ben Sheets is off to rocky start and Milwaukee hasn’t needed him to grab an early lead in the division.
The Central is up for grabs, and 85 wins might win it. Despite the starts by Chicago and St. Louis, those two should be there in the end with Houston and Milwaukee not far behind.