Well, the Cubs have scuffled out to a 3-4 start. The four losses have revealed their four key weaknesses.
a) Lack of depth in the starting rotation. Without Mark Prior and a healthy Kerry Wood and with the loss of Matt Clement and an aging Greg Maddux, Ryan Dempster has gotten two starts in the first seven games. He was bombed in his first start giving up seven runs in three and two-thirds. In his second start today he pitched well, but if past performance is any indication, I doubt he'll wind up with an ERA below 5.00. I wouldn't be surprised if Glendon Rusch eventually takes the fifth starter spot. Championship teams simply don't run pitchers the quality of Dempster out there.
b) Lack of depth in the bullpen. Poor performances by John Leicester, Latroy Hawkins (who blew his only save opportunity), and Todd Wellmeyer have contributed to several losses. The bullpen is likely to be further weakened if Rusch moves into the rotation. Championship teams have deep bullpens.
c) Lack of depth on the bench. This one is the most vexing because its the easiest to solve. Take a look at the Cubs pinch hitting stats for 2005:
Jerry Hairston 0-2, 1 LOB
Jose Macias 1-5, 3 LOB
Neifi Perez 0-3, 1 RBI, 4 LOB
Todd Hollandsworth 0-1 1 LOB
Jason Dubois 0-1, 1 K
So that's 1-12. But despite that Jose Macias has been called on to pinch hit 5 times in 7 games. There is definitely something wrong with this picture. Why on earth isn't Dubois pinch hitting against left handed pitchers at least and Hollandsworth against right handers? Or for that matter why isn't Hairston pinch hitting? Or better yet, why do we have three utility infielders on the bench? And now of course, the bench only gets weaker as Todd Walker goes on the DL and Baker switches between Hairston, Perez, and Macias at second base. Championship teams have guys who can come off the bench and deliver key hits.
e) Poor decision making by the manager. In today's 1-0 loss to the Padres, Corey Patterson singled to lead off the 8th inning. Rather than try and steal Dusty Baker elected to sacrifice with Perez (who, incidentally was batting second for some unknown reason while Derrek Lee was relegated to the 6th spot with his 7 walks in 7 games). A higher percentage approach would have been to allow Patterson to try and steal and then bunt him over to third. Of course, Nomar Garciapara was then walked, Aramis Ramirez popped up, and Jeremy Burnitz made the third out. In the 7th inning Derrek Lee led off with a single. After strikeouts by Hollandsworth and Barrett Baker pinch hits for Michael Wuertz with Jose Macias. Now, assuming Macias even got a hit, the odds of Lee scoring are not good. Why not try and run Lee or if not pinch hit with someone who may actually have a chance of driving the ball and scoring the run like Dubois? I don't know either. Championship teams play smart baseball.