Tuesday, June 06, 2006

break up the cubs!

winners of five of their last seven and their last two series, the chicago national league ballclub looks to have finally stemmed their may freefall. scoring 44 runs over that span (6.3 r/game), the offense is riding a surge by rightfielder jacque jones, who has hit four home runs and driven in 10 over the last six games, going 542/577/1208 while chalking 29 total bases. moreover, juan pierre seems perhaps to be gaining traction -- his on-base percentage has risen from its may 26 nadir of .268 to .288 in nine games in which he has reached 17 times in 44 trips (.386) and scored five times. ronny cedeno, aramis ramirez, todd walker and michael barrett are also all contributing -- and when a team has six regulars hitting, runs will be scored.

the pitching side has been a little less spectacular, going 7th in the nl with a 3.57 era over that span -- but of certain mention must be one carlos zambrano, who took a no-hitter into the eighth last night to run his season era down to 3.09.

zambrano has totally dispelled any of the april fears of this page -- considered here and here -- by following his tepid opening month with a brilliant run of seven starts in which he has gone 4-1, compiling 50.2 innings of 1.60 era, allowing just 24 hits against 55 strikeouts. in short, zambrano has never been more effective on the mound. this page will retain concerns about his usage -- despite successfully navigating the injury nexus by having celebrated his 25th birthday, zambrano has racked a lot of very heavy usage on that golden arm over the last three youthful years which may haunt him, and has exceeded 120 pitches in three of his last five starts, vaulting him again to second in all of baseball in pitcher abuse points. unlike some, this page feels it will only be in some years that one will be able to consider the full implications of what, if any, structural damage this use may wreak -- at this still-tender age, it seems here that one cannot feel confident in classifying a pitcher with the likes of bartolo colon or livan hernandez as a "rubber arm" capable of taking such abuse without incurring potentially serious problems.

as to the fortunes of the team, the question on the lips of many a cub fan may yet be, "can it last?" -- and the answer to that would seem to be, sadly, no. while the cubs are probably a better offensive club than they've shown this year to date -- now tied for last in the nl in runs after catching up a bit over the last week -- they are not by any stretch a good offensive ballclub. even the return of derrek lee will do little to change that fact.

on the other side, pitching remains mired at 13th in nl era, actually getting worse over the last 30 days by posting a 5.05 team era in that span despite zambrano. the reversion of greg maddux from the venerable hero of april to the aged and deteriorating warrior-king of preseason expectation has helped that fall along. the aid in waiting now seems quite insufficient -- kerry wood's shoulder requires six or seven days rest between starts and seems more and more to be encouraging a future career in the bullpen; the growing probability of seeing mark prior in some low-velocity incarnation or another before july seems only a glimmer of reason to take heart for future seasons; and wade miller is experiencing further setbacks and has not pitched in ten days, at this point seeming a heady gamble to pitch at all this season.

moreover, the schedule remains difficult over the next month.

why all this, then? why so dour in the face of a spate of actual success? because the point requires constant reiteration -- this season is now nothing more than a platform for 2008, 2009 and beyond. an ephemeral week of winning does nothing to change that, however transiently pleasing. much work remains to be done, and this page is vastly more interested now in the performances of players like sean marshall, jerome williams, david aardsma, rich hill, angel guzman, jae-kuk ryu and carlos marmol than in the wins or losses of this lost year.

to that end, the title of this post has more than sarcastic meaning -- this club does need to be broken up for scrap, and soon. only after the old detritus has been cleared can new growth emerge and catalyze future success. please, jim hendry -- break up the cubs!

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