On Monday, the Cubs landed a new catcher and learned of another reason to be optimistic about chasing down the Brewers. And, oh, yeah, they found time to win one of the season's most thrilling games.
The new catcher is the A's old Jason Kendall, who cost Jim Hendry catcher Rob Bowen and 23-year-old lefty reliever Jerry Blevins, who has split this season between Class "A" Peoria and Double-A Tennessee.
The 33-year-old Kendall is 80 games into the worst season of his career at the plate, hitting .226/.261/.281 (AVG/OBP/SLG) this year for Oakland. In 12 Major League seasons, he's a career .298 hitter, and his claim to semi-fame has been his rare foot-speed for a catcher--he stole more than 20 bases three years in a row between '99 and '01--and his ability to get on-base (.375 lifetime OBP). He has also earned praise for his defensive work behind the plate.
On balance, however,Kendall is old and expensive, earning $13 million in this, the final year of a six-year, $60 million contract he signed with Pirates. As Baseball Prospectus said in BP2007, "The day his contract expires should be one of relief in the Oakland front office."
Bowen joined the Cubs from San Diego on June 21st as part of the Michael Barrett trade. He walked in his first two at bats that night against the Rangers, then singled in his third try; it was all downhill after that. In all, Bowen played in only 10 games as a Cub, collecting 2 hits in 31 AB. Most damning of all, he wasn't even good enough to push Koyie Hill into unemployment.
As for Blevins, the 6-foot-6 lefty reliever was taken in the 17th round of the 2004 draft and has put together dazzling 2007 numbers, appearing in 38 games between Peoria and Tennessee, with a 3-2 record and unreal 1.02 ERA. Coming into this season, his numbers were much less dazzling: 10-11, 4.83 ERA, though he did fan 174 in just 149 1/3 IP.
All things considered, Kendall is a step up from Bowen and Hill. I'm hoping Geovany Soto, who has hit the ball hard in his first few games with the team, will still hold his place on the 25-man roster.
In Milwaukee, meanwhile, it was Ben Sheets Disabled List Day. The Brewer ace, suffering from a finger injury, will be replaced in Ned Yost's rotation by 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo, who looked so good against the Cubs in Milwaukee's last visit to Wrigley.
Last year, when Sheets and Tomo Ohka went down with injuries, the Brewers' replacement starters went 6-17. Gallardo should help prevent that level of catastrophe this time around...but we can hope, can't we?
Finally, there is the matter of Monday night's marvelous 3-2 comeback win against the Giants, the Cubs' 16th win in their last 20 games.
If you saw it, you don't need me to describe it. And if you didn't, you missed a beauty.