With the Padres headed to Chicago for a four-game series, I decided to check in with Joe Aiello of View from the Bleachers for the latest info on the Cubs. We now turn the blog over to Joe…
Ducksnorts: The Cubs have gotten off to a terrific start and have a very balanced attack. Can they sustain this level of play and, in the suddenly revitalized NL Central, will it be enough for a return trip to the post-season?
Aiello: I think they can. I’m not just saying that as a fan of the team. If you look around the NL, everyone is beatable. When the Mets traded for [Johan] Santana, everyone basically gave them the World Series, yet they’re just a few games over .500. The Cubs have played very well with the bat this year, and a big reason for that is the addition of Kosuke Fukudome. He makes this team better not just with his offensive production, but by the influence his approach at the plate has had on the rest of the team. The Cubs have not been a high OBP team, and typically slot in near the worst in baseball. Coming into Sunday’s action, they ranked first in the NL with a .370 OBP as a team. A big reason for that is Fukudome. His approach at the plate has rubbed off on the rest of the team and because of that, I think this team has a legit shot at making some noise this year.
Ducksnorts: Several guys are hitting well for you right now. One of them is catcher Geovany Soto, who came out of nowhere at Triple-A last year and is proving that his improvement in ’07 was no fluke. How good can he be?
Aiello: I was skeptical that last year’s success in Triple-A was a bit of a fluke. It was his third year in Iowa and at that point, you probably should be breaking out just for the simple fact that you’ve seen guys for a couple years. Soto credits his success to a change in approach at the plate. He’s changed his stance and it’s worked wonders for him. He’s still young, and makes mistakes, but he’s turning into a strong All-Star contender for the NL. I don’t think it’s out of the question to think that he could turn into a top 5 catcher in baseball if he continues to develop like he has over the last year and a half. Then again, we thought that about Rick Wilkins after his huge power year in 1993.
Ducksnorts: What are the early returns on outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, starter-turned-closer Kerry Wood, and closer-turned-starter Ryan Dempster?
Aiello: I mentioned the impact that Fukudome has had on this team, but I think the contributions of Wood and Dempster have come under a little bit of flack from fans. Dempster hasn’t been a fan favorite on the mound, mainly due to the wildness as a closer, but when you look at his numbers, he got the job done. No closer is perfect, but sometimes fans expect them to be. Wood has been the same way. For me, I’m impressed with the job that both have done this year. Both are adjusting to new roles and have done them very good so far.
Ducksnorts: What’s up with Alfonso Soriano?
Aiello: I think Soriano is an overrated player. It was definitely a big splash made by the team when they signed him, and it could have been a lot worse. After all, we could have made the splash to sign Barry Zito. Soriano had a good year last year, but wasn’t the 40-40 guy that many expected. At the same time, can you really expect that when it’s been done so few times in the history of the game? When all was said and done last year, he put the team on his back and carried them in September and finished the year as a 30-30 guy despite missing some time due to a leg injury. He’s going to be fine, but ultimately not worth the money we paid.
Ducksnorts: We keep hearing rumblings around here about Felix Pie and Ronny Cedeno. Are the Cubs looking to trade these guys, and if so, what might they want in return? More importantly, how good are they? While we’re at it, can the Padres have Matt Murton or Rich Hill if you aren’t using them?
Aiello: I don’t know that Ronny Cedeno is on the trading block anymore. He seems to have figured things out with the bat this year and has seen his mental errors decrease as well. We heard a lot about him as he was developing, but hadn’t seem much come of that at the Major League level until this year. There is no question in my mind that if Ryan Theriot struggles this year at some point, Cedeno will get a chance to take the starting job away from him. As for Pie, he’s been a bit of a disappointment. Cub fans are tired of waiting. Reed Johnson has played slightly better, but not enough at the plate to really take the job away from Pie completely. He could definitely be had for the right deal, but it still would not be cheap.
As for Murton and Hill, they’re two completely different animals. Hill is down in Triple-A to work on some command issues and is still very much in the team’s plan. Murton seems to draw interest from all kinds of teams, yet the Cubs won’t deal him. It reminds me of someone taking their ball and going home. If the Cubs can’t get something from Murton, then they don’t want anyone else to either. It’s a strange thing, but they seem content to let him rot in the minors or on the bench in a utility outfielder role. It’s bizarre.
Ducksnorts: Best film set in Chicago: Blues Brothers, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High Fidelity, or Risky Business?
Aiello: I’m actually going to go with a couple different ones. Some of my favorites are Stir of Echoes; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; and The Rookie.
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Thanks again to Joe for swinging by, talking Cubs baseball with us, and reminding us of the genius that was Steve Martin and John Candy. Here’s to an excellent series…