Chicago Cubs: Five Things I Love and Five Things I Hate About the 2009 Cubs (so far)
The baseball season is a week old and the Cubs are off to their best start (5-2) under Lou Piniella. It's the best start for the team since 2006, although hopefully that's the last comparison I'll be able to make between the two teams.
This season has already brought several highs and lows and has given me five things to love and five things to hate.
First Love: Starting pitching
After Ted Lilly's stellar performance at Wrigley's opening day, every Cubs pitcher has a quality start under their belt. It was great to see Lilly bounce back after a shaky debut in Houston where he gave up four home runs and a sub-par spring.
Carlos Zambrano finally got his first opening day win and looks solid in the early going. Rich Harden looked great (and healthy) in Milwaukee despite not getting the win, and Ryan Dempster has pitched pretty well.
The starters are 4-0 with a 3.46 ERA and a 2.81/1 strikeout to walk ratio after seven games...I'll take it. If the starters can put up these kind of numbers all year, the Cubs should easily be back in the playoffs.
First Hate: The Bullpen
The bullpen blows it.
While the bullpen's ERA sits at a decent 3.43, this group has given Cubs fans very little confidence to get through an inning cleanly. A lot of this can be attributed to a very scary 1.33/1 strikeout to walk ratio.
With the exception of Carlos Marmol, the bullpen has either put the Cubs into jams or has been unable to get out of jams as the bulk of the blame for the first two losses fall on the bullpen.
Neal Cotts can't throw strikes, Angel Guzman is inconsistent, David Patton apparently isn't allowed to pitch if it's less than a five-run lead. Luis Vizcaino probably shouldn't be allowed to pitch and Sean Marshall is leaving the bullpen soon.
Only Aaron Heilman will escape my wrath for now.
Of course, the shining star of the bullpen is...
Second Love: Carlos Marmol
Apparently he has taken the news of not being named closer much better than every Cubs fan. After five appearances, his ERA is at 0.00 and his WHIP is under one.
Whether it's starting an inning or coming in to get out of a jam, Marmol has gotten the job done.
And look at that picture, admit it, you're kind of terrified.
Marmol even came in to get a save on Saturday, filling in for the piece of garbage that is next on my list...
Second Hate: Kevin Gregg
(Pictured: Geovany Soto congratulating Kevin Gregg on allowing more baserunners.)
Although Gregg is the number two hate on my list, he stands at number one in my heart. He is the biggest reason that the bullpen falls on the hate list this week and has twice been left standing on the mound while the opposing team celebrates at home plate.
Gregg still has time to win me back, but it'll take a lot more work and a lot less runs allowed.
Are we sure this is really Kevin Gregg? Are we sure Bob Howry didn't knock him out in Arizona, steal his glasses, and lock him in a trunk somewhere? Someone should look into this.
Third Love: Soriano's power
No matter what side you take on the Soriano leadoff debate, you can't deny that him batting leadoff probably won the game against the Brewers on Saturday.
His batting first allows him to have more at bats a game, which gives a power hitter more opportunities to hit home runs. And there is just something about starting the game off up 1-0 that is really enjoyable.
I feel that if he truly feels most comfortable there, let him stay.
With 4 home runs in the first week, Soriano has doubled the amount of April home runs he hit in his first two years as a Cub. In 2006 he hit seven April home runs and finished with 46.
I'm sure Cubs fans would feel pretty comfortable seeing those kinds of numbers again.
You have to hope he can stay healthy, unlike the last two years. But for now, I'm lovin' his fast start. Which is more than I can say for...
Third Hate: Derrek Lee's lack of power
(Pictured: Derrek Lee crushing a fly ball to the warning track)
Derrek Lee. Last year he was Mr. Double Play, this year he looks like Mr. Track Power.
We all know his power hasn't been the same since the awful 2006 wrist injury, but he still got off to a fast start last year with eight April home runs despite only finishing with 20. This year he hasn't even gotten close to hitting one out.
To be honest, it's not just the power, it's the hitting overall that has slipped early on. Hopefully Lee can turn it around and at least hit for a high average, because I hate having him on my hate list.
Fourth Love: Fukudome's hot start
Obviously I am trying to get too excited about his one. Everyone saw his great start in April and May last year and Fuku mania struck Chicago. I have the t-shirt jersey to prove it.
Then the wheels fell off and he collapsed in the second half of the season, hitting only .217 with a .314 OBP.
But it is good to see him off to a strong start in '09 after struggling in spring training and being a non-factor in the non-interesting WBC. We Cubs fans just want some consistency from Fuk and the early signs of power don't hurt either.
Fourth Hate: Milton Bradley's groin
It might be a little strong to say I hate Milton Bradley's groin, in fact, I hardly know it. But I can't help but be concerned that Bradley is dinged up already.
The prognosis coming to the season was that if Bradley can stay healthy, he can really hit. Well so far he hasn't been able to do either.
Bradley has started the season 1-17 which puts him in Jaques Jones territory for awful starts to a Cubs career.
I'm sure he will be a solid hitter if he can stay healthy and he's shown a great eye at the plate, but his injury history is looking more and more like a concern.
Fifth Love: The LSU double play combo
I refer to them this way because I can't remember the last time I watched a game and someone didn't mention that Theriot and Fontenot played together at LSU.
Regardless of this overused factoid, both of the LSU boys have been very good at the plate.
Theriot is near the top of the league with a .458 average, while Fontenot is getting on base at a .419 clip. Numbers like that will help anyone get over Derosa.
Fifth Hate: Dave Duncan is still in St. Louis
Despite the fact that he appears to struggle to find matching pants, Dave Duncan is a massive thorn in the side of the NL Central. Year after year, he takes garbage pitchers and turns them into quality start machines.
If you think the Cubs pitchers are off to a good start, here are the Cardinals starting pitcher's numbers. ERA 2.08, WHIP 1.115, 6-1 record. Yikes.
There really has been only one bad start for them this year with Todd Wellemeyer giving up five runs in five innings to the Pirates last week which make the numbers that much more impressive.
Now the teams that they have played at the Pirates and Astros who don't look like much this year, but rest assured, this staff will be tough thanks to Duncan's leadership.
It's very frustrating as an opposing fan to see guys like Wellemeyer, Joel Pinero, and Kyle Lohse take the mound and pitch well when any Cubs, Royals, Mariners, Red Sox, Twins, Phillies, and Reds will tell you horror stories about seeing those three pitch for their teams.
Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are the only guys on that team who should win games.
I haven't played organized baseball since I was 11, but I feel quite confident that I could win about 12 games with about a 4.10 ERA with Dave Duncan as my pitching coach.
My only concern would be that there appears to be a higher risk of death during the season that comes with pitching for the Cardinals.
I know I'm not alone in my hopes that Duncan will retire soon and let the Todd Wellemeyer's of the world suck like they're supposed to.