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Wrigley Faithful Still Waiting for the Payoff

April 16, 2007 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Chicago Cubs centrefielder Alfonso Soriano has yet to pay dividends.
When will Alfonso Soriano start earning his $136 million?

Cubs fans can probably be excused if they are wondering when they will start seeing this remade club the organization promised them. You know, the kind of results that it’s reasonable to expect when your team spends $300 million over the winter.

However, at 4-7, with five losses in the past six games, the Cubbies are currently occupying an all-too-familiar perch at the bottom of the NL Central. Yes, it’s very early, but there have been some disturbing trends in the first couple of weeks of the season:

  • Prized off-season acquisition Alfonso Soriano is struggling to produce in the early going as the team’s offense in general isn’t exactly striking fear into anyone (ninth in the NL in runs and slugging, tied for 13th in homers).
  • Manager Lou Piniella, another big coup this winter, is already starting to be his usual cantankerous self, biting reporters’ heads off in his post-game tirade Friday after the Cubs somehow blew a 5-0 lead and wound up losing to the Reds.
  • The pitching staff came into yesterday ranked 13th in the NL in team ERA, but a got a gem out of Ted Lilly, another key addition. Unfortunately, he didn’t exactly get any offensive support, dropping a 1-0 decision.
  • Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs’ hottest hitter, has been sidelined with a wrist problem, an ailment the team hopes will improve enough to allow him to play today.
  • Mark DeRosa, yet another big signing this offseason, was one of the few Cubs actually showing some pop so far, has been dealing with back spasms.
  • Scott Erye, firestarter so far this season, wound up in the hospital Saturday with flu-like symptoms.
  • There’s been more bad news on the Mark Prior and Kerry Wood front, but that’s pretty well par for the course. Still, wouldn’t it be novel if one of these two could make a positive contribution one day?

Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom. The bullpen, other than Erye and Bobby Howry, has been very strong. And the Cubs have a golden opportunity to right the ship immediately with a dozen consecutive games against NL Central rivals starting Friday. Winning seven or eight of those games will have a dramatic impact on the standings.

And if you’re desperate for something positive to focus on in Cubs land, why not take a look at the Triple-A team? The Iowa Cubs are currently tied for first in their division thanks a 6-4 start keyed by three straight wins over Round Rock.

If the Cubs should need some help, there are plenty of bats and arms down there that are off to excellent starts. Sparking the offense are a pair of non-roster players. Koyie Hill, now 28 and relegated to back-up status in Triple-A, has been splitting time at catcher with Geovany Sota, a player who does actually have a future. Hill is off to a big start, though, and his game-winning home run Sunday should help him continue to steal PT from Sota.

Micah Hoffpauir, a 27-year-old first baseman who has never played in the majors or even spent an entire season at Triple-A, looks like he’s on a mission to at least stick around Iowa. He leads the PCL in RBI.

Let’s not forget about the Cubs’ top prospect, Felix Pie. After stroking another three hits yesterday, he’s off to a .438 start. The Cubs are already having a hard time finding PT for Matt Murton, but the way Pie is making a mockery of Triple-A, the minors can’t hold him for long. The team will need to make some kind of decision here soon.

Iowa’s early-season strength has been its bullpen. And although that doesn’t appear to be an area the Cubs need help in yet, it’s certainly good to know that there are capable arms down there in the event of injury. Cory Baily, Federico Baez, John Webb and Rocky Cherry have all delivered noteworthy performances.

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