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Cubs edge LA, but concerns remain

Posted By Eddie Kim On May 27 2010 @ 7:26 pm In Chicago Cubs | No Comments

This was a huge series win.

After completing a very successful 3-2 road trip, the Cubs came home to start a very important homestand against two teams knocking on the door of first place: the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. Part of me feared that the Cubs would return to Wrigley assuming that the Dodgers and Cardinals were clearly superior ballclubs and get whipped during the homestand. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Though Ted Lilly failed to win the rubber game against the Dodgers, it certainly wasn’t his fault. Lilly allowed just three hits in seven scoreless innings before giving way to fellow southpaw Sean Marshall. It was Marshall who did pick up the win by continuing his stellar work out of the bullpen. In 12 1/3 innings in the month of May, Marshall has allowed just four hits while compiling a 5-0 record and a 0.73 ERA. As of right now, the 5-0 record in the month is best in the league among all pitchers though Atlanta’s Tim Hudson will try to match that mark later tonight.

While the win builds momentum into a crucial stretch of twelve consecutive games against divisional opponents, the team is not without concerns.

The biggest news was that Carlos Zambrano, who was scheduled to return to the rotation next week, was hospitalized during Thursday’s 1-0 win over the Dodgers with symptoms consistent with appendicitis. If Zambrano is going to miss any substantial amount of time, it is likely that the five pitchers currently in the rotation will remain there and Andrew Cashner could be called up to take Zambrano’s place in the bullpen. Cashner, who won the PCL Pitcher of the Week award last week, has been a starter in the minors and has been very good all year. Between his time at Tennessee (AA) and Iowa (AAA) combined, Cashner is 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA.

In addition, infielder Jeff Baker was forced to leave Thursday’s game after losing vision in one of his eyes. This could force the Cubs to make a decision regarding Aramis Ramirez, who has missed the last four games with a thumb injury.

While the Cubs are optimistic that Ramirez could return to the everyday lineup soon, the team has also been careful not to use him as a pinch-hitter in case a retroactive disabled list stint is necessary. But if Baker is unavailable for Friday’s opener against the Cardinals, the team can’t wait any longer to decide what to do with Ramirez.

That’s because without Ramirez and without Baker, the roster would be reduced to just four infielders: Derrek Lee, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Starlin Castro. Never mind the fact that this would severely limit Lou Piniella’s options, it also creates an uncomfortable situation in which Alfonso Soriano is the only backup infielder. If the Cubs were to make a roster move, the most obvious choice would be to recall Chad Tracy. Tracy, who beat out Kevin Millar for the final roster spot out of spring training, was sent to Iowa in order to make room for Castro earlier this month but that hasn’t slowed Tracy down. In 48 at-bats in the minors, Tracy has 22 hits (.458) including 4 doubles and 2 homeruns (.667 slugging).

Aside from the injury problems, the team looks like it could use a refresher course on the signs. After Lee led off the bottom of the seventh inning of a then-scoreless game with a walk, he was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base. Replays showed that Lee was looking back at the plate during the stolen base attempt, though batter Marlon Byrd made no attempt to protect the runner. This suggests that either Lee or Byrd misread a possible hit-and-run sign.

Then in the eighth inning, with one out and one in, Theriot was at the plate with Tyler Colvin on third base. Theriot popped out while making a desperate lunge to bunt a ball that was up and out of the strike zone, as if to imply that he thought a suicide squeeze had been called. But Colvin didn’t seem to think so, as he remained anchored at third base the entire time.

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