One negative, would be the piling up of the injuries with the Cubs lineup. Catcher Geovany Soto, right fielder Milton Bradley and third baseman Aramis Ramierez all missed both games of the opening series with various nagging injuries, which vary in severity. Sure, Soto got behind the plate today, but I do not believe that his shoulder woes are over, at least not yet. Cubs Manager Lou Piniella has stated that Soto will be given at least a game off this weekend, which could be viewed as normal rest for your catcher. Whether or not his shoulder is fully healed, publicly we will never know unless he takes himself out of a game again. With him just coming back from his injury, you wouldn’t expect his bat to come back right away, but his .100 batting average is something to keep an eye on. Just hope he is not going through one of those “Sophomore Slumps” that we hear about.
Ramierez missed these past two games due to issues with his back stiffening up, which has been an injury which he has dealt with in previous years. While Piniella said that he was available to pinch hit if needed on Wednesday, he never did make an appearance. Having his bat out of the lineup hurts our offense, but all signs point to him being back on Thursday for the first of a four game series with the hated St. Louis Cardinals. While Mike Fontenot has done a pretty good job defensively at third base in his absences, I would still rather have Ramierez at the hot corner.
The injury to Bradley, which we should have all known was coming, kept him out of both games and will likely keep him out of the first couple of games against the Cardinals. The groin muscle is a very tricky injury to figure out when you are safe to return to game action. You have to be very careful when returning with this injury, because if you come back too soon a tweak can turn into a pull, or even worse… a tear. So with Bradley having an injured groin, the Cubs are better suited to sit him an extra day or two just to be on the safe side. I would hate to see him come back in Thursdays game, only to severely re-injure himself landing on the Disabled List for a few more weeks. Even though he only has one hit (which just so happens to be a homerun) in17 tries, his bat is missed in the lineup, especially the way he works the count and draws walks.
Our offense is another worry, as they just have not seemed to click on all cylinders. This may be in part to Derrek Lee’s, and Bradley’s very slow starts. When your three and four hitters are not hitting the way you expect them too, your offense will not soar as expected. Through in the fact that our slugging catcher Soto has been out for a week, that didn’t do our offense any favors either. On the bright side, players are coming back from injury, and are starting to play better.
First and foremost, Lee has seemingly snapped out of a long stretch of bad baseball. In case you didn’t notice, he had a few multi hit games in this series, getting five hits in seven at bats. Perhaps his bat is waking up like some of us thought. One thing to consider, is perhaps his being shifted to the four spot in the line up may have had something to do with his awakening. Now I don’t think that he can stay in the four spot, at least not if Cubs Manager Lou Piniella wants to keep his bats alternating right and left all the way down. So perhaps when Ramierez gets back from his injury stint, Piniella will move Lee down to the five hole and let him take over batting third. Imagine the possibility, Ramierez will have Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome in front of him to drive in, that would be a great boost for our offense.
Speaking of Fukudome, he continues to play well. He is looking like he did at the beginning of last season, which I believe is great news. I know what you are saying though. You are probably thinking “Who cares what he looks like now, he did this last year. He is going to fade again.” While that is true, he was hot at the start of last season, and faded into the oblivion as the season went on. As the pitchers got more tape on him, they figured him out. They started pitching to his weakness, which he was unable to adapt to. They had figured out Fukudome, which was making him utterly useless to us down the stretch because he could not readjust. This season though, I look at his early success with more enthusiasm for those same reasons. They did not forget how to pitch to him, they are still doing what the scouting report tells them to do. I honestly believe that he has figured something out, and has made the proper adjustments. I think that he has finally figured out how to play baseball in the United States. He is showing great patience again, which can be seen by his drawing walks. He is driving the ball, and getting good hits and getting on base. Fukudome has seemingly out things together, and I am putting more stock into this seasons early success then I did in last seasons.
Soriano is scorching hot at the plate right now. Leading off ball games he now has five hits out of his eight at bats leading off a ballgame. In case you aren’t keeping tract, never fear, I am. He has two lead off homeruns, and three singles to go with two strike outs and a pop out. I know that he has his detractors out there, those who say that he should not be hitting leadoff. You want him batting in the middle of the order where he will have more RBI chances. I can fully understand that, but when you can start off the game with a 1-0 lead, what can you complain about? Think of this as well, go back to Saturday night in Milwaukee. If he was not in the leadoff slot, we don’t win that game. He hit the go ahead home run which won the game. Do you honestly think Ryan Theriot would have done that?
In their first starts of the season, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden went completely different directions. Lilly returned to his roots getting bombed for four homeruns, while Harden cruised striking out 10 batters in just six innings. While you can argue that Lilly was just throwing strikes working to contact because of the big lead, you don’t like to see your starting pitcher give up that many bombs. Some even wrote it off to his not getting much work in Spring Training and continuing to work off some rust. In their second outings, they once again traveled in different directions. Lilly took a no hitting into the seventh, but with two outs gave up a hit and then walked the next batter before being pulled for the bullpen, who kept the game as a one hitter. Harden on the other hand, was shelled, allowing four runs while striking out eight in just three innings of work. The bullpen stepped in for the final six innings.
Since we are on the subject, I would like to conclude with thoughts on our bullpen. Over the past three games, our bullpen has looked a lot better then they did, which wouldn’t be too hard to do. In the last 11 and 1/3 innings pitched by the bullpen they have allowed just two runs while giving up six hits and six walks. While they are still not great numbers out of the bullpen when it comes to hits and walks, the runs allowed is great to see. Sure there will be some rollercoaster rides along the way, but there are a few pitchers in that bullpen that I am really starting to like. Carlos Marmol, Aaron Heilman and David Patton have all earned my respect and I like what they can do for us. The other four though: Luis Vizcaino, Angel Guzman, Neal Cotts and Kevin Gregg all have a lot to prove to me though. Even though Vizcaino has looked fairly decent in his limited opportunities, but he isn’t screaming confidence at the moment, despite his perfect ERA.
That about sums things up for my thoughts after the Cubs Home Opening series with the Rockies. Thoughts, ideas, concerns are always welcomed.