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Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Greg Maddux, Glendon Rusch and Sergio Mitre looks to be the rotation for the time being. That five, responsible for all but two of the twenty-one starts since the off-day on May 2nd, have combined for a 3.11 ERA over that time. And yet, in those nineteen games, the Cubs are just 9-10. The biggest reason for that is an offence which doesn't seem too interested in scoring any freaking runs. The result is quality starts from Carlos Zambrano such as yesterday's go wasted as Jason Jennings improves to 2-6 and lowers his ERA to less than eleventy billion.
Short of the Cubs being afforded a fourth out in their half of the inning, it's not immediately obvious whether there's an available solution to these run-scoring problems. Outside of Derrek Lee and Jerry Hairston, the Cubs have no-one with more than a handful of at-bats with an on-base percentage above .321. Making outs at that kind of a rate ends big innings before they've even begun. A walk here and a walk there though keep frames alive longer, and that leads to more opportunities for hitters to drive runners home. Sadly, Michael Barrett, Jason Dubois, Corey Patterson, Jeromy Burnitz and Neifi Perez, five out of eight hitters in the lineup, have drawn just 34 walks between them all year long. Even more sadly, I wouldn't bet upon any of them, besides Burnitz, to walk at a significantly better rate from here on out. That's the real problem.
The other real problem has been Aramis Ramirez. Unless he's injured though, it's unfathomable that he's not going to improve dramatically. His low average is related not so much to strikeouts or a lack of home runs but to nothing going his way on balls in play, as was the case earlier in the season for the now red-hot (but not walking) Michael Barrett. Average aside, there's not been too much wrong with Ramirez. He's striking out only fractionally more than he did last year, his walk rate is at its highest in his career and the power certainly hasn't disappeared. His return to form will definately help things, to an extent.
Also potentially helpful will be the return of Todd Walker. The second baseman's bat is definately an asset. However, the same applies to Hairston's, who as I mentioned above, by virtue of getting hit by a ridiculous number of pitches, is only one of two in the lineup presently getting on-base at a good enough rate. The Cubs cannot afford to lose that. What they could and should instead do, I now think, is shift Jerry to left-field, full time, batting him lead-off ahead of Walker. Burnitz and Dubois can then sort right-field out between themselves until one of them exhibits a tool besides power. Corey Patterson meanwhile can hit sixth until the end of the time, and Ben Grieve can get on the first flight from Iowa. Besides Hollandsworth, he represented the only bench bat capable of actually hitting a lick while (you guessed it!) not continually acting as another step towards the end of the inning. Demoting him was as stupid a move as the Cubs could possibly have made.
Well, besides batting Neifi Perez lead-off the next day. He's hit just .224/.256/.306 in May. Don't vote Neifi!