Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Piniella Shakes Up Lineup

Lou Piniella is trying some new and slightly unorthodox twists to the starting lineup and so far the results are mixed. Yesterday, he started Matt Murton in RF and Jacque Jones in LF. Initially, I guessed that the change was due to Jones unbelievably weak throws in RF. I was under the impression that his arm (shoulder) was supposed to be healthy this year, yet he continues to throw the ball into the ground about 15 feet in front of him.

I’ve heard two other theories though (one of my own creation) that also make some sense. The first involves the really poor treatment that Jones has received from the fans in the right field bleachers. This harkens back to the racial slurs that were thrown Jones’ way at the beginning of last year. Jones is having another slow start to the season this year and the boo birds in right field have come out in full force. So the theory is that Lou is getting Jones away from the crowd in RF so he can concentrate on his game.

The theory I came up with is that the Cubs are showcasing Jones for a possible trade. As you may recall, the Padres were looking for a possible replacement in LF for Termel Sledge. And who have the Cubs played yesterday and today? Right, the Padres.

My theory has at least one hole. Going in to today’s game, Sledge was hitting .304. However, after an 0-5 day, he’s now hitting .259. Even so, Jones is still hitting worse than Sledge at only .235. If the Padres want to replace Sledge, my guess is that they’ll want to do it with someone better than Sledge.

Okay, before you start screaming about my shortsightedness, let me admit that I believe that Jones’ hitting will come around. Jones is the better ball player. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Jones isn’t helping the process very much.

Another twist to the lineup has been the debut of Felix Pie in CF. In case you were in solitary confinement, you probably already know that Alfonso Soriano pulled a hamstring yesterday and Felix Pie was called up from AAA Iowa. Lou batted Pie lead-off, which seemed odd to me. Are the Cubs trying to force a square Pie into a round hole, ala Corey Patterson? Pie went 1-6 in his debut and threw a laser beam from CF that saved a run and had the crowd oohing and ahhing.

Lou also made some unexpected moves with Ryan Theriot. While ARam has been out with a sore wrist, Theriot has been playing third base. Considering that Lou said in Spring Training that DeRosa would be the backup at third, it was a little surprising to see him use Theriot there. Then, when ARam comes back, Lou moves Theriot over to second base and benches DeRosa. That not a complaint. Theriot is playing well and Lou is playing his hot hand. It’s just surprising.

Today, as the game dragged on, as part of a double switch with DeRosa, Theriot ended up displacing Murton in RF. Of course, Murton is off to a rather slow start to the season, only hitting .231, so having Theriot in the lineup instead of Murton at this juncture is probably not a bad thing.

One other thought. I’ve been a Cubs fan for nearly 200 years (maybe a few less) and I’ve never seen Cubs fans so reactionary at the beginning of a season. An error by a player means the Cubs have the worst defensive team in history. A strikeout at a critical moment means a player is washed up and should be traded. Starting the season with a 5-8 record means the Cubs are going to lose even more games than they did in 2006.

Reasonable people can disagree about the future of this team, but to jump to unfounded conclusions is just foolish. Let the hitters get into a groove. Let the team chemistry gel and let the players get into a rhythm. Keep the sharp objects and high ledges at bay at least until June. The season is long and a lot can change in a relatively short time. Be patient…


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