As we say farewell to the month of May, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in fourth place in the National League Central Division. Chasing the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds won't be easy for the Cubs, but the veteran-laden and two-time defending N.L. Central champs appear to have nowhere to go but up.
The Cubs' season so far has been filled with injuries, suspensions, blowouts, nail-biters, missed opportunities, unknown players filling roster spots, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Injuries to stars Rich Harden, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, and Carlos Marmol have handicapped the team.
Suspensions have crippled them as well, and they are frustrating in the fact that they are completely avoidable.
What has been arguably the worst part of the 2009 Cubs' season thus far has been the bullpen.
For the Cubs to contend for a third consecutive division title this summer the bullpen must perform better. Recent performances, however, may indicate good things on the horizon for the Cubs.
Much was made of the overhaul made to the bullpen from the 2008 unit. Additions such as Kevin Gregg and Aaron Heilman were supposed to fill in for departed pitchers Kerry Wood and Bob Howry.
The unit struggled mightily from the beginning, however, prompting the promotion, and subsequent departure, of Jeff Samardzija. Luis Vizcaino was inexplicably let go, while Neal Cotts never found any type of rhythm, and is currently back at AAA Iowa.
Other bullpen figures such as newcomer David Patton and additions Gregg and Heilman have been issuing so many walks that Chicago Transit Authorities Employees are soon to be out of work.
However, two bright spots have emerged from the Cubs' bullpen despite all the turmoil to the group, and they will be the keys to the bullpen's revival.
One bright spot is Carlos Marmol, who, despite his high walk total, has been a reliable arm for manager Lou Piniella. The walks are a concern, but his 3.13 ERA and high strikeout total suggest Marmol is right about where he should be.
One of the pleasant surprises for the team has been Angel Guzman.
Once considered a top prospect in the organization, Guzman has been terrific for the Cubs. His 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio is very solid, and his ERA is sitting below three. If he can continue his early season success, the Cubs should be fine.
Teaming with Marmol to form a solid one-two punch will give Piniella the peace of mind he so sorely needs.
Another bright spot for the Cubs could be the soon-to-be addition of Sean Marshall back to the bullpen.
Marshall, filling in as a starter for the banged-up, suspended rotation, will be the go-to lefty Piniella needed when Cotts failed. Marshall has proven he is an effective major league pitcher in whatever role he has been used in.
These three pitchers, along with the improvement seen in Kevin Gregg (zero earned runs in his last eleven outings) could help the Cubs take off and make a charge at the division.
June will be a huge month for the Cubs, and the bullpen will play a prominent role for the team, as it always has.