One moment the Cubs had a two run lead at home in the first game of the 2008 play offs with two strikes on James Loney, the next moment the Cubs were down 4 - 2, and things have been going downhill ever since. Well, I might be over stating things, but just before the Dodgers swept the Cubbies out of the 2008 playoffs they were considered by many to be the best team in the NL. Now they are in third place looking up at the Cardinals.
Things can turn quickly, so while the Cubs are in 3rd place, three games under .500, Dodger fans can remember just two weeks ago when they were in a similar situation. With 45 games knocked off the schedule the Cubs are 21 - 24, scored 203 runs, allowed 208 runs, giving them a Pythagorean W-L: 22-23.
Even with Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee hitting like Mario Mendoza, the Cubs still have been able to post a middle of the pack offensive game. Led by a fearsome outfield of Bryd, Fukudome, and a resurgent Soriano the Cubs can put some runs on the board. Add in the latest star, Starlin Castro along with Theriot and Soto this might be the best offensive team we have faced in May.
Pitching has had some good and bad. Carlos Zambrano has been bad, and was banished to the bullpen making him the most expensive setup man in baseball. He's supposed to come back into the rotation but that will be after we leave town. Carlos Silva who has been batted around by everyone in the AL is making NL hitters look silly. Ted Lilly came off the DL several weeks ago and has yet to regain the velocity that made him one of the better LHP in baseball. We won't see the bizarro Silva so we won't be able to figure out why NL hitters are having such a tough time with him, or Randy Wells. We should see Dempter, Lilly, and Gorzelanny but don't bet the house on it.
Season Series: First meeting of the year.
Old Friends: Ted Lilly, Koyie Hill
1st Base-Derrek Lee has been one of the most consistent offensive 1st baseman this decade but 2010 is not being kind to him. A career TSL of .283/.363/.500 looks out of reach in 2010. With almost 200 plate appearances in 2010 his TSL is sitting at .218/.323/.341. Yes, Blake DeWitt is outhitting Derrek Lee and it is not close. His BABIP is only .250 compared to a career of .321 but power is power and Mr. Lee has no power. In his career, he has 386 doubles and 298 home runs. If he hits two against us he will reach the magical 300 number.
2nd Base- Ryan Theriot was the starting SS when the Cubs decided to shake things up and promote Starlin Castro. So Theriot moves from SS to 2nd but I'm not sure how much better Theriot is then the man he replaced, Mike Fontenot. Theriot has a nice .300 batting average but doesn't walk or hit for power. His TSL of .304/.332/.337 shows just how awol his power is.
SS- The real story of the Cubs right now is the emergence of Starlin Castro as an offensive force at such a young age. The true 20 year old Castro started the year in AA and blistered the Southern League pitching (same pitching that befuddles our boys), to the tune of a .990 OPS. I felt they were being hasty in bringing Castro up but so far he has proven Cub management to be correct. You might remember that Starlin slugged a home run in his first at bat and has barely slowed down since then. With 66 plate appearances under his belt, he's posting a .909 OPS and by all indications is going to give Mr. Heyward a run for the ROY award. Mr. Castro is probably why I'm a bit harsh on our boy Gordon. Two years younger then Gordon, playing in the same league, he destroyed the league, and going into this season, it was a matter of debate as to who was the better prospect. For right now that debate has been put to rest. Looking forward to getting our first look at the Cub's Starlin.
3rd Base-Aramis Ramirez much like Derrek Lee has simply been to good a hitter for to long to grasp his .161 batting average at this point in the season. Some guys struggle but what Ramirez is going through is more then a struggle, it is sitting in quick sand with the demons of hades pulling at your legs. A .495 OPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Catcher -When we wonder if Lambo can bounce back from High Times we only have to look at the resurgent career of Geovany Soto who is stroking this year. Both Martin and Soto had off years in 2009 after being two of the best offensive catchers in the NL. Martin has done a nice little bounceback but Soto is walking his way to the top wOBA for NL catchers at .386. Soto is walking 22% of the time and has almost a 200 point spread between his BA and his OBA. Been a strange year for catchers in the NL, as the names on the wOBA leaderboard are Soto, Doumit, and Carlos Ruiz.
Right Field- Kosuke Fukudome always seems to start fast and this year is no exception. He again has an OBP over .400 but this year he has added power to his repertoire making him one of three Cub outfielders with a plus .500 slug%.
Center Field - Free Agent Marlon Byrd started out the season on fire, but luckily for us, reality might be setting in, as he's has slowed considerably in May, even more so over the last fourteen days. So while he is carrying a .526 slug% into our series, he's only hitting at a .636 OPS clip over his last 50 at bats. Marlon Byrd is a solid hitter but he's not .900 OPS material.
Left Field- Has anyone made a bigger jump back into the pool then Alphonso Soriano? A year ago Cub fans had to be shaken knowing how long his contract still ran, but this year is another story. Soriano has had nice runs before but I'm not sure if he's ever had a run like this. Over his last 88 plate appearances he's posting a 1.134 OPS and he comes into our series smoking hot. Soriano has 299 career home runs, it is possible that both Derrek Lee and Soriano could hit the magic 300 home runs in this series. As long as they happen with the Dodgers comfortably a head I wouldn't mind seeing it happen.
Reserves: Mike Fontenot is now the utility infielder, with Jeff Baker backing him up. Tyler Colvin and Xavier Nady back up the outfield spots, Koyie Hill, he of the horrifying power tool accident backs up Soto. Ex Diamondback Chad Tracy is around if either Lee or Ramirez need to sit.
Starting Pitching for our Series:
Game One:Ryan Dempster gets to say hi to James Loney. Just have to wonder how many times he's replayed that pitch in his mind. Dempster continues to be one of the best RHP in the NL after moving from the bullpen back to the rotation.
Game Two: I'm guessing it will be Ted Lilly but no one has been penciled in. Lilly was slowed down by surgery this spring and simply has not had the velocity he had before the surgery. He says he's okay, so the Cubs just have to hope it comes back with time. The fastball is off by almost two MPH, but the slider is off by 3 MPH. The end result has been a huge drop in his K rate.
Game Three:Tom Gorzelanny is a likely candidate for either Wed or Thurs. Once a highly touted prospect with the Pirates the Cubs stole him last year after he struggled at the start of the year. Right now he has a thumb injury so his normal start day of Tuesday was pushed back. The LH has a K rate this year of 9.4 and in fact has a K rate over 9 ever since joining the Cubs.
Bullpen: Carlos Marmol is still the closer and even though he fights bouts of wildness he is still pretty damn unhittable. This year he's been unbelievable with a K/Rate of 17.5 That is right he has struck out 44 hitters in only 22 innings. He's walked more then he's allowed hits but that is not that hard when you allow less then six hits per nine innings. The Cub bullpen loves the strikeout. Sean Marshall is a nasty LHP who has taken to the bullpen like a duck to water. In 23 innings Marshall has struck out 30 while walking only seven, plus he's very had to hit. The Cubs have a plethora of LHP along with Marshall. Grabow the old vet is still doing his shtick, while control artist James Russell is just getting started with his career. Bob Howry was signed and if we are lucky we will see him pitch.