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Mike Lowell and the Cubs


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Great Article by Mariotti. He kinda goes back and forth, at times maybe implying they will get Lowell, at times implying they won't. Quiet riviting and extreamely well writen. I wish I wrote it!

 

Cubs' lineup needs to roar, not squeak

 

June 23, 2003

 

BY JAY MARIOTTI SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST

THE FIRST WORD

 

They won a ballgame by, what, 5 inches? That was the approximate gap of air between Mark Grudziel-anek's left arm, stretched longer than his last name as his hand brushed across home plate, and the futile lunging swipe of catcher Miguel Olivo. The way the fans shook the upper skeleton of Wrigley Field, you would have thought the Cubs were a juggernaut making another defining imprint.

 

In fact, they're barely getting by.

 

Winning one of three weekend games against the White Sox--by a 2-1 wisp, at that--doesn't call for celebration. If the Cubs want to see October, they should be held to higher standards. It's just like Cubdom to giddily hail the ''redemption'' of Wavin' Wendell Kim, who had the guts to see his career flash before his eyes, remain true to himself, wind up his windmill arm and send Grudzielanek after admitting he goofed Saturday in sending molasses-legged Damian Miller. Yet as good as you felt for the emotional Kim, who had every right to break down and violate the ''There's No Crying In Baseball'' rule afterward, something was quirky about it all.

 

It simply feeds my point that a season is hinging so delicately on the decisions of a third-base coach, so many bang-bang plays at the plate. Assembled in their current form, the Cubs don't have enough offense to make the playoffs. ''It won't be the last time we have that situation [at home plate]. Hopefully, it is,'' said Mark G., as Harry Caray used to call him in the phlegm years. With their pitching, the Cubs shouldn't be in a mode of scratching out every win they can. In a National League still without an emerging superteam, they are tantalizingly close to becoming a serious player, something we haven't said around here since 1989.

 

But to make the leap into legitimate contention, they need another monster bat to help a lineup that ranks 10th in the league in runs scored, 10th in batting average, 11th in home runs, 14th in strikeouts and boasts only Corey Patterson among top-10 leaders in offensive categories. The front office hopes that Silent Sammy Sosa renews his mauling, but that seems a pipedream with Sosa's uncorked bat as quiet as his new approach to the media. Mentally, Sosa is fighting too many demons now to produce more than decent second-half numbers. It's discomforting to think an entire season depends on whether general manager Jim Hendry pushes the button on a deal, but it has to happen. And the target's name, as everyone knows, is Mike Lowell.

 

He leads the league in homers with 23. He's among the leaders in RBI, total bases and slugging percentage. The fans at Wrigley want Lowell. Talk-show callers want Lowell. Dusty Baker wants Lowell, though he'll never say so. Cubdom has Lowell on the brain, to the point he said last week in his Florida obscurity, ''I think I hear a trade rumor about the Cubs about once a day.'' Best of all, he finally would fill the decades-old black hole at third base, one of the primary reasons the Cubs haven't won a playoff series in eons.

 

Unfortunately, it takes two to tango. And there is no guarantee the Marlins will deal with the Cubs, particularly as the Yankees, Dodgers and who knows how many other contenders line up to make expected pitches. Hendry should have an inside path to Lowell thanks to one of his right-hand men, Gary Hughes, who used to work for the Marlins. But the biggest factor is whether Hendry will relinquish any of his young pitchers, whom he protects like the old farm director he is. Hey, in a better world where the Cubs win a World Series every so often, everyone wants to keep Carlos Zambrano. And Juan Cruz. And Angel Guzman, the latest phenom in the minors. And Class A stud Andrew Sisco, whom the Marlins are said to covet.

 

But Hendry is working under a unique set of circumstances. He has to play by a different set of rules because of a 95-year rut. He can't have his pennant race and preserve his kids, too. When the Cubs finally have a chance to win with a presentable club, the man in charge is required to go for it. Too many people are passing through the turnstiles--already going on 1.3 million after Sunday's crowd of 38,223--to not give the Lowell deal his best shot. He's probably gun-shy after sacrificing Dontrelle Willis, who is 7-1 and has won six straight starts for the Marlins, in last year's deal for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. But if outbidding others for Lowell requires giving up an arm or two, so be it.

 

Behind the scenes, Hendry has said he intends to enter the Lowell sweepstakes if and when the Marlins shop him, which wouldn't be until after the All-Star Game. Of course, the Cubs could be several games out by then. You do wonder if Hendry is sincere about the chase. In one breath this weekend he said, ''If an opportunity comes along to make more deals or bigger deals, we will.''

 

Yet he also said, ''Sometimes people get caught up in bigger names. Sometimes, bigger names aren't available. All you can do is the best you can do and grind it out. And if you have a chance to make your club better--even if it's what most people perceive as a smaller move up--that's what you do.''

 

He made a slight upgrade in acquiring Jose Hernandez for Mark Bellhorn. But he isn't an every-day third baseman. If so, he would have been in the lineup Sunday instead of utilityman Lenny Harris. Ramon Martinez, who also plays third, got the start at shortstop and, in the end, was the hero when he doubled to the left-field wall and drove in Mark G. with Kim's help. Furthermore, he advanced to third on the throw, which allowed him to trot home with the winning run on Patterson's single.

 

But ultimately, the Cubs survived the finale of the crosstown scrum because they snuck by with a few breaks, such as Jerry Manuel's decision to yank Bartolo Colon in the eighth with a 1-0 lead. You can't rip Manuel for pulling Colon, as Sox fans will, if you ripped him for sticking with Colon against the Giants. But the decision did give the Cubs a slight opening.

 

On this day, they took advantage. Next time, who knows? Squeaking by is no way to reach October. Fortifying your every-day lineup is a much better plan.

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Yea, for some reason the Cub fans are like the GM. Mariotti wrote a perfect paragraph on that...

 

"But Hendry is working under a unique set of circumstances. He has to play by a different set of rules because of a 95-year rut. He can't have his pennant race and preserve his kids, too. When the Cubs finally have a chance to win with a presentable club, the man in charge is required to go for it. Too many people are passing through the turnstiles--already going on 1.3 million after Sunday's crowd of 38,223--to not give the Lowell deal his best shot. He's probably gun-shy after sacrificing Dontrelle Willis, who is 7-1 and has won six straight starts for the Marlins, in last year's deal for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. But if outbidding others for Lowell requires giving up an arm or two, so be it."

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