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Monday, August 25, 2008

80-50: The Fukudome Question

The Cubs are 30 games over .500. Let that sink in a bit. Take your time. I'll wait.

Still here? Okay, let me just say, wow. There's only 32 games left, the Cubs are in first and they still look pretty good. Oh, Fukudome's been struggling, and Howry and Cotts could both end up gator bait and I probably wouldn't complain, but nothing's perfect.

There seems to be two schools of thought on Kosuke. There's the "He Sucks, Bench Him" brigade, undoubtedly the same panic prone ledgies who freak out whenever the offense slumps or Big Z has a bad day. Then there's the folks at Cubs.com who think everything is fixed with one pinch hit homer. A nice homer to be sure, but no guarantee that Kosuke's troubles are behind him.

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Has Fukudome struggled? Uh, yeah. Anyone who watches baseball can see that. Is it time to pull the plug and send him back to Japan with his tail in between his legs? Absolutely not. First of all, the guy plays a Gold Glove caliber right field, something the Cubs haven't had since . . . since . . . since . . . oh, hell, not in my lifetime. Do you really want Sammy back? How about Jacque Jones? Jeremy Burnitz? Didn't think so. Second of all, this guy can hit. We saw it in the first few months. He hit like a beast in Japan, which while not the equal of the majors, is to my mind a notch above Triple A. He has a track record. I think we need to stick with him and hold on. The Japanese leagues don't travel the way MLB does and don't play as many games. While I think Japan has good hitters, the pitchers in the majors have the edge. I think Fukudome will continue to learn and adjust to the pitching and conditions. I think next season he's going to really surprise a lot of people with how good he really is. Is he ever going to hit 30 home runs? Probably not, but with our lineup, he doesn't need to. People can go on and on about how corner outfield spots need to be power spots, but when you're getting good HR production from 1B, 3B, LF, and C, you're doing pretty good. Throw in some solid power from DeRosa and Edmonds and every HR Fukudome hits is gravy. That said, I believe he WILL get better. The question, ultimately, is whether he'll improve enough to make a difference this season. I think he will and I reiterate I think he will be a badass in 2009. Look at the difference between Theriot in 07 and 08. Theriot kind of wore himself out last year and this year is cooking along nicely. It's a difference in conditioning for a major league season. One could even argue Fukudome was working himself too hard, following the regimen he was accustomed to in Japan, where the practices are longer. I have to say, his defense is too good to replace him. If he can get his stroke back, he can continue to hit near the bottom of the order and hopefully contribute. I think the rest of our offense is solid enough to absorb it if continues to struggle. If he's still struggling come playoff time, we can always use Reed Johnson and Edmonds in right and center.

Anyway, the Cubs took 2 of 3 from D.C., losing only one game in spectacular fashion on my birthday. Naturally. Still, some things remain constant. Carlos Zambrano is still awesome. Mark DeRosa continues to be one of Jim Hendry's smoothest moves as a GM. Rich Harden is filthy. And the Soto-Rooter put another jimmyjack on the board, giving him 19 on the year. And the motherfucker can catch! There are 32 games remaining. I doubt the Cubs can go 20-12 to notch a hundred win season, but if they keep playing this way, they might come damn close.

BallHype: hype it up!

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