At 21-15, the Chicago Cubs are 1.5 games out of first place in the National League Central, which should not come as a shock to anyone. What is shocking about the start of the season is that the team has yet to play its best baseball, let alone good baseball.
We're a little past the one-fifth mark of the season, and there are 10 things that are standing out.
1. The Top Of The Order Is Producing. If the Cubs had anything resembling a strong heart of the order, they would be running away with the division. Instead, Derrek Lee has left his big stick in 2005. Milton Bradley has brought his baggage, but lost his bat. And Geovany Soto lost his love for hitting the ball over the wall when Hank White was (inexplicably) not brought back.
The average slash stats for Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukudome are as follows: .302 BA/.387 OBP/.921 OPS
2. Ted Lilly Is The Rotation's Ace. When it is all said and done, GM Jim Hendry's best signing might have been his most fabled. EKG machine, Ted Lilly, yadda, yadda, yadda ... but in his third year of the four-year $40 million deal, Lilly is still producing. He currently owns a 5-2 record and 3.27 ERA, but more importantly he isn't allowing the team-high nine gopher balls to plague him. Mostly because of his excellent 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (38 K, 9BB) and 1.05 WHIP.
3. Ryan Dempster Was Not Worth A $48 million extension. Don't let that distraction game he plays with his glove fool you, Derek Lowe would have been a much better bargain at that same price. Wouldn't D-Lowe's sinkerball and 5-1 record look good at Wrigley Field?
4. The Jury Is Still Out On Milton Bradley, But For How Much Longer? Of Crazy Uncle Milton's 15 hits, five of them are of the extra-base variety (including four home runs). And even though he has shown signs of breaking out of his early season slump, Bobby Abreu (.293 BA, .383 OBP) and Adam Dunn (.292/.432/1.024 OPS/11 HR/30 RBI ) are making Hendry look foolish for shelling out a three-year $30 million contract to a glorified designated hitter.
5. Angel Guzman Is The New Carlos Marmol. The former prized prospect is emerging out of the bullpen almost in the same way Marmol did in 2007. Guzman has a 3.32 ERA, but has shown flashes of brilliance of late as he currently sports a 0.95 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 19 innings. If the Cubs can have another reliever emerge from the suckfest that is the Cubs bullpen, manager Lou Piniella could avoid burning out Guzman like he did Marmol.
- Derrek Lee (.696 OPS) shouldn't be batting in the middle of the order.
- Kevin Gregg is bad.
- Ryan Theriot (.851 OPS in 2009) has swaggerjacked Mike Fontenot's (.909 OPS in 2008) moniker of "Lil' Babe Ruth."
- Reed Johnson is good for a highlight-reel catch, but not much else (.236 BA/.317 OBP/.291 SLG).
- Ryan Freel is on the team, and he supposedly likes casual encounters.