Inside Look: Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are starting out rough this season, and we are lucky to have fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger Joe Aiello of “View from the Bleachers” to give us the lowdown.

On paper, the Cubs offense looks pretty good. How is it looking on the field thus far?

The main issue so far seems to be a lack of hitting in timely situations. During the first week of the season the main way the runs were coming was via the home run. It’s settled down a little lately, and the hits with runners in scoring position seems to have improved but the wins have not followed. Lou has vowed to change the lineup around a little during the Mets series, but there really isn’t much you can do to juggle a lineup. Your heart of the order guys may flip flop, but other than that, what can you do?

It’s going to be a dogfight in the NL Central this year. What has to go right for the Cubs to finish in first?

I think we saw last year the issues that can arise when some of the names you’re counting on to produce, don’t. For the Cubs to contend in the central, and really for a playoff spot in general, Alfonso Soriano needs to hit. Geovany Soto has to hit. Carlos Zambrano has to live up to the contract he was given. There are a lot of underachievers on this team that leave the bulk of the work to be done by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. That can’t happen if this team is going to be successful.

Is this Lou Piniella’s last season? Will he make it through the season?

People keep asking the question of whether or not Lou will make it through his contract. It’s not even a question that he’ll play out this year. After that, I truly believe he’ll hang ‘em up. We seem to forget that he managed the Rays and tried everything he could to motivate them out of losing. If he can handle that, surely he can handle a much better club in the Cubs.

What’s up with the rollercoaster known as Carlos Zambrano? Is he going through another slow start, are his skills diminishing, or is he just plain crazy?

All of the above. Then again, I’m a Z hater. In my mind, Zambrano is one of the most over hyped pitchers in the Majors. I wouldn’t even rank him as one of the top five starters in the city when you factor in Ted Lilly who is scheduled to come off the DL on Saturday. His biggest issues are his emotions and his lack of hydration that causes him to cramp up and leave a start early. He refuses to address the cramping issue and we’ve yet to see the emotions be under control for a long stretch of time.

Jeff Samardzija seems to have a live arm, but no set role. Where does he ultimately fit in, this year and beyond?

It depends on who you ask. If you ask Samardzija he’ll tell you that he just wants to help the ballclub in anyway he can while he crosses his fingers behind his back and dreams of being a starter. If you ask the Cubs, his role is a late inning setup man. The problem comes when you merge the two. Because of the differing opinions on how he needs to be used, I think it’s causing his lack of success. When the Cubs have him down in the minors they use him as a starter, but when he’s called up he never gets a chance to make a few consecutive starts and show what he can do. I think that’s affected his mentality and caused him to not fully embrace his bullpen role. I can’t say for sure, but I believe it’s the primary cause for his lack of success so far.

Carlos Marmol as the closer: are you confident in him taking the ball in the ninth?

Without a doubt. He had a bit of a hiccup on Sunday and blew the save, but he’s the most reliable arm we’ve got in the pen. When he’s on, and it’s been often this year, he can be electric. He’s already compiled two saves in which he struck out all three batters he faced. The key this year for Marmol is the fact that he doesn’t need to compete for the closer role like he did last year with Gregg. That seems to have given him the confidence to trust his stuff and blow hitters away.

Your initial impression of Carlos Silva …

Big…Fat…and surprisingly…good? What I like about him so far is that he doesn’t walk guys. I expect him to give up the long ball and give them up at a fairly healthy rate. If he can limit the walks and use that good sinker, I don’t see why he can’t be a very good back of the rotation arm. I don’t expect him to pitch the way he has so far, but he’s definitely better than Milton Bradley. My favorite quote came from Lou this spring when he asked about his work ethic. He said something to the effect of ‘He’s a hard worker….he’s also a hard eater.’

Who is the one Cub who is “under the radar” / will surprise people in 2010?

I think some of the names in the bullpen. The Cubs started the year with a good amount of young arms in the pen. So far, the majority of them have struggled, but I have high hopes for Justin Berg, who throws ground balls, and James Russell, whose father was a former big league closer. Those are the two guys in the pen that I think will surprise some people this year.

Thanks very much to Joe Aiello for giving us his insight. Be sure to check out View From the Bleachers for all the nitty-gritty on the Chicago Cubs.

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.