Much Ado About Corey

For all of the boos Corey Patterson has endured this season, there was a brief moment last Friday when it appeared Cub fans were willing to wipe the slate clean.

In the bottom of the ninth, after the Cubs surrendered yet another ninth inning lead to the Pirates, Patterson stood at the plate with the tying run on third and two outs.

To fans, the game had been a microcosm of the entire season: great starting pitching, untimely hitting, and a series of batting practice pitches from Joe Borowski.

But with two outs and the game on the line, the crowd rose to its feet. They were not only cheering for the Cubs; they were rooting for Patterson.

For all of his 1-2 swings at pitches above his eyes, Cub fans wanted Patterson to personally succeed. Here was an opportunity to turn the tide, end a two-game losing streak, and re-capture the hearts of Wrigley faithful.

The ending, unfortunately, was as predictable as the reaction that ensued: a weak fly ball, followed by a chorus of boos.

Corey Patterson is not the only hitter in the lineup struggling, but he has been, consistently, the most disappointing.

What to do about Corey? Cubs skipper Dusty Baker has tried him all over the batting order with minimal success. It does not take a batting coach to analyze what is happening during each at-bat. Opposing pitchers know they don't have to throw strikes to Patterson, and so they don't.

The deeper in the count the at-bat goes, the results start to tail off. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Patterson is hitting a more than respectable .293. With a 1-0 count, Patterson is hitting .440, and even with an 0-1 count, he is at .381.

But as the at-bat progresses, the strikes start to multiply. With a 1-2 count his batting average plummets to .094; 2-2 is .207, and 3-2 just .154.

Likewise, Patterson has gone 28 games without a double. That is a not so remarkable feat for someone with superior speed. Furthermore, entering play Monday, he had just five extra base-hits in his past 33 games, a pace that would leave him with only about 26 extra base hits for the season. For reference, Patterson tallied 37 extra base hits in half a season in 2003.

What happened between the first half of last season and 2004? In reality, not that much.

Patterson was a free-swinger last year, but the difference was that he didn't decide to swing before the pitcher had even released the ball.

Last year, Corey was patient enough to work the majority of counts in his favor, forcing pitchers into mistakes.

Pundits suggest that Patterson desperately wants to be a run-producing No. 3 guy that hits 20-30 homeruns every year. There is no doubt that he can hit those homeruns, but that is not what a team long on power and short on baserunners truly needs.

The Cubs need guys that can get on base consistently so that when the big sluggers come up, the bases aren't empty. Patterson can be that type of player.

There is a very simple way to raise Patterson's batting average 50-75 points without hitting the ball out of the infield. It is called the bunt. We saw him use it to perfection again Wednesday against Matt Morris.

Patterson should watch Detroit Tigers outfielder Alex Sanchez for one week to see how a player can turn himself from a .250 hitter into a .350 hitter.

Sanchez does not aspire to hit homeruns, and his plate discipline (four walks in 212 at-bats) is not much better than Patterson's. However, what Sanchez has done is register the most bunt hits in the major leagues this season. This has been the formula for most of his young career, and the results are a lifetime .293 batting average.

Bunting is like throwing knuckleballs. The only way to improve is to keep doing it. Bunting is also a great way to re-discover the strike zone, because it is easier to bring your bat back from a bunt attempt than it is to stop a full swing on a bad pitch.

Sanchez can barely hit his way out of a paper sack, and he knows it. His job is to use his speed to get a single every time up, and then wreak havoc on the bases. Patterson might fancy himself a power hitter, but his power numbers right now aren't that different than Sanchez'.

Thankfully, Patterson has not allowed his hitting woes to impact his fielding. In a division with four teams right now staking serious claim to the pennant, a turnaround performance by Corey Patterson for the final 100+ games could push the Cubs over the top.

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