Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cubs' bats driving fans batty--another good outing wasted

Saturday: Twins 2, Cubs 0

Shall I just copy and paste from one of my previous posts? "The Cubs got a strong performance from their starting pitcher, Derrek Lee was pretty good, but the rest of the offense did nothing and the Cubs lost." Yeah, that'll work.

The Cubs were stymied once again, this time by rookie Anthony Swarzak. They had just five hits (four singles and a bloop double) and two walks, never threatening until the 9th inning. It's the fifth time the Cubs have been shut out this season.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the lack of hits is the fact that the Cubs have walked away from last year's approach: drawing walks. After blowing away the National League in both walks and OBP in 2008, the Cubs rank just 10th in those categories this year. They have drawn a total of three walks in this series. It wouldn't be as big of a deal if the Cubs were putting the ball in play for hits, but here are the averages of Saturday's starting eight:

.233 -- Soriano
.240 -- Fontenot
.226 -- Bradley
.273 -- Lee
.209 -- Soto
.272 -- Fukudome
.278 -- Theriot
.205 -- Miles

The Cubs need to start putting together better at-bats and getting into hitters' counts. It was this recipe that resulted in a league-leading 855 runs last year.

Some good news: Rich Harden looked very good in his return from the DL: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 9 K. The bullpen (Ascanio, Marshall, Gregg) was sharp as well. But as every Cubs' starting pitcher knows all too well, you can't win if you don't score.

Is Fukudome a robot programmed to decline?

It's pretty freaky how similar Fukudome's season has been in relation to last year's. In '08, he looked awful in spring training, stormed out of the gates to the point that many people attributed the Cubs' newfound plate discipline to the "Fukudome Effect," then went downhill like he was a cast member of "Cool Runnings" as soon as June 1 hit. This year, he got benched as part of Japan's WBC team, renewed Cubs' fans hope in him when the season began, and has once again fallen apart as soon as the temperature hit 80.

Here are his monthly batting average splits over the last two seasons:

April: .338
May: .277
June: .135

April: .305
May: .293
June: .264

You can see that this year's decline has been much more precipitous. In 2008, his average declined each and every month, ending at .178 in September. Here's hoping he can reverse this trend, and soon. If not, Reed Johnson has to get a lot more playing time. I would be in favor of Johnson getting more playing time right now.

Central intelligence

The loss knocked the Cubs back under .500 for the first time since they fell to 21-22 on May 25. On May 26, the Cubs broke their eight-game losing streak and went on to win four of their next five.

Luckily, the Brewers lost 7-1 to the White Sox, so the Cubs remain just 3.5 games back. On the other hand, the Cubs are closer to last place than they are to first. With the Astros just five games out of first, the Cubs are jammed in the middle of a real snug divisional race. Both the AL and NL Central divisions are mediocre at this point--both are led by a 34-28 team (Brewers and Tigers), and both have a last place team within seven games of first (Astros and Indians). The baseball gods have allowed the Cubs to stay in the race despite very subpar play; it's time for them to take advantage.

MLB notes

-Jake Peavy could miss up to three months with an ankle injury. Fittingly, he suffered the injury in a game against the Cubs.

-When the Rockies fired manager Clint Hurdle on May 29, they were 18-28. They started 2-4 under interim manager Jim Tracy, but then reeled off 10 straight wins. They're now just two games under .500 (though they have a lot of work to do to get back into the race--the Dodgers are 19 games over).

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