You wouldn’t know it by looking at their overall record (18-30) or the scoreboard in Sunday’s 4-3 loss at the San Diego Padres, but slow progress is occurring for the Chicago Cubs. Despite Sunday’s loss in which starting pitcher Jason Hammel provided another decent (if brief) outing (5.2 IP, three hits, three runs, two walks, five strikeouts), Chicago is 5-3 in its last eight games, having won a series at home other the Milwaukee Brewers (winning the last two games), splitting a pair against the New York Yankees and splitting this four-game series at San Diego.
Some nights Cubs fans just have to understand that the offense won’t be there. The lineup isn’t very potent, and in at least three positions you could argue the the batting order is Class AAA quality. But outside of some crazy outings from Edwin Jackson, the starting pitching has been decent. In several games, the bullpen has let the starters down and cost the Cubs wins. The Cubs are 12 games under .500 but have a run differential good for third in the National League Central and ninth in the entire NL.
Chicago’s split in San Diego was a solid start to a 10-game road trip that next takes the Cubs to the San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee for three games each. Both are division leaders right now, so a 2-4 performance in those six games would have to be considered respectable by Cubs fans. That would make for a 4-6 road trip, which is nothing to write home about, but for what many consider the worst team in the National League (and maybe in baseball), it certainly could be worse.
The top five in the Cubs’ order, as used in the loss Sunday, is finally respectable, with center fielder Emilio Bonifacio, left fielder Junior Lake, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro and second baseman Luis Valbuena all hitting between .259 and .278. Third baseman Mike Olt (.180) is still struggling to make contact, but there’s no doubting his power as he has nine homers and 24 RBIs. Catching up to Major League pitching as a young hitting prospect is the hardest thing to do in baseball, and there’s no reason to fret over Olt’s average right now. Lake hit a solo homer Sunday and now has six blasts and 18 RBIs.
It would be comforting to Cubs fans if guys like Olt and Lake continue to progress on this road trip, all the while knowing several serious hitting prospects are currently succeeding throughout Chicago’s minor-league system. What the Cubs need perhaps most from this road trip is to finally provide some offensive and bullpen support for Jeff Samardzija in order for the National League’s best pitcher so far this season to finally get a win. Samardzija (0-4, 1.46 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) starts Monday at the Giants and next Sunday at the Brewers.
With a little luck over the next six games, the Cubs can continue their recent improved play and keep building toward what should be better days to come in the near future. The rest of the road trip will be a challenge, but given the Cubs’ recent play, it’s one that should be watched with interest.