Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Still Believe (as long as Ramirez stays healthy)

My friend Augie and I were chatting last night on Facebook, and he asked me if I was still optimistic about the Cubs.

This came from a conversation shortly after Ted Lilly went down with the bad shoulder, when Augie declared the Cubs' season dead. I told him there was a lot of season left and if he got off the Cubs bandwagon, I wouldn't let him back on when the Cubs got hot. At this point, the discussion degraded to some name-calling and discussion of things that we could do to each others mothers, so I'll leave it at that.

I didn't hear from Augie for awhile as the Cubs built up the best post-All Star record in the league, erased the Cardinals' lead in the division, and actually spent a few days alone in first place in the Central Division.

Then, as we know, things turned a bit. The Cubs blew a couple of games in Florida that they should have won, and got pretty much manhandled by Philadelphia while St. Louis found their groove behind the triumvirate of their newfound heros, Holliday, DeRosa, and Lugo.

Suddenly things looked bleak again. The Cubs were down 4 1/2 games (now five) in the division, and about to head out west on a difficult roadtrip that can submarine their season.

This is when Augie decided to take my temperature again. While I refused to believe last year while everything was going right, I refuse to give up when practically everything is going wrong this year. I'm a contrarian. I am still imploring the Baseball Gods to bring it with everything they've got because whatever doesn't kill us only makes us stronger.

I still believe that if this team can manage to start the lineup they envisioned in the spring for more than two games, this team will score runs. If the pitchers can get back to health, the rotation is as strong as any team. God help me, I still even think the bullpen is capable of putting together a stretch of dominance that can close out victories on a regular basis.

By far, the biggest key is to get Aramis Ramirez back on the field as much as possible. The team is 27-17 (.614) when he plays. They are 33-38 (.465) when he does not. How can one player have such a dramatic effect on a team's record? Is even Albert Pujols worth almost 150 percentage points in the standings? Probably not unless the absence manages to take its toll on another major part of the offensive puzzle.

Alfonso Soriano apparently really misses Ramirez being in the lineup. The splits between when Ramirez plays and when he doesn't are staggering. When Aramis plays, Soriano's BA/OBP/SLG/OPS line is .290/.375/.556/.931. That .931 OPS would rank him first on the team in players who qualify for the batting title and 18th in the entire league. He would be damn close to actually earning all of that money he makes.

When Aramis is out of the lineup, Soriano puts up a line of .215/.276/.353/.630. Holy crap, that is entering Aaron Miles territory (Well, not really THAT bad, but you get my point). That OPS would put him 6th worst in the league among qualified players. He would be behind the recently demoted J.J. Hardy and Chris Young, and just ahead of such offensive luminaries as Edgar Renteria, Kaz Matsui, Emilio Bonifacio, Jason Kendall, and Willie Taveras.

Now, there is no clear-cut evidence that Soriano's fortunes are actually tied to whether Ramirez plays or doesn't. The splits could simply be coincidental, but I don't think they are. I think Soriano has tried to be Superman when Ramirez is not providing his steady bat in the middle of the lineup. He has pressured himself into trying to do too much. I think it is something along the lines of Sosa Syndrome.

Remember when Sosa first came to the Cubs and then again right before he was pushed out? You could smell a Sosa strikeout coming a mile away when he came to the plate in a pressure situation. He would grip that bat so tight, you could see the sawdust grinding between his fingers. He would try to hit the ball 800 feet and end up striking out more often than not.

When he came up in a situation that would not be impacted dramatically either way by his at-bat, he would relax and crush a ball somewhere. I won lots of bets in the stands by recognizing this phenomenon.

Soriano seems to have been afflicted with some variation of the Sosa Syndrome. It doesn't appear to be tied to specific game situations as it is to whether the big dependable bat at third base is in the lineup to act as a safety net. Soriano was as hot as anyone at the beginning of the season, his epic frozen stretch popped up during Ramirez's fifty game absence, and then he heated back up when Ramirez returned.

This could easily be a coincidence, but now as Ramirez has missed a few more games in a row, Soriano's period of resurgence has likewise come to an end. At some point, the coincidences start developing into a pattern.

So lets all say our prayers, light candles, or whatever else you think might help in pleasing the universe enough to allow Ramirez to stay healthy for the last 47 games. Apparently, his injuries remove two of our players from the lineup at once and I doubt even Jeff Baker can counteract that.


Arnold said...

That Augie has a mouth on him.  What happens to the blog in the off-season?  Also, Alyssa Milano got married. 

Tim McGinnis said...

I'm sure material will be harder to come by, but whether the Cubs are playing in it or not, baseball season continues until November. Then there is the free agent signing period, then its almost time for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training.

I think Augie is just more excited about the Bears season getting going and finds it easier to deflect his attention away from the train wreck that is the Cubs by declaring them dead.  Also, his point is not without merit.

Yeah - Alyssa has been making regular wedding updates on Twiitter, so I knew my Top 5 list took a hit.  I congratulated her on behalf of Aisle 424 and the Jeff Baker Fan Club, though it was hard to type through the tears.

Kris said...

I think during the off-season, you should write about your very cool, understanding girlfriend's list of grievances since she is not a writer, but has things she wants to grieve about.  Number 1 on her list:  bicycle riders.  Number 2 on her list: boyfriend who does not vacation sans computer/interweb/twitter
What do you think?

Tim McGinnis said...

What about a bicycle riding boyfriend who doesn't vacation without his computer?

Kris said...

That would be awesome!  Know anyone?

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