Sunday, June 29, 2008

Halfway There: The Cubs at the Midpoint

At the mid-point of the baseball season, many analysts release their mid-season report card for their teams and look ahead at what is to come. So, what have the Cubs told us this season and what remains to be told.

The Cubs have the best record in baseball. Their 49-31 record is outstanding and certainly gives Cubs fans hope that perhaps our 100 year odyssey in futility may finally be at an end. Jim Hendry has done a superb job assembling this team over the last few years. Five years ago he orchestrated a trade (that occurred on July 23rd) that brought Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs, stabilizing a third base position that had long been in flux. Phil Rogers, a sports writer for the Chicago Tribune, notes that “when he made the trade for Ramirez, he did more than fill a hole. He laid a major foundation piece for a team that has emerged as the team to beat in the National League and, at this point, probably the majors.”

The Cubs lead the National League in batting average (.284), slugging (.446), on-base percentage (.362 – this state is probably the most surprising given the Cubs free-swinging ways), walks (324 – there is something wrong with this), total bases (1249), RBIs (414), hits (796), and runs (437). The Cubs offense has done everything that is asked of it. The Cubs have been able to score runs in bunches in nearly every inning and that helps both in putting teams away, but also in coming from behind. A

Even without Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs offense remains potent. Jim Edmonds has performed superbly since being acquired off of waivers. Derrek Lee is having a strong consistent season and is healthy. Aramis Ramirez as always is dependable. Geovany Soto gives the Cubs a weapon at Catcher they have not had in a long time. Kosuke Fukudome has been brilliant, though, his batting average is very low on the road. Reed Johnson, Ryan Theriot, and Mark DeRosa have all been strong contributors to the Cubs this season. There is no reason to envision the Cubs offense falling off in the second half.

The Cubs pitching has been strong, though not nearly as strong as their offense. Their team ERA of 3.85 is good for third in the National League. They rank fourth in strikeouts with 596. The team’s WHIP (walks/hits per inning pitched) is 1.32 which ranks 3rd. Opposing batters are hitting .249 against the Cubs (3rd in the NL). Overall the pitching has been very good and effective, but there are holes that raise some alarm. B+

The Cubs pitching has more cause for alarm. After Carlos Zambrano (a clear #1) and Ryan Dempster (an emerging #2), the Cubs pitching is unsettled. Ted Lilly is turning around, but still has not had the consistency of last season where his ERA was nearly a full point lower and his WHIP was only 1.14 (versus this season’s 1.32). Jason Marquis is not a #4 pitcher and has had serious issues, highlighted by a WHIP of 1.52. Sean Gallagher is an intriguing young arm, but the Cubs don’t have the best track record with young arms (thank you Dusty Baker). The Cubs need one more consistent starter (he may be in the Cubs farm system or he may be with another team).

The back end of the bullpen has been solid around Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood. However, Carlos Marmol’s overuse is beginning to raise red-flags. He has already pitched 47 innings this season and has been torched in four of his last six outings. Couple that with the weakness in the front of the Cubs bullpen at times this season and the ability to hold the lead requires the explosive offense to continue scoring runs. This raises doubts about the Cubs ability to continue to win close games down the stretch. The Cubs bullpen must become better and needs to be a focus for Jim Hendry before the trade deadline.

The Cubs road record is also a cause for alarm. They are nearly unbeatable at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. They have played 38 games on the road with a 16-22 record. That means they have more games on the road than at home for the rest of the season. The month of September features 25 games, only 9 are at Wrigley. Their last seven games will consist of a four-game series against the New York Mets at Shea (hopefully still listless) and a three-game series at Miller Park against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs will be in a race the entire season. Just as their pitching and road record represent weaknesses, their offense and home record represents outstanding strengths. The Cubs enjoy a 4.5 game lead in the NL Central. Once derided as the weakest league in baseball, the NL Central is perhaps Major League Baseball’s strongest division (it is without a doubt the strongest in the National League).

I trust Jim Hendry to make some important moves and for a few Cubs to step up. I see no reason why Cubs fans won’t be singing, “Go Cubs Go” into the magical month of October.


Mark said...

I remember he '45 cubs. Been with the Red Sox since. Jack

Virginia Meagher said...

I agree that the Cubs are in this throughout the season, but I am also VERY concerned about the road losses (and this weekend's sweep which was heartbreaking!). It will be interesting to see how they handle these next seven games.

Tonight they start four games out here against the Giants, who cannot win at home and cannot score runs most anywhere (except Oakland). But after that they are off to St. Louis and it will be a real test to see if they can maintain and hopefully increase this 2.5 game lead going into the break (which the Cubs seem to need at this point).

It does appear that many of our favorite Cubs will be working the All-Star Break, but that can be work that brings a bit of a jolt to a team.

And BTW - I'm still waiting for your commentary on the non-sports related happenings in St. Louis of late!

CatholicSoldier said...

I agree that the sweep by the White Sox was especially disheartening. They need to get to around .500 on the road which would be key. The bullpen really needs work (Carlos Marmol's arm fell off I think).

Matt said...

Good midterm analysis. I think this is the time that tries Cubs fans' souls and if the Cubs can get past the recent spat of injuries and personal issues, they'll be OK. Marmol definitely needs a rest though, and our middle relievers need to get it together.