having swept the defending two-time central champs in high style on the back of an eighth-inning michael barrett grand slam off jason isringhausen, the cubs have made an essental quality start to the 2006 season. this writer has long thought the games in april and may to be perhaps the most important of any year -- in order for games to have any meaning later, games must be won now. getting away from the gate with four wins in the first five outings, good for second in the division behind the 5-1 brewers, is a much-needed first step and the best cub start since 1998.
it isn't to say that the cubs have been flawless -- problems remain, and months of work remain. jacque jones finally chalked a hit tonight but has still looked quite poor at the plate; dusty baker's move of jones down to sixth in the order is a welcome one. and sean marshall's major league debut proved to be the third game in five where a cub starter failed to work out of the fifth -- and none of the five games has seen a cub pitcher go longer than six and a third. if anything is going to be left of the bullpen in the second half, this cannot continue.
but some pleasant surprises have fuelled the cubs forward in spite of these issues. ronny cedeno, while looking unsteady in throwing across the diamond and having collected two errors in four games with several other near-misses, has hit better than anyone could have reasonably hoped. his 10-for-18 burst was capped by a 4-for-4 performance tonight that demonstrated his ability to make a lot of contact even on pitches outside the strike zone. cedeno may not walk at all -- he has yet to this year and just doesn't work the count -- but he's not going to strike out much either, and there's something to be said for that. moreover, cedeno has hit the ball with some authority, stroking four doubles and a triple; his 16 total bases are second only to derrek lee.
on the pitching side, scott williamson looks to have made a good recovery from surgery and is throwing the ball very well. he took the win for a scoreless eighth tonight, his fourth appearance in five games. three walks have marred his 3.1 innings, a high walk rate even for a pitcher with 217 walks in 388 career innings, but his pitches look lively. as has been said here before, williamson could be the most important pitcher in the cub bullpen -- it's in him that their hopes of bettering the 2005 output of the bullpen concentrate. that looks so far in this nascent season to be a distinct possibility. one has to hope that his high recent workload can be relaxed over the next week to allow him some recovery.
ryan dempster has also looked quite good, allowing just one hit and two walks in three innings of work, including six groundball outs. the more quality innings this team gets out of dempster, the better it will be -- whatever this page considers the odds of that being over the long haul, it's good to see dempster finishing games without trouble.
cincinnati comes to chicago on tuesday for three day games, beginning with a rematch of rusch and arroyo. here's hoping rusch can work into the eighth, giving this bullpen some rest and taking advantage of more offense from a club that has plated a surprising 44 runs in five games.