Chicago Cubs: Closer, Inconsistent Offense Leads to Woes

Patrick GeartyContributor IJune 24, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 27: Kevin Gregg #63 of the Chicago Cubs throws the ball in the 9th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 27, 2009 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Pirates 5-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Cubs lost Tuesday night to the Detroit Tigers 5-4 when Ryan Raburn hit a two run walk-off home run off closer Kevin Gregg.

If it seems like every Cubs' game is close, it's because they are. The Cubs are 34-33 and are only 3.5 games back in the NL Central division. Plus, this team are 21-13 at home, continuing the positive trend from last season of playing well at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

In addition to this, the Cubs are also the two-time defending division champions, as well as coming off a 97 win campaign in 2008.  So why is there so much gloom in Cub fandom these days?

Well, the Chicago Cubs have a 3.85 ERA, which ranks fourth in the NL. The Cubs also have given up the second fewest amount of earned runs in the league.

Yet, the Chicago Cubs have 15 saves as a team, third lowest in the league (and one of those teams is the lowly Nationals). 

This is due to an inconsistent closer named Kevin Gregg, the league leader in blown saves last season, who has blown three saves already this season. He has also had 10 consecutive scoreless innings prior to the Raburn homer Tuesday.

The jury is still out if Gregg will be the closer all season long. The reason for this may be the Cubs not having a better option to take this position away.

Carlos Marmol was the closer-to-be for the Cubs after the departure of All-Star Kerry Wood until the signing of Gregg. Well, Marmol has 38 strikeouts to 33 walks, hardly the four-to-one ratio the Cubs have been accustomed to.

Marmol's wildness makes it a dicey situation for him to close games at this time.  The most likely guy on this roster to be a closer is Angel Guzman.  His 2.53 ERA is tops on the team for pitchers with at least 5 appearances. 

However, with Guzman on the 15 day DL, and with his effectiveness as a setup man, the Cubs may not be willing to make the switch. Chicago may need to hope Gregg has more scoreless innings than blown saves for them to survive.

If this was the only concern, the Cubs may still be the division favorites. However, the they are still struggling mightily on offense.  Chicago is batting .246 as a team and has scored the fourth least amount of runs.

The Cubs biggest problem, though, is lack of clutch hitting. This was clearly on display Tuesday night, when the Cubs had men in scoring position with less than two outs in three innings. In all those chances, the Cubs only pushed across one run.

Part of the issues offensively are due to the absence of All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez was off to another hot start, batting .364 with four home runs and 16 RBI. Then he dislocated his shoulder against the Milwaukee Brewers and was placed on the DL until mid-July.

No one has stepped up in his absence. One guy, Derrek Lee, has started to pick up the slack, but the offensive weapons the Cubs are depending on have not delivered.

The biggest scapegoats right now are Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and newly acquired outfielder Milton Bradley.

Soriano, a leadoff hitter, is batting .224 with an OBP of .289. Soto, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is batting .222. And Bradley, the left-handed power hitter the Cubs were craving in the offseason, is batting .244 with only five home runs.

For the Cubs to get back to the playoffs for the third straight year, Kevin Gregg and a beleaguered offense will need to pick it up.  If not, Chicagoans will be celebrating the 102 year anniversary next season.