Eric Strow. 6th July, 2009 - 5:48 pm
The Cubs are still only 2.5 games out of the NL Central division lead, in the same spot they were in two weeks ago. After winning just three games on a 10-game road trip that spanned the end of June and early July, the Cubs came home to Wrigley and took three of four games from the Brewers in a crucial NL Central series.
But there was even more good news for Cubs fans than just the key victories: Aramis Ramirez is returning Monday from nearly two months on the disabled list. When he went down with a dislocated shoulder May 8, it was unknown whether or not he would return before the All-Star break. But, after a rehab stint this weekend with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs? single-A affiliate, Ramirez is ready to return to the Majors. Ramirez, who was rehabbing in Peoria with fellow Cub Reed Johnson, went 3-for-6 in three games for the Chiefs, with a double, RBI, and three walks.
Today is one of those days when manager Lou Piniella will encounter what analysts call ?a good problem to have.? Piniella and Cubs? GM Jim Hendry will decide how to make room for Ramirez on the roster, as well as Johnson and reliever Angel Guzman. All three are set to return today, and as Piniella was reportedly considering using only 11 pitchers until the All-Star break, he would only need to send down one position player while clearing two pitchers off the roster.
The men in charge of the Cubs will likely decide among five position players to demote or waive: Jeff Baker, Andres Blanco, Jake Fox, Sam Fuld, and Micah Hoffpauir. Baker was recently acquired from the Colorado Rockies for his versatility, and both he and Blanco are out of minor league options. Fox, Fuld and Hoffpauir all still have options, and as Fox and Hoffpauir have been playing very well as of late, it seems likely that the most recently called up Cub hitter (Fuld) will be the one demoted.
Speculating about what pitchers will be sent down is more difficult, especially considering the Cubs would need to trim the active staff by two if they want to only demote one position player. Rather than take a guess, I?m going to wait along with everyone else to see what Piniella and Hendry decide. I can only say that I hope Jeff Samardzija stays up with the big club, as he was only just called up Tuesday, and was said to have improved his curveball while in the minors. He started 12 games for AAA-Iowa after his early May demotion, and while he is solely a bullpen pitcher for the Cubs, it would help to have him in case long relief is needed this week with a shorter pitching staff.
The Week Ahead
The Cubs start a three-game series against the Braves on Monday, and after a day off Thursday, will play four against the division leading Cardinals, including a Sunday day/night doubleheader. The Cubs will throw Randy Wells (3-3, 2.43 ERA), Ryan Dempster (5-5, 4.09), and Carlos Zambrano (4-3, 3.50) against the Braves, who will counter with Jair Jurrjens (6-6, 2.73), Javier Vazquez (5-7, 3.05), and Kenshin Kawakami (4-6, 4.46).
Before heading to Chicago to end the first half of the season, St. Louis will be playing a three game set at Milwaukee, starting Tuesday. Cubs fans will likely be rooting for the Brewers, who are currently one game back of the Cardinals, but ultimately the Cubs will need to come up big in the four game set this weekend to have a chance at the division lead heading into the break.
All Star Notes
Ted Lilly was chosen as the lone representative from the Cubs for this year?s Midsummer Classic? Through Sunday?s start, in which he threw 6 1/3 innings and gave up just two earned runs, Lilly is 8-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 111 innings?.Alfonso Soriano finished 4th in NL All Star voting for outfielders, just under 120,000 votes shy of Raul Ibanez for the final starting spot?Soriano?s .226 batting average would have been by far the lowest of any NL starter, with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina?s .281 average being the only sub-.300 mark among the starters.