I had planned, initially, on writing about the Cubs' season from the start, but, well, you forget, the game is just so horrible you don't want to think about it for a while, etc, so on. I'd like to write a bit about each series, or maybe each week, or however things break down (work and sleep all get in the way at times), and if you don't agree with my thoughts, well, don't read them.
Seeing as I'm fully 3 weeks behind now, I guess I should catch up. Things do get jumbled up over time, so if I goof a little bit, let me know. I'm not going to be too detailed right now, as I've slept since Opening Day (a lot, actually), but look forward (if anyone should read me) to a little more detail in the future.
Where we stand: 13 - 6, 1st in NL Central (1/2 game lead).
Am I surprised? Quite. After a slow start, 3 - 3 in the first 6 games, I wasn't expecting anything close to this mid-April. I guess, with 6 games against the Pirates, you've got to be doing well, but hey, even Pittsburgh has to win a game somewhere. Just not against the Cubs, it seems.
Pitching: Not quite what we want to see, in all. Carlos Zambrano (3-1) seems to be back on the upswing, getting quality starts now; Dempster (3-0) hasn't really faltered so far (and it was nice to see that flash of emotion when his at-bat came up in the bottom of the 5th on Sunday, upon finding he was going to be pinch-hit); Hill (1-0) and Marquis (1-0) are also doing quite well so far--they haven't taken a loss yet. Lilly (0-3) is the weak link in the rotation so far, and before long, a decision is going to have to be made on whether or not he stays. Right now, he has the highest ERA of any of the pitchers currently on the roster, at 9.16 (Pignatiello is at 13.50, but is down in the Minors for the time being), and doesn't seem to be showing a great deal of improvement. Yes, he's getting deeper into games, but too many runs are crossing the plate under his watch. Getting back into form is going to take time, but as it stands, it's a guaranteed loss in each turn in the rotation. As much as I hate to say it, some time working out of the bullpen might be what he needs.
Hitting: This past weekend vs Pittsburgh seems to show what the Cubs are capable of; the problem is, can it be kept up? The top of the order seems to be much more solid with the absence of Soriano in the last few days, but even the bottom of the order (pitchers included) are getting solid hits. Perhaps it's just bad pitching; every Cub fan has to hope that it's not. With a compiled 4.00 ERA from all pitchers so far this season, runs are going to have to hit the board, and earlier is going to be better.
Fielding: I have to be brutally honest here...overall, Fielding HAS to shape up for the Cubs to remain in the race. In the early weeks, errors have run rampant, and although few have led to runs so far, they very well could in the coming weeks. DeRosa being in the outfield is probably not the smartest move--he can do the job, but it's far from pretty, especially with talented outfielders like Murton and Fuld in the Minors--but, for now, the job is getting done, and that's what counts.
Signs of Trouble:
Ted Lilly -- Like I said, he's going to have to shape up and quick (Tuesday vs NYM would be a good time to do it), or the bullpen is going to be hard-pressed to pick up the slack. With Lieber and Marshall in the 'pen, the option is open to swap places for a week or so and give Lilly some time to work things out a bit in a situation where there isn't so much expected of him. Given the lack of southpaws in the pitching staff, though, should they take this option, care will have to be taken in timing it to avoid the righties getting knocked around.
Alfonso Soriano -- Once off the DL, the top of the lineup is NOT the ideal spot for Soriano. Being at the top requires being able to get on base, and then being able to run when the next batter makes contact, or steal a base when it's needed. With two leg injuries in as many years (granted, this is only a strained calf, but even after healing running doesn't come real easy), that's really not the ideal spot for him to be in, especially in a slump (he's batting .175 in 57 AB, with 4 walks). 5th or 7th in the order, at least to start, might get him back where he needs to be, but in the leadoff spot or the two-hole, offense is going to slack again.
Bullpen usage -- The 'pen has pitched, through 4/20/08, almost 2/3 as much as the starting rotation. Those arms need to stay rested to get through the season, especially if Lieber or Marshall get called on to make a spot start.
Basestealing -- The Cubs are 4th in the NL on stolen bases through Monday, with 16 so far (Soriano only has 2 of them), and overall 16-for-23 on steal attempts.
Extra-Innings -- So far, the Cubs are 3 - 1 in games that go extras, the sole loss at the hands of the Brewers on Opening Day. In the past 4 seasons, the Cubs have won more Extra Inning games than lost only once--in 2004, when they were 10-9 in extras. Last year, they went only 2-8, so already, there's an improvement. While this is a positive step, it's not an ideal situation if it's avoidable, as it puts extra work on the 'pen. But, it helps if the games get won, and the extra work isn't for nothing.
1st in the Division -- The last time the Cubs had a division lead in April was 2003 -- the year the Cubs were 5 outs away from the Series. We've forgiven Bartman on Alou's word that he wouldn't have caught the ball anyway, but it still hurts, because we'll never know for sure. A gust could have come left to right and plopped it right where it needed to be. Back to the point though, it's a sign that things are going in the right direction.
Kosuke Fukudome, while an excellent player, is not the saviour-as-advertised that everyone expected. In his games so far, he's put up fair numbers, and is a much-needed left-handed bat, but without him I don't see that we'd be too far off of where we are now. And as far as criticism goes on the lineup, well, stifle it. A fluid lineup, at least this year, seems to be doing us good--most of the guys can hit no matter where they are, and it helps keep things a little off balance day-to-day.
Next post: 27-Apr, a recap of the Cubs' games vs NYM, @ COL, and @ WSH, and any moves made in between. Expect the format to be a bit different, with a bit less to cover.