Friday, May 06, 2005

it isn't as bad as all this

my, my, my. now mired in a five-game losing streak, following a brewer sweep which included two of the more painful late-inning losses you'll see this year, the cubs have been dumped into what is effectively a five-team tie for second place in the central at 12-15 and six back of the redbirds.

saint louis is in control -- once again, they are solid, talented and playing well. they've gone out to 18-9 without much of a start from scott rolen, reggie sanders or larry walker and jason isringhausen visiting the DL. there is room for optimism, of course -- anything can happen -- but the wildcard is probably coming from the east this year, and that means catching the cards is the only avenue to october.

can it be done? possibly, remotely. as has been noted elsewhere, the cubs would now have to play .577 ball the rest of the way just to win 90 -- a winning percentage they haven't managed over a season since 1984 -- whereas saint louis now would have to cruise at a .533 clip, a rate they've managed in four of the last five years.

but what is almost certain is that the cubs are not quite as bad as all that we've seen in the last week.

the pitching staff -- for all its trouble -- heads the league with 222 strikeouts (though having issued 119 walks, second-most, leading to the third-worst team WHIP at 1.51). given the difficulties of kerry wood -- not to mention the incendiary nature of ryan dempster and unproven youngsters like wuertz, leicester, novoa and wellemeyer -- much of this was perhaps, if not predictable, at least not beyond the bounds of reasonable expectation.

but the cubs are also a surprising fourth in the NL in runs scored and lead in slugging (even as they languish in 13th for on-base percentage, a sore point). the upshot of derrek lee's scalding start (now hitting .404 with eight homers in just 99 at-bats), burnitz's fine effort and neifi perez's nomar garciaparra imitation has been to balance the teams 130 runs allowed with 131 runs scored.

this differential of virtually nil is the picture of a .500 ballclub. the hot hitting start -- especially for a club expected to be offensively dysfunctional -- has balanced a pitching staff which has underperformed even lowered expectations and really should get better. this lot is far better than the awful cub staff on the dismal 65-win team of 2000, which posted a 1.49 WHIP. as they revert to form, this cloud should lift a bit for cub fans. even if the cubs aren't headed for the second season, this sort of suffering should be short-lived.

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