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Friday, August 19

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Cubs Wed Apr 18 2012

The Cubs Are Who We Thought They Were

Cubs_200.pngEleven games into the season, and the Cubs are in last place. Surprising? Not really. They've avoided the NL Central cellar the past two years not because of winning consistently, but by being better than a pair of 100+ loss teams (Pittsburgh in 2010 and Houston in 2011).

It's doubtful they'll finish last this year either, mainly due to the absurdly bad roster Houston is rolling out these days (seriously, look at it -- it has seven players on it who I've never even heard of) but it's not totally out of the question.

The bullpen is a mess (I'll get to that later this week), but the major issue this season has been, and will continue to be, the lack of run production. By not picking up the 2012 option on Aramis Ramirez, and letting Carlos Pena return to Tampa Bay via free agency, the Cubs are trying to replace 50+ homers in a lineup that was sore for power in the first place.

Sure, one can argue that Bryan LaHair has 25-homer potential if given a full season to play, and Ian Stewart is a huge defensive upgrade over Ramirez at the hot corner, but LaHair is nowhere near Pena in terms of saving runs and errors at first base, and Stewart's best season in Colorado only tops Ramirez's injury plagued 2009 campaign in terms of power production.

LaHair leads the team with two homers so far this season, but he's racked up 10 strikeouts in just 25 at-bats (though he's hitting the ball hard every time he's not walking back to the dugout). The rest of the Cubs have mustered just three round trippers combined, good enough for a last place tie with Pittsburgh. Compare that to the world beating Texas Rangers, who already have 21 in the early going.

If the Cubs want to dodge sixth place, the wind will have to be blowing out an awful lot at Wrigley Field, and it needs to start happening soon.

To make up for the lack of power, manager Dale Sveum is trying to unleash the fury on the base paths. Anytime a guy gets on base they're a threat to steal, or at the very least they're being aggressive on pitches in the dirt -- something Cubs fans aren't used to seeing. And nobody has embodied the new approach more than Starlin Castro.

After having just 22 steals all of last year, he has racked up seven in the first two weeks! His future is batting second and running amok, so we can only hope this trend continues. I know the sample size is small, but at this pace, he'd be the first major leaguer to steal 100 bases since Vince Coleman in 1987. Heck, nobody's even gotten to 80 since then either.

You probably think I'm nuts for looking at a number that crazy this early in the season, but don't rain on my parade. There has to be something to look forward to on the North Side.

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