For those who believe the 1970s might as well been the 1870s, here's a history lesson. The present-day Cubs lineup reminds us old-timers of their 1978 forebears, who had two nicknames.
One was the Grubby Cubbies, the first team in franchise history who sported luxuriant facial hair along with the longer locks of the times. That set really well with general manager Bob Kennedy, a red-assed, acerbic ex-Marine, who somehow could not impose Cincinnati Reds style clean-cut grooming rules on his players.
The second slang term for Herman Franks' underpowered (72 homers for the season) club was the "Rush Street Offense" -- lots of singles, little scoring. The power numbers dropped from team leader Dave Kingman's 28 down to Bobby Murcer's nine. "Another warning track fly ball for Bobby," protested announcer Jack Brickhouse as the coolish summer prompted inblowing winds for much of the season at Wrigley Field.
Thirty-three years later, this season's Cubs likely will belt much more than 72 homers. But right now, it seems as if the club is on that paltry pace. Cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez is slugging like his '78 counterpart Steve Ontiveros instead of the 2006 version of A-Ram. Without Alfonso Soriano and his MLB-leading 11 homers in Saturday's lineup against the Reds, the Cubs starters sported a grand total of 10 homers to their names.
Unless the power pace dramatically picks up, the Cubs are hobbled from two directions. They won't be able to match homer for homer at home with visiting teams as the weather finally warms. And with limited speed, they have little ability to manufacture runs when the power is shut off.
That's why a radical solution is suggested here.
Carlos Pena at cleanup.
Yeah, call me all kinds of names. Pena still has a few points to go before he reaches the Mendoza line. But Pena's left-handed power bat -- should it somehow get going -- is the only thing that can worry opposing right handers when they're concerned about giving up two or three runs at a clip to the Cubs.
The first three hitters -- Kosuke Fukudome, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro -- are fine where they are. The Cubs should ride the patient Fukudome at leadoff as long as possible, the further he gets away from his April comfort zone. Maybe he won't fade as badly later in the season if the doesn't have run producing responsibilities in the middle of the order as in past seasons. Take pitches, get on base and slap some singles. Barney is turning into a consummate No. 2 hitter, an adept bat-handler in the Glenn Beckert mold. Castro still has to grow into the run-producing persona, but grow he will. And do you think Marlon Byrd is a better third-place hitter than Castro? Might as well ride it out with the kid at No. 3.
Here's where Pena could help. He has shown signs lately of snapping out of his funk. He slugged his first two homers at Dodger Stadium -- one of the last places you'd figure he'd start muscling up. Then he tied the game leading off the ninth Saturday with a vintage homer to right. In between he drew three walks Friday, showing his trademark patience that has been mostly missing so far. Pena also made contact with a bunt single and infield single Saturday before his ninth-inning blast.
It's a gamble, but with Ramirez's power and clutch-hitting ability apparently greatly diminished, try out Pena at cleanup. Quade has nothing to lose, considering the production he has been getting. The first three hitters have shown the ability to get on base, with Barney able to move runners along by hitting to right field. Maybe Pena can benefit with the pitcher working from the stretch.
Soriano should stay at No. 5 unless he falls into the ditch. Move Ramirez down to sixth and don't worry about him sulking. Mix and match Byrd and catcher Geovany Soto No. 7 and 8 -- whoever is hitting better, hit higher in the order.
The lineup is very imperfect no matter who hits where. But whatever speed and on-base ability is in front of your physically strongest hitter, give it a shot. You don't want to mimic the White Sox, and you've seen where they've gone lately.