Man, Joe sure picked the right weekend to go to the beach. Today’s game was the worst possible follow up to yesterday’s beating, a 9-0 shutout and the victims of Chris Capuano’s complete game. Carlos Zambrano still shows no signs of breaking out of his early slump or growing up. Zambrano melted down in the 5th inning, as he was yanked without recording an out in the frame. Carlos gave up 7 runs on 8 hits and 5 walks, and totally lost the plate during the 5th. Big Z definitely needs to get his head together, if the Cubs are going to stay afloat until the rest of the rotation finally finishes pitching simulated games. There’s not much good to say about the rest of the team today either, as other than Ronny Cedeno ranging to the second base side to steal away hit, the entire effort was forgettable. By the way, what is it about playing the Cubs that makes Bill Hall look like a Hall of Famer. The guy absolutely kills us.

Month End Review:
Cubs Record after April: 13-10, 4th Place in NL Central
3.0 Games out of First Place
3.0 Games out of Wild Card

The Cubs actually got off to the good start that they wanted, the problem is, except for Pittsburgh, the entire NL Central is off to a good start. They’ve done a good job of beating up on weaker teams like the Pirates, Dodgers and Marlins, but unfortunately, we the rest of the division teams are putting up a good fight. It seems likely that Cincinnati will come back to the pack a bit, since they’ve got a team ERA near 5.00, but St. Louis and Houston both seem solid, especially since the Astros will be able to begin negotiations with Roger Clemens again tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the team’s momentum going into May:

Starting Pitching
Let’s get this straight, on this staff, there is Greg Maddux, and there is everybody else. Maddux has been superb. He has carried this team, and Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker ought to be kissing his shoes. The rest of the staff, well, they haven’t been too good. Sean Marshall has shown some promise, but it’s too early to rely on him for anything. Carlos Zambrano has been a head case, Angel Guzman showed good stuff but bad control in his first outing, Jerome Williams was sent to AAA and the less said about Glendon Rusch, the better. The good news is, Kerry Wood is supposed to return this month, but the bad news is Mark Prior and Wade Miller are likely out until June. With Rich Hill as the only other viable alternative if the Cubs need another pitcher, May looks to be tough month for starting pitching.

Relief Pitching
The relief pitching has been pretty good for the Cubs. Thus far they’ve gotten good pitching from Dempster, Eyre, Howry and Williamson, and not so good pitching from Aardsma, Ohman and Wuertz. Essentially, the bullpen has been good when given a lead, but not very good at keeping the Cubs in games if they are already behind. Part of the problem is that the starters have not gone deep enough into games. However, a look at the breakdown reveals that while Jim Hendry has done a good job building the pen in free agency, the young pitchers from the Cubs system are not holding up their end. The Cubs young pitchers are going to have to pick up the pace if the team is stay in the division race. Hopefully, the starters will go a bit deeper into games, now that they’ve had a month to stretch out.

Hitting
The Cubs are definitely missing Derrek Lee in the heart of the order, especially with Aramis Ramirez getting off to a slow start. Juan Pierre has been a terror on the basepaths, the problem is, he hasn’t been getting on base enough. Ronny Cedeno has hit well enough to earn a promotion to the no. 2 spot, while fellow youngster Matt Murton is living up to his reputation as a patient hitter. Todd Walker and Michael Barrett are both off to hot starts, and while Jacque Jones was brutal during most of April, he seems to be heating up now (.333/.368/.889 in the last week).

Defense
The infield defense has been pretty good, even after Lee’s injury. Todd Walker is holding his own at first, and Ronny Cedeno and Aramis Ramirez seem to be controling their throws better now. Michael Barrett better keep hitting, because he’s not very good at blocking balls in the dirt, or throwing out basestealers. The outfield defense has had the expected growing pains, considering that none of the OFs have played together before, and none have extensive experience at Wrigley. Juan Pierre shows good range, but his arm is enabling runners to take a lot of extra bases. Jacque Jones is still learning the winds at Wrigley. Murton has been solid.

Manager
Dusty Baker has been more proactive this year than in the past, and seems to enjoy using the team speed he now has. The Cubs are making use of the hit and run and doing a good job bunting, as well as stealing bases. Where Baker runs into trouble is his constant use of the double switch, particularly in early innings when the starters have been pulled due to ineffectiveness.

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