Some good, some bad for Cubs
It has been a drama-filled start for this Cubs team to say the least. Most of the games have been incredibly tight, with tons of strategic decisions and critical game-turning plays taking the spotlight.
No manager ever totally relaxes, but Dale Sveum and his coaching staff have had to constantly be on their toes dealing with a bullpen in flux and an offense that has hit with nobody on but for some reason hasn't come through enough with men on base.
The bright spot has been the starting rotation, despite the fact the Cubs are 2-5 in Jeff Samardzija's starts, 1-6 when Edwin Jackson has taken the ball, and they haven't even had Matt Garza on the mound yet. So that's 3 team wins coming from your best three starting pitchers.
But everybody else has pitched in nicely. Carlos Villanueva and Travis Wood have been terrific, and Scott Feldman suddenly has emerged with back-to-back wins. And in fairness, Samardzija has pitched way better than his record indicates.
The head-scratcher right now is Jackson. Signed to a big free-agent contract over the winter, he just hasn't gotten into any sort of groove yet.
His track record says he will be fine, while maybe a couple of the other guys are due to come back to earth a bit. All in all, the Cubs have to be pleased with this group so far.
Offensively, it has been a good-news, bad-news situation. The good news is that a lot of the supporting cast has been productive. The Cubs have gotten surprising, above-average output from the third base combo of Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom. The catchers and left-handed hitting outfielders have all contributed.
But it's the core players who ultimately will tell the tale with this offense.
Anthony Rizzo has been better than the batting average would indicate. He's hitting lots of home runs and taking walks while striking out a lot and hitting for a low batting average. Sound a little like Adam Dunn?
This is essentially Rizzo's sophomore campaign, and we know that can be a challenge for some guys. He is still a young big-leaguer, and to expect a finished product right now is unfair. The way I look at it is, he hasn't clicked on all cylinders yet and still has been a productive presence.
Elsewhere, Starlin Castro has been just OK so far, while Alfonso Soriano has been too quiet, especially against right-handed pitching. Hopefully his 2-homer game (both blasts coming off a lefty) on Saturday is a sign of a bust-out.
Ultimately, for this offense to really click, those heart-of-the-order guys will have to carry their fair share of the weight.
Then there is the most intriguing area of the club at the moment: the bullpen. Out of necessity in April, Dale Sveum had to go to a closer-by-matchup plan, which has had its benefits.
It takes pressure off a designated closer to always have to get the final three outs. It has given the manager options depending on that day's opponent and all the in-game moments that lead up to the final crucial at-bats.
The downside has been obvious. Aside from James Russell, Sveum hasn't had an airtight guy to use in big spots consistently since Opening Day, which has caused a ton of shuffling in high-leverage situations. Each guy has had good spurts, but consistency has been elusive and it has cost the Cubs several wins as a result.
If the Cubs continue to get good starting pitching, they will continue to have golden opportunities to grab these games. But all the other areas of the club must improve if they're going to start winning these close ones consistently.
•Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @LenKasper and check out his [URL]blog entries;http://wgntv.com/news/stories/len-and-jds-cubs-baseball-blog/[URL] with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com. To post comments or questions for Len, click on the comment link with his column at dailyherald.com.[/URL]