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5 Reasons for mid-season optimism

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Depressed that our much ballyhooed 2009 Cubs were .500 at the All-Star break? Here's 5 reasons to stoke your Cubbie-Optimism.

5. Milton Bradley is hitting .239 and slugging .369. For a guy with a .277 career average and a .451 slugging percentage, he's severely underperforming his career numbers... and there's a long history of ballplayers who have horrible halves of a season, but typically they come back to perform in line with their past achievements (the technical term is 'reversion to the mean'). So, even if Milton merely performs at his career numbers, we're looking at a 40 point bump to his average and 80 points to his slugging. Sure, Bradley might not turn it around, but with the return of Aramis Ramirez in the lineup, Bradley's likely to see better pitches as he'll often be batting with Ramirez on base. Or, better yet, with Ramirez protecting him from lower in the order. So, no matter how Lou fills out the lineup card, I foresee Milton as the biggest beneficiary of Ramirez' return.

4. Geovany Soto is injured - the extra rest should help. Geovany Soto has struggled this year, but he was just starting to turn it around when he strained his oblique muscle. He's likely to miss all of July and the first chunk of August. While no team wants to lose any starter, the Cubs are fortunate to have a solid backup in Koyie Hill. While Hill will shoulder most of the catching burden in July, Geovany Soto is getting a rare opportunity to heal from the first half of nagging injuries that notoriously destroy a catcher's production in late August, September, and October. Provided we can make it through July, the Cubs should have a well-rested healthy starting catcher down the stretch. That could end up being a huge factor in a tight NL Central race.

3. Rich Harden will be better in the second half. Harden's season so far has been a study in contrasts. He has a 7.59 home ERA, but is clocking a 2.17 ERA away from Wrigley. Some games he's unhittable, in others he struggles to throw strikes, and in some games he gets hit around like a rag doll. These home/away splits are an unusual combination for a pitcher who has started 15 games, but I don't think they will persist. For one, Harden has historically pitched better in the second half of the season than the first half (.321 second-half ERA vs. a .364 first-half ERA). Furthermore, Harden's had better results with Koyie Hill behind the plate than Geovany Soto. (With Hill catching, Harden's SO/BB ratio, batting average against, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all lower than when Soto is catching.) If these trends continue to play out over the next month, Lou will identify the pattern and Koyie Hill will be appointed Harden's personal catcher.

2. Derrek Lee is having a great year. At the bat, 2009 has been Derrek's best year since his monster 2005 season. The wrist is fully healed and Derrek's got his power stroke back. In the past two years, Derrek has finished the season with 22 and 20 home runs respectively. This year, he already has 18 round-trippers. Assuming similar production, Derrek could very easily finish the season with 30-35 home runs. And if Lee is a legitimate power bat, the Cubs could potentially play August and September with 6 power hitters hacking away in the lineup.

1. 2003. The Cubs have done this before. In '03, the Cubs were .500 at the break. They went 1-2 immediately after the all-star game and then started stringing together wins. They finished with 88 wins and an NL Central flag. This scenario is still in the cards for the Cubs. The NL Central isn't all that strong in 2009 and the Cubs find themselves only 2 games in back of St. Louis right now. We're not likely to run away with the division, but as long as the team stays focused and keeps winning the games they should, I'm optimistic we'll be in the mix at the end of September. The just-completed four game sweep of the Nationals certainly helps us on our way.

Posted by Byron at July 19, 2009 4:26 PM | Bookmark and Share | BallHype: hype it up!
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