For most of the early season, the Cubs outfield has been a bad WAR zone.
That's WAR as in "wins above replacement" player, one of the newer advanced metrics. Simply put, a WAR number is the wins a player would generate above that of a "replacement player," such as a minor-league call-up.
Cubs scouting reportCubs vs. Atlanta Braves at Turner Field
TV: Comcast SportsNet Friday; WGN Saturday and Sunday
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Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Jason Hammel (4-1) vs. Julio Teheran (2-2) Friday at 6:35 p.m.; Jeff Samardzija (0-3) vs. Ervin Santana (3-0) Saturday at 6:10 p.m.; Edwin Jackson (2-2) vs. Alex Wood (2-5) Sunday at 12:35 p.m.
At a glance: The Cubs were 1-5 against the Braves last year, 0-3 at Turner Field. Neither team is tearing it up offensively. The Braves have been hanging close in the NL East thanks to a pitching staff that led the league in ERA (2.77) entering Thursday. Otherwise the Braves are near the bottom in the key offensive categories. Freddie Freeman has a line of .307/.382/.528, while Justin Upton leads Atlanta with 9 home runs and 19 RBI.
Next: St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, Monday-Thursday
-- Bruce Miles
For Cubs outfielders, those numbers haven't been pretty, but there was some breakout in Thursday night's 12-5 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
Here is how the main Cubs outfielders stacked up in WAR terms entering the game: Nate Schierholtz (minus-0.7), Ryan Kalish (minus-0.4), Junior Lake (0.0) and Chris Coglhan (0.0). Emilio Bonifacio, who plays both outfield and infield, checked in at a positive 0.9.
If you're not into those fancy sabermetric terms, you know by the conventional numbers that the Cubs' outfield has been a wide expanse of barren unproductivity.
"It goes without saying that our outfield offense has struggled so far and obviously has to get better," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. "I think the players that are in the outfield that have largely struggled offensively so far have played below what I think they'll end up being at the end of the year.
"If there is an area of the team that I would expect to bounce back and outperform what they've done for the first five weeks of the season, I think it would be our outfield."
So far, most of the Cubs' offense has been clustered with the infield positions. First baseman Anthony Rizzo hit his seventh home run of the season in Thursday's third inning. It was a 2-run shot to center field.
Shortstop Starlin Castro appears on the rebound. He hit his fifth homer, also a 2-run blast, in the fourth inning. Catcher Welington Castillo has had his moments on offense.
But the outfielders need to step up soon to carry more of the offensive load and also give the Cubs' pitchers some margin for error.
The slowest of the slow starters among Cubs outfielders is Schierholtz. After hitting a career-best 21 homers and driving in 68 last year, Schierholtz entered Thursday batting .188 with no homers.
Schierholtz did not play Wednesday, but he was back in the lineup Thursday, and he singled, tripled and walked twice.
"I think he'll bounce back," Hoyer said. "He's never played like this in his career, and guys seem to find their levels. Most teams have a guy, two guys, who are well below their career norms and will have a guy or two that's well above, and usually those things level out.
"I actually look at it as a weird positive. I think he's due for a really good hot streak, and that's going to help us."
Manager Rick Renteria said he didn't want to single out any one area of the team. But he did shake things up as much as he could Thursday, by putting center fielder Kalish in the leadoff spot and second baseman Luis Valbuena second in the order.
Kalish singled to start the ballgame and later tripled. Renteria said the idea was to get players who see a good amount of pitches at the top of the order.
"Those are obviously important pieces," the manager said. "The reality is we have to keep the line moving. One of the things we're trying to do is make sure guys don't put too much pressure on themselves. if one guy is not getting a pitch to hit, they let the next guy get it done."