We’re a month into the season and so far there have been a few surprises and disappointments with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have been toiling around the .500 mark all throughout April and they’ve been better than I expected.
Many people might be surprised by that statement but as the season started, I didn’t think the Cubs were much better than teams like Pittsburgh, Arizona, Houston and so on. I actually predicted the Cubs to lose between 90-100 games.
100 games might have been a little far fetched but as a fan of a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, anything seems possible.
Let’s take a look at a few of the disappointing things that have taken place so far this year:
Ryan Dempster – Dempster has been a very solid pitcher for the Cubs in the last few years. Cubs’ Manager Mike Quade was so confident in Dempster that he made him his opening day starter on April 1st. Things haven’t been pretty for Dempster so far in 2011 as he’s been roughed up in nearly every outing so far this year. He’s given up five or more runs in three of his last five starts. His most recent outing, on April 23rd, against the Dodgers, he was tagged for seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. If the Cubs plan on contending in the NL Central, they need Dempster to straighten himself out…and do it quick.
Loss of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner – Wells and Cashner both landed on the DL after their first starts. Losing two starting pitchers can be catastrophic for a team. The Cubs replaced Wells and Cashner with Casey Coleman and James Russell and neither have been particularly good. Coleman, though, did have a nice outing on April 16th against the Rockies, giving up only one run in 5 2/3 innings and got his first win of the season. However, in his last game against the Dodgers, he only lasted 2 2/3 innings while getting shelled for six earned runs. As for Russell, he hasn’t been good at all in his two starting appearances. He’s given up a combined eight runs with only one strikeout against Houston and San Diego. He’ll make is third start tonight against the Rockies, hoping for a better outcome than his previous two.
The “Tampa-2” – No, not the defense that the Chicago Bears run but you can tell that I’m desperate for football season if I’m making football analogies this early in the year. I’m talking about Matt Garza and Carlos Pena, both who played for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Pena signed a one year deal worth 10 million dollars. So far, Pena hasn’t delivered. He’s batting only .169 with five RBI’s and scoring only two runs. He went a combined 0-for-9 in three straight games from April 20-22 before getting a day off. He returned to the lineup yesterday, going 0-for-4 against the Rockies. The acquisition of Matt Garza in the offseason was the biggest move the Cubs made over the winter. Garza has been shaky in 2011. In his defense, the team hasn’t generated much offense for Garza but he could be pitching a lot better. Garza is still searching for his first win of the season and he didn’t help his cause yesterday because of a fifth inning throwing error he made to first base that gave the Rockies a 5-3 lead, a lead that they would never give up. Garza may be having trouble adjusting to the colder weather conditions in Chicago. That shouldn’t be an excuse but if he turns it on come June, July and August, maybe that’s not such a bad interpretation on why Garza has been struggling.
Let’s take a look at a few of the surprises the Cubs have given us…
Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney – We saw what Castro could do last season and he’s only improved this season. He’s clearly the future of the franchise with his strong offensive play. He’s currently batting .357 with 11 RBI’s, 16 runs scored and one homerun. He was a crucial part of a comeback victory against the Dodgers on April 23rd, going 4-for-5 with three RBI’s. He does need to improve his defense though, that goes without saying after he had three errors in the second inning of yesterday’s game. But where he lacks with defense, he has certainly made up for in offense. We’ve known about Castro for awhile now, but how about Darwin Barney? This kid has been the biggest surprise for the Cubs so far. He’s hitting .320 with 13 RBI’s and 12 scored runs. He’s also proving to be a very good defensive player at second base and is the clear cut starter right now over Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker.
Alfonso Soriano – The most expensive player on the Cubs right now hasn’t gotten off to his usual slow start of recent years. While he’s only batting .235, he’s given the Cubs a boost of much needed power, leading the team with six homeruns and 15 RBI’s. Soriano can carry a team when he’s playing at his best and it would be nice to see him go on one of those tears once the warmer weather approaches.
Sean Marshall – Marshall really isn’t a surprise but this guy has done everything the Cubs have asked him to do since he was a rookie in 2006, and that can’t go without being said. He can start and he can pitch in relief. He hasn’t been asked to start yet this year but he’s certainly been the most productive guy coming out of the bullpen thus far. He has a 0.90 ERA with ten strikeouts and one walk. He also has six holds and one save. Not to mention he’s a left handed pitcher, which makes him even more important.
The Cubs will play all of their division opponents in May, with the exception of Milwaukee, so it will be important for the team to gain some ground in an NL Central that has been mediocre so far in the early going. It will also be important for the Cubs to take advantage of the 17 home games that they will play in May.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out. By the end of next month, we should have a pretty good idea on what this team’s identity really is.