Another exciting week of Cubs baseball in the books, and with St. Louis' free-fall week, coupled with an exciting sweep of Arizona, the Cubs are poised to perch themselves atop the NL Central once again—if they can manage NOT to lose to another horrible team, the San Diego Padres (who currently have the worst record in the Majors at 14-24).
Strikeouts: This week showed a definite upturn in the pitching staff, and it's very evident in the increase in Ks (especially against Arizona)—Lilly fanned 10 on Friday, Dempster seven each on Monday and Saturday, and Gallagher six in his brief (4 1/3 inning) outing on Sunday.
The bullpen retired two to three in total each game without involving the defense as well.
Ultimately, without the ball in play, it's pretty damned hard to get runs across. If only the walks would take a downturn, this pitching staff would be more formidable all-around.
Sean Gallagher: For a spot start, I must admit I was quite amazed at how well he did. Over 4 1/3, he struck out six, allowed five hits, walked three (one intentional), and although charged with all four of Arizona's runs, one could contend he really only allowed two—owing to Fox walking the first two batters he faced in the fifth to force in the runners Gallagher left on base.
With a little more development and work on his command, I could see him as a potential candidate for the rotation in the next year or two.
Offensive Consistency—For The Most Part: Run production was fairly steady throughout the week, with exception to Wednesday's massacre at the hands of the Reds. None of the games were complete runaways for the Cubs—except Saturday with the six-run seventh to not only close to door, but slam it shut in Arizona's faces—and the Cubs demonstrated that they can, in fact, win the close/low-scoring games.
Longballs Galore: Over the past week, the Cubs have allowed nine home runs—in fairness, seven came in one game, but it's still excessive. Overall this season, they've allowed 38 (seventh most in the NL)—a figure that will need improvement in the long run.
Beaning Batters: On the season, 16 batters have been plunked by the Cubs pitching staff—second most in the NL, sixth highest in the Majors—which only puts an exclamation point on the lack of control the staff has had so far.
Kerry Wood leads the way with four, two of which have come in ninth inning losses—both to the Brewers. Like walks, giving a free pass invariably leads to giving up runs; however, it's going to come back and bite you sooner or later (Chris Young and Derek Lee, in reverse, perhaps?)
Side note: Don't think I'm out here to ream the pitching staff—I give credit where it's due, and point out mishaps as well.
Alfonso Soriano: He's still not quite up to par, although he did produce well at the plate over the weekend. He's still batting under .250, and his OBP under .300 (lowest on the team among position players currently on the roster). On the bases, he's still not getting up to speed, and cold weather or not, he's gonna have to get the lead out.
Management Decisions: While Sean Gallagher put up a good start on Sunday, I have to ask: why not start Jason Marquis (1-2, 5.08 ERA in 6 starts), who hasn't pitched since last Sunday? He's pitched decently this year, and can get a little further than the fourth for sure. It worked out for the best, yes, but it was one in a string of questionable moves that we're all pretty aware of this year. Going on instinct is working now, but later in the season, it can't be counted on.
One More Note: I have a bit of a gripe with the scoring rules with regards to pitchers—in particular, inherited runners. Let's take Sunday's game as a case-in-point—here's the top portion of the box score with regards to the Cubs' pitchers:
Gallagher was charged with four runs, four earned in his time; Fox, no runs whatsoever. Yes, Gallagher left the game with three runners on, but it was Fox's horrid pitching in the fifth—two consecutive walks—that pushed the runners across. If the decision on the rules were mine, the box would look like this, based on how things went:
Maybe I'm just missing the point on why things get scored as they are, but the responsibility numbers-wise shouldn't be rested solely on the shoulders of the pitcher who let the runner on base, but also the pitcher who lets the runner score.
Looking at the numbers, it makes Gallagher look horrible, should someone not have watched the game or read any related articles on it, when really, he pitched well on short notice.