Cubs

There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
9:51 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS The Cubs have used three managers to put eight different players in the leadoff spot this season. Before heading off into retirement, Lou Piniella mentioned that a presence at the top of the order is one piece the organization needs to identify in the future.

The daily questions about the lineup wore on Piniella, who was even asked if he thought about moving Alfonso Soriano back up to leadoff as the Cubs struggled to score runs this season.

Only one player in the National League woke up Wednesday morning with more than 33 stolen bases. There was Houstons Michael Bourn atop the leader board with 50.

Twenty-five years ago at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, that would essentially amount to a first half of the season for Vince Coleman, who led the league with 110 in 1985.

The game goes in cycles and it has phased out players like Juan Pierre. If the Cubs are stretching to find one, then they are in line with the rest of the industry.

When Mike Quade took over the team on Aug. 23, he looked at the numbers, saw Blake DeWitts on-base percentage (.360) and put him at the top of the order. It wasnt a permanent move because Quade plays matchups.

Jeff Bakers .346 average (47-for-136) against left-handers means he will hit there as well. It is a narrow window into a managers mix-and-match philosophy.

Qs not afraid to think outside the box, Baker said. I dont have the prototypical leadoff speed, but at the same time, Im going to try to make an aggressive base-running move and (get on base) against those lefties.

Bakers gone 11-for-24 (.458) in the six games hes hit leadoff since Aug. 29. At the age of 29, he doesnt want to be thought of as a platoon player. He can be used at three infield positions as well as play the outfield, which would make him a useful piece for the 2011 roster, though not a long-term answer at leadoff.

Versatility it can be a blessing and it can be a curse, Baker said. Id like to play every day somewhere. (When) an opportunity comes (and) youre in the position I am, you got to make the most of it.

Darwin Barney is 24 and approaching the same crossroads in his career. Hes worked at second base, subbed for Aramis Ramirez at third and started at shortstop on Wednesday night in St. Louis as Starlin Castro rested a bruised hip.

Even Barney has found himself at leadoff for two of the 21 games hes appeared in since his promotion Aug. 12. The rookie entered Wednesday hitting .406 (13-for-22) in his last 11 games. His defensive instincts are a given. If he produces offensively, maybe he could be more than a utility infielder. Thats what the Cubs are trying to find out.

You never want to put a cap on anybody, Quade said. Hes a bright kid that brings some intangibles.

Barney won a state championship in high school, a gold medal at the World University Games and back-to-back College World Series titles at Oregon State University. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, one of several homegrown players currently filling the roster.

Im just trying to find my place on this team, Barney said. I dont know what the teams trying to do when they move forward. Were winning games right now. (Were) working on getting better and us young guys (have) to.

Everyone is waiting on answers as the Cubs try to rebuild for 2011. Baker entered spring training competing against Mike Fontenot at second base, a job that went to Ryan Theriot when Castro made his big-league debut in May. Fontenot and Theriot were traded away this summer, leaving openings at second and leadoff. It will be an interesting offseason.

Sometimes when you want something so bad, (you) try to do a little too much and you find yourself back in that utility role, Baker said. (But) Im at the point now where Ive been around long enough to know that as long (as) you have a functional job youre not just kind of buried somewhere you got a chance to help the team win.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks never shows emotion on the mound.

Never.

That's what made his simple gesture — mouthing the word "wow" — during Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Brewers so intriguing.

Albert Almora Jr. had just made a nice running catch on the warning track in dead center in the top of the sixth inning, yet another highlight-reel play from the young outfielder.

Hendricks thought it was an extra-base hit for Brewers leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, but Almora turned it into Out No. 2 in the inning.

"I see the ball hit, I'm just hoping to keep it to a double at that point," Hendricks said. "And then when he reaches his glove up and catches it, yeah, it's an instant reaction. 

"You're not expecting that at all. I think I mouthed that over to [Tommy] La Stella at third base; he said the same thing. It was a hell of a catch. That's what he's been doing lately. It's fun to watch him out there."

Hendricks pitches so devoid of any emotion, he's even poked fun at himself by using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as his walk-up song.

His Cubs teammates — including Kyle Schwarber Thursday night — describe Hendricks as pitching with "no pulse out there." If you just watched his reactions and body language, you wouldn't know if he's throwing a no-hitter or getting shelled.

Hendricks also works quickly, always keeping his defense on his toes. He struck out only 5 batters in 7 shutout innings Thursday, so he needed to rely on his defense a bunch.

It wasn't just Almora that stepped up behind Hendricks. Javy Baez made a spectacular leaping grab and also turned a lightning-quick double play to get the Cubs out of a jam. And Anthony Rizzo did his usual work with a couple of nice plays the night after committing his first error in more than a calendar year (a Cubs record). 

Schwarber — who provided the only offense of the game with a lined shot into the Budweiser patio in right field — loves standing in left field and watching his teammates play defense.

"Everybody's talking about Almora," Schwarber said. "I saw that in High-A, the way that he goes after balls and he's able to get there. 

"It's just a lot of fun to watch him go out there and make those catches. And obviously Javy out there, too, just Javy being Javy."

The Cubs don't appear to be on a trajectory toward following in the footsteps of the 2016 team that played defense at a historic level, but they also proved in the series opener with the Brewers that they can still win with pitching and defense.

With the starting rotation looking more like themselves and the weather conditions getting back to normal, the defense can once again settle in as a strength of this team.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa once again terrorized the Padres for his sixth homer of 1998, coming as his last blast in the month of April.

Slammin' Sammy went deep in the first inning, a two-run shot off San Diego starter Joey Hamilton for 434 feet, his longest shot of the campaign to date. It staked the Cubs to an early lead they did not relinquish in a 3-1 victory.

Six down, 60 to go.

It's crazy to see how slow of a start Sosa got to a record-setting season, but I guess 20 homers in one month will get you back on track pretty quickly.

Fun fact: Kevin Tapani shut down a Padres lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn, holding San Diego to just one run in 8 innings. Rod Beck picked up his 8th save on the year.

Fun fact 2: The game took just over two hours (2:06) to complete, as both starting pitchers worked quickly and efficiently and each team made just one pitching change apiece.