You can come back in off the ledge, for a little while, at least.
Sean Marshall threw five solid innings without his best stuff and three Cubs relievers shut down the Brewers and the Cubs salvaged the final game of the series in Milwaukee, 4-2, and wound up with a winning road trip and went over .500 on the road for the season at 9-8.
Despite the absence of Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs' four-run third inning was evidence that the team can use power (a two-run homer from Alfonso Soriano) and then also a long-sequence offense (the other two runs scored with three straight hits and a wild pitch, the Cubs taking advantage of shoddy pitching by Jeff Suppan). Sean Marshall, who laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt in that four-run inning, was constantly in trouble; he allowed five hits and three walks, but managed to keep Milwaukee to just two runs in his five innings (at 97 pitches, it was definitely time for him to come out) and Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg shut the Brewers down for the last four innings to preserve the victory.
Lou seems to be, as we have discussed often here, using this season much as he did the first couple of months of 2007, as sort of an "extended spring training". There are so many new players on the club from last year -- and even more in the last week or so with all the injuries -- that Lou doesn't exactly know how to use them properly (yeah, I know. Some of you would argue that Lou won't know how to use them right even if he has all year). The idea that the six months of the regular season this year didn't matter and that the Cubs would just slide into the postseason and we could start paying attention then wasn't a good notion. 2009 appears, at this juncture, to resemble 2007, a year of struggle where the Cubs didn't nail down the division title until the regular season's final Friday night -- and even then, it got tougher than it probably should have been after an unexpected sweep by the Marlins in Florida.
2009 after 31 games: 17-14 2008 after 31 games: 18-13 2007 after 31 games: 16-15
Let's look at the good things this team still has: a solid starting rotation that will miss Carlos Zambrano for only one more start (and his replacement did a nice job in his first appearance); a left fielder who is off to a great start and may be on the way to a MVP type season; a center fielder who we had written off but who is contributing every day; a shortstop who has shown unexpected power; and several backups who have, despite our criticism of Jim Hendry's acquisition of them this past offseason, have all contributed to victories.
That's not to say that this team doesn't need or won't need more help; Derrek Lee may wind up on the disabled list. But if he does, the Cubs can call up Jake Fox, who has been demolishing Triple-A pitching. Fox really isn't a very good defensive player -- OK, he's pretty bad. But I suspect with his bat, we could live with him platooning with Micah Hoffpauir at first base. Ryan Freel singled in his first Cub at-bat this afternoon (and then got picked off second base by Jason Kendall. Fortunately, that didn't matter). The bullpen should feel better after the four innings with only one hit allowed this afternoon. Kevin Gregg, in particular, is looking better as he gets more consistent save opportunities.
As most of you know, I am an optimist by nature. That doesn't mean I'm blind to the shortcomings of this team, only that I think they will overcome them and win. Perhaps winning the NL Central, or even getting into the postseason as the wild card, under those circumstances will make the 2009 Cubs better prepared for the playoffs. This year's team has had quite a bit of adversity in only one month's time. Under Lou Piniella over the last two-plus years, they have constantly shown the ability to overcome adversity (at least until October came).
The Cubs now go into a portion of the schedule that should be to their advantage -- nine of the next 12 games are against teams they should be able to handle if they intend to continue to contend. There are six games vs. the Padres, three vs. the Astros (who they have already defeated four of five this year), and three against St. Louis, a team they'll have to beat if they want to win the division. Enjoy the off day -- the team surely will, to rest injured bodies and gear up for the homestand starting Tuesday.