Offensive inconsistency on the road. I think it's safe to say that after the first week of August, we can clearly identify this as the Cubs' biggest problem (followed by bullpen unreliability). Things like getting shut out by a pitcher making his second start need to change if this team is going to get ahead of the Cardinals and give itself some breathing space by September's end.
In terms of winning and losing, you could've chalked up last night's game as a loss the second Sean Marshall took the mound. There's no way Lou could've expected Marshall to keep it close enough for this struggling offense to get a lead, especially when Marshall has only come into games in the middle to get one or two batters over the last couple months. That would've been like starting Neal Cotts last season, the only difference that Marshall has started games with the Cubs before.
The Colorado Rockies are the most significant opponent the Cubs have faced since their series in Philadelphia and they mark what I believe is the make-or-break 12 games of this team. The Cubs are in part one of a three-part challenge of playing four games a piece in Colorado, L.A. and San Francisco before the season ends, with the Giants coming on the tail end of a road trip to Milwaukee and St. Louis in September.
That's the season right there. It doesn't get any harder. If the Cubs come out of those 12 games with a 7-5 record or better, they should be division favorites, hands down. At this rate, 5-7 looks more likely, and if that's the case, should the Cubs even win the division, they're looking at a quick exit no matter who they play.
As a Cub fan, you can't forget that the sentiment in March was "this season means nothing if they get swept in the NLDS again." Are you really looking at a team that can avoid that? You'll know based on those 12 games. The Cubs, if division champs, are looking at playing the Dodgers or Phillies, this time without home field advantage. If they can't conquer this challenge, October is a lost cause regardless, and that's without mentioning injuries. Only a red-hot tear from the end of August to the end of the season like last year's Dodgers and the 2007 Rockies could win the Cubs a playoff series.
Back to the series in Colorado. I'm not a fan of the batting order Lou put in last night. Milton Bradley hitting second and Ryan Theriot hitting 8th? Theriot's gone up and down a lot lately, but he's been hitting a solid .290 for the last month or two. It's certainly doesn't warrant him hitting ahead of the pitcher. Theriot's been there before in Lou's line-up (on many occasions) and there's a reason he never stayed.
Bradley can take a walk, sure, he's really good at that, but he'll never get the leadoff hitter, Kosuke Fukudome in most cases, home from first. Against righties, that also puts that left-handed bat Lou cried for all off-season next to the other left-handed bat and turns the middle of the order into a string of four right-handed batters. That's counterproductive to everything Lou has done as a manager.
Geovany Soto coming back and hitting fifth is a terrible idea too. He's always been slow to get back his form after missing time and his .230 average doesn't warrant that kind of placement either. He should hit 7th, Bradley should take his place and Theriot should go back up to No. 2 with Fontenot sliding down from 7th. This way, if Bradley should ever stop sucking, he'll be right where the Cubs need him. You're not going to improve a guy's RBI numbers by hitting him second. Then again, maybe the Cubs don't think they can improve him and are just trying to figure out where he can be the most helpful.
As I'm sure many of you are feeling, I'm not all that juiced up to watch this weekend series. I had enough frustration in the last couple of games in Florida and the finale at Cincinnati to really be excited about watching this team in Colorado of all places. Still, if the Cubs could turn their fortune around on the road in the final three of this series, it would be one of the more exciting things they've done all season.