Major League Baseball on the North Side of Chicago?

Couldn’t See That Coming 

For some reason, and against all expectations, I’ve really been into baseball this summer, once again.

Among the reasons, I suppose, might be the Lou Pinniella hire by the Cubs. He is a fiery coach who demands fundamental excellence of his players, and I like that.  I respect it, and respect is something you just don’t hear much about in sports any more.  As the season has worn on, he’s been calling out players to cut down on silly mistakes, and play fundamentally sound ball.

Finally!

I’ve been sick of the Cubs style of playing ball for well over 10 years now. Home run hitters who don’t know how to cut down their stroke with two strikes. A general lack of ability to bunt, or to sacrifice, or to hit behind the runner, or to generally do what is necessary to bring in baserunners.  Plus, they don’t walk enough, or go deep enough into the count to give pitchers time to get themselves in trouble, so there aren’t enough baserunners to begin with. Not enough defense, or speed, and their pitching woes over that time are well known, outside of the occasional brilliance of Kerry Wood, one great season from Mark Prior, and the recent emergence of Carlos Zambrano as a pretty solid Number One.

I even think their ballpark works against them, but that is a topic for another day.

But this year is different. They’ve got Pinniella, and his staff, but there is more going on here. They’ve got Soriano, who has so far been a good team player and quite the hitter (most of the time) and fielder. They’ve got some other new veterans who have proven valuable — Mark DeRosa has been very versatile, and a good hitter — and most importantly, some young players who provide enthusiasm and spark, such as Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Felix Pie.

So I find myself watching games again, even full games. I can’t remember the last time I watched a full nine inning game that wasn’t a playoff of some kind; maybe last season, but I doubt it.

And the Cubs are, believe it or not, starting to come around a little bit.  Still a few games under .500, but playing better than they were in April and May, and they just swept the White Sox at their place, giving up only two runs total in the three games.  They pitched, they hit just enough, and they played defense.  Fundamentally sound baseball.

Baseball looks so simple when you play it right.  But we know it isn’t, and so we value it all the more.  Whether the Cubs go anywhere this year, or not, too soon to tell.  But due to the influence of Lou Pinniella and his risk-taking with young players, plus a farm system that looks like it is becoming fairly productive all a sudden, this team is actually fun to watch.

And that’s good enough for me, in Year One of the rebuilding effort.

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