Inside Pitch: Impact of Soriano injury
Cubs have the personnel to handle loss of star leadoff man
HOUSTON -- When Alfonso Soriano tore his right quadriceps Sunday night, an injury that will keep the Cubs' $136 million man out until Labor Day, the immediate reaction from many was that Soriano's loss will cripple the Cubs' playoff chances.
That kind of gloomy forecast doesn't give much credit to Chicago's depth. The Cubs are in better position than most teams to handle the loss of their leadoff man, even one as talented as Soriano. So much so that they should be able to hang with Milwaukee as the two teams fight for the National League Central crown.
"[Soriano's absence] won't hurt the Cubs as much as [Ben] Sheets' will [hurt] Milwaukee," one NL scout said. "The Brewers don't have anyone who can step in and give them what Sheets gives them every fifth day. The Cubs have options that might not be on an equal with Soriano offensively, especially the power, but whoever they go with will still be above average. I could see them doing fine with [Ryan] Theriot at leadoff."
Theriot, usually the team's No. 2 hitter, was in the leadoff spot Monday night, when the Cubs played Houston at Minute Maid Park. The spark-plug shortstop entered the game batting .280 with three homers and 31 RBIs. He replaces, at least temporarily, Soriano, who was hitting .297 with a team-leading 18 home runs.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella wasn't ready to stamp Theriot as his interim leadoff man, not surprising given Piniella's penchant for changing lineups even when he's got a full roster to choose from. But it is noteworthy that Theriot actually has a slightly better on-base percentage than Soriano (12 points).
Theriot, however, is not the only option. Catcher Jason Kendall is an experienced leadoff man with more than 2,000 plate appearances batting first. So is outfielder Jacque Jones (1,300). Mark DeRosa is also no stranger to batting leadoff (40-plus games). Others on the roster, such as Matt Murton and Angel Pagan, have the tools, if not the experience.
Piniella also now has Eric Patterson, who was batting .299 at Triple-A Iowa with 14 homers, 23 doubles, 62 RBIs and 16 stolen bases when he was called up on Monday. Patterson has primarily hit leadoff this year, batting .300 in the No. 1 spot in the order with a .365 on-base percentage.
The point is Piniella has any number of ways to plug the gap created by Soriano's absence and it should give him an abundance of situational flexibility. When a player like Soriano goes down, most teams are forced to scramble to fill such a void. The Cubs have the pieces in-house and can use them any number of ways.
"We can do different things, I'm just not exactly sure right now," Piniella said. "Let's see it for a few days."
And it's not like this is the first time Soriano has been sidelined. The Cubs picked up the slack when he was injured before and appear to be ready to do so again.
"We don't have much of a choice," Theriot said. "We're at a point now where you can't roll over. I think we responded well earlier in the year when he missed some time. I know when [Derrek] Lee missed some time we won some ballgames also. As a team, we were able to kind of rally around each other and do the things that we needed to do to win ballgames until we got our big guys back. So you know it's just one of those things -- when you lose such a big part of your ballclub all the other people have to step up."
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry will continue to look for outside help just in case.
"Every time we've brought somebody up this year, for the most part, they've been contributors and earned their stripes," Hendry said. "At the same time, we're not going to say we're folding our tents and hope it works out with the in-house guys. You keep working and keep looking and maybe it'll end up like it did in '03, when we made two good deals in August that were non-household names in Randall Simon and [Doug] Glanville, and I don't think we win the division without either one of them.
"What we're not going to do is hang our heads because we've lost a real good player for three or four weeks."
Pearls from the diamond ...
Theriot won't change his approach in the leadoff spot from what he would do in any other spot. There's just one exception: He might be running more.
"It's a little different, because I don't have D Lee hitting behind me," Theriot said. "For me personally, there were plenty of times this year when I could have stolen second or third when I stayed put, because I knew I had him behind me and I knew that he was more than able to drive me in at any moment. I may be a little more aggressive on the bases, because he's a spot farther away from me."
Not long after the interview, Theriot doubled and promptly stole third base off Houston left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.
Teams are running on Mets left fielder Moises Alou more amid doubts about the strength of Alou's sore left shoulder. That's why Brewers catcher Johnny Estrada scored from second on a single to left in their recent series. Estrada is not the fastest man in the league by a long shot, and yet he came in standing up and didn't even draw a throw.
Brewers right fielder Corey Hart had a great start to the season, then cooled off in July (.200) but is starting to hit again. Hart's batting .280 in his last 11 games and is batting .304 in August. One scout said the biggest difference in Hart is that he fell into an old habit in July (chasing sliders away) that he's since corrected.
Another player who has picked up the pace considerably since the break is Jermaine Dye. The White Sox slugger hit .214 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 71 games before the break, and is batting .330 with 10 homers and 20 RBIs in 23 games since play resumed.
"He's locked in like I haven't seen him since last year," one scout said. "He's squaring the ball again."
The Indians were unable to land Eric Gagne before the trade deadline, but it was an uphill battle they had little chance of winning.
For starters, there was no way the Indians could match Boston's offer for the right-hander. Even if they could, the Indians would have had to guarantee Gagne's incentives (roughly $3.8 million) and convinced him to be a setup man. Even if the Indians had cleared all of those hurdles, would you really want to deal three highly regarded prospects for a reliever you'll probably have only two months?
Gagne, who can be a free agent at season's end, is represented by Scott Boras.
Mets right-hander Jorge Sosa started the season 6-1, but has had a rough time since then, and after going 1-5 with a 7.00 ERA in his last seven starts, was dropped from the rotation and will pitch out of the bullpen. The Mets inserted Brian Lawrence into Sosa's rotation spot.
Sosa's slide has been puzzling, as his velocity is the same as it was earlier this year and his mechanics appear to be fine.
The Phillies might move Tadahito Iguchi to third base once injured second baseman Chase Utley returns. Iguchi is a second baseman, but the Phillies might like his bat at the hot corner over their other options. Philadelphia has been using Abraham Nunez and Wes Helms at third.
The Marlins are willing to listen to offers for Miguel Olivo, and will likely deal him rather than re-sign the arbitration-eligible catcher after his current contract expires.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.