Carlos Zambrano on the DL; Aramis Ramirez on the DL; Derrek Lee day-to-day; Milton Bradley fighting suspension; Geovanny Soto hitting .169. If you had heard back in March that was the forecast for mid-May, you'd probably not have even bothered to watch a game of Cubs' baseball this season.
Nothing seems to be going positively for the Cubs at the moment, except that they still manage to be over .500 (despite 4th place in the Central). Their ace is nursing a hamstring from (surprise) over-running the bases and their biggest run producer (at least of the season) is out two months with a separated shoulder.
The question is will these injuries sink the Cubs' ship in 2009 or will new players be there to keep it afloat? This is not the same NL Central this season with the Reds putting together a winning season so far and both the Cardinals and Brewers bringing their best. The competition is stiff and the Cubs can't hope Ramirez will be back in July and they'll still be right up there vying for the division. They need new contributors.
With Ramirez out of the clean-up spot and Lee missing time, the Cubs have had to ask guys like Kosuke Fukudome, Micah Hoffpauir and Milton Bradley to step it up in the run-producing parts of the line-up.
Bradley is still hitting a meager .179, but to his credit, he has a 5-game hit streak going and a 4-game RBI streak. It's been a slow climb, but at this rate his average is jumping .010 points a game. There's no question that now is the time for him to be the man the Cubs are paying him to be. It'd be nice to actually miss him should his appeal for that 2-game suspension not be successful.
Fukudome has been the glue of the Cubs this season. He leads the Cubs' daily starters with his .319 average and still leads the team in walks with 22, 9 more than the runner-up in that category. He is 6th in the NL in On-Base Percentage. True, the question mark of his tail-off last season will hang over his head until he can make it through July without plummeting, but if he can continue to fill Ramirez' shoes by being a top run producer until Ramirez returns, Cub nation will be indebted to him once more. Another All-Star appearance for Fukudome? Not out of the question ...
This is Micah Hoffpauir's moment and he knows it. With Lee bothered by yet another injury and Ramirez gone, this is his chance to prove his big-league worth. With a .295 average, he's one of the better players right now, but a boost in his play and he can prove why he's the asset and not Lee. This is the opportunity he needs.
I've already detailed the value of Fontenot and Theriot, though Theriot's average is slipping. Fontenot made some incredible plays in Milwaukee this weekend at third base and with Ramirez gone that will help.
Recent acquisition Ryan Freel looks good conceptually. On an injury-ridden team, you need the super-utility man and as I have to mention yet again, there's no Mark DeRosa. Of course he too is battling an iffy hamstring, but if he can contribute any kind of offense, that's good enough.
With the lame Padres coming into Wrigley, there should be no problems for run-producers to emerge. The intriguing Peavy-Harden match-up kicks things off tonight. At least if the Cubs lose, you'd like to think it's an audition for Peavy to finally get over here. Having someone like Sean Marshall back in the bull pen would help bring some consistency to it, despite his great outing Sunday against the Brewers.