The Cubs lost their eighth straight game last night, 9-4 at Atlanta, then shipped outfielders Corey Patterson and Jason Dubois to Triple-A Iowa.
Patterson had been in a horrible slide for several weeks, batting .168 since June 1, while Dubois was striking out once every three times up and played defense as badly as his biggest detractors could have predicted. Both are talented players who couldn't handle the load of being major contributors right now. They should ultimately be back in the majors, but neither are guaranteed starting roles unless they show significant improvement.
The Cubs have purchased two outfielders, 24-year-old Adam Greenberg and 23-year-old Matt Murton, from Double-A West Tenn to replace Patterson and Dubois on the roster.
Greenberg, less than a year out of Class A ball, is a speedy left-handed line-drive hitter who hits singles, takes walks, and can make things happen on the bases. The Cubs drafted him in 2002 out of North Carolina in the ninth round. He has been playing right field at West Tenn.
It's unclear who will play center field for the Cubs with Patterson gone. Jerry Hairston, who is really the only man on the Cubs to show any aptitude for leading off this season, could take over on an everyday basis, but Dusty Baker has so far been hesitant to use the former Orioles swingman. Hairston will certainly play either center or second base against lefties. Against right-handed pitchers, Jeromy Burnitz could see some time in center with Greenberg in right field.
Murton, Boston's first-round draft choice in 2003, came over in last year's Nomar Garciaparra deal. He's a left fielder exclusively, and as a righthanded batter, will probably platoon with Todd Hollandsworth. Murton is an impressive hitter, combining excellent on-base skills and a developing power swing that scouts feel will produce 20 homers a year.
These roster moves do not preclude the possibility of further deals, but with the Cubs now eight games out of the wild-card spot, and in third place in the NL Central, it's difficult to see the front office pulling off a major deal to put the club "over the top." They need help just getting their heads above water.
My only question now is, "why did this take so long"? Not just to send out Patterson and Dubois, who were struggling, but to make SOME sort of substantive changes to a lineup that now ranks 13th in the National League in runs. All year the Cubs have been trying to get someone on base at the top of the order, and while Hairston and Todd Walker either rode the bench or batted sixth in Dusty Baker's convoluted notion of a lineup, Patterson and Neifi Perez did immeasurable harm to the offense with their inability to reach base even 30 percent of the time.
Let's see if the Cubs can get it right. Eight games behind Atlanta for the wild card, and four games under .500, the pressure's certainly off.