So, I guess it's only fair after dismantling the White Sox last week in Gap Shots & Whiffs to take some, well shots, at the Cubs this week.
Much has been made to this point about the Cubs miserable 4-11 start to the season and the fact they they have played "so much better" since then. Well, I suppose if you think a team who has played one game under-.500 since then is playing better, it has.
However, this Cubs team is every bit as unpleasant to watch so far this spring as the White Sox have been.
The Cubs are a team still looking for its first three-game winning streak to this point and they only have three two-game winning streaks through the first 36 games.
I suppose if you take a look at the strength of schedule since April 21, you could say there is something to be optimistic there. Since then, the Cubs have taken three of five against St. Louis and won two of three against both the L.A. Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves.
What will be a real tell-tale sign, in my opinion, is how well the Cubs do against a particularly soft part of their schedule in the next month. The Cubs play three against the sub-.500 White Sox; three against the sub-.500 Astros; three against the sub-.500 Padres; four against the Giants, who have been floating at .500 all season; thee against the sub-.500 Brewers; three against the sub-.500 Twins; and after their next series with a winning team — Detroit — Chicago then plays three with the sub-.500 Red Sox. Following that, the Cubs play the White Sox again for three games and three with the sub-.500 Diamondbacks.
Basically what I am saying is that by mid-June Cubs fans will have a better idea of where the team is. Should the team continue to be mired under the .500 mark themselves at that point, there won't be much to get excited about in watching the team in the last three months.
To this point, the Cubs have struggled offensively and were 27th in all of MLB in runs scored and are 24th in slugging percentage through Tuesday. Surprisingly, the .246 team batting average is only 17th in the league and not worse than that.
It's obvious that pitching has kept the team from sinking out of sight worse than a team that's six games back already. The big stat is batting average against. The Cubs' staff is holding opponents to just a .230 average, which is the third best in baseball.
That is in large part thanks to Ryan Dempster who, in true Cubbie fashion, is 0-1 in six starts and he has a 1.74 ERA over 41-plus innings. Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzjia also are off to decent starts in the rotation, but Chris Volstad, Randy Wells and Paul Maholm combined are 4-9 with an ERA over 5.00. It's for that reason the Cubs are only 17th in the league in quality starts.
The bullpen has been bordering on awful this year with two huge money-eaters in the pen having dreadful starts.
Kerry Wood is making $3 million a season and to this point has been raking in an average of $375,000 per appearance. He has an 8.64 ERA to this point and looks like he's in full-blown has-been mode. Same goes for Carlos Marmol — as in he looks like a has-been. Only Marmol is making $7.3 million this year. He has made 15 appearances this year — which is an average of almost a half-million dollars an appearance. He has a 6.35 ERA to this point, walking 16 in 11 innings.
Offensively is where the Cubs are lacking the most, though. But Alfonso Soriano hit his first home run of the year on Tuesday (and second Wednesday), so that's something to get excited about right Cubs fans? We won't beat a dead horse about what an awful contract that one has turned out to be. He's hitting all of .258 and making $19 million a year.
Bryan LaHair has shown promise, but is 29 years old with 299 career at-bats through Tuesday. Usually there are reasons when that kind of thing happens. Usually that person ends up being nothing more that a stop-gap measure as a player.
Darwin Barney, the team's second baseman, is 26 and looks slightly above average to this point in just over one full season played. He is a marginal talent at best, but certainly better than a Tony Campana (26) and an Ian Stewart (27) who are plug-in pieces for most teams.
The only real bona-fide player on the team in my opinion is Starlin Castro. He's the real deal.
Like I have pointed out, however, is that this is a very favorable point in the schedule for the Cubs. If they can make a move and go something like 20-10 over the next month then it becomes a horse of a completely different color. Then again, if a month from now the team is floundering around or under .500 and are 10 or more games back?
It will pretty much be all about next year once again.