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Cubs working together to fill a big gap
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist

Derrek Lee went 4-for-5 with a home run, a double and 2 RBI on Sunday.


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Published: 5/19/2009 12:10 AM

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Three years ago, the Cubs got off to a 9-5 start but lost their best hitter to an injury.

When Derrek Lee went down with a broken wrist in Los Angeles on April 19, 2006, that pretty much signaled the end of the season for the Cubs.

This year the Cubs lost their best hitter to an injury May 8, when Aramis Ramirez dislocated his left shoulder. The Cubs fell to the Brewers that night, but since then they've gone 5-2.

The 2009 roster is much deeper than the one that finished the 2006 season with a record of 66-96 and got manager Dusty Baker fired.

And unlike the '06 team, this bunch is starting to show signs it can pick up for Ramirez and stay in contention until he gets back, perhaps sometime in July.

There is no other choice.

"Without a doubt," said Lee, who went 4-for-5 with a homer, a double and 2 RBI in Sunday's 6-5 loss to Houston. "There are some guys who've had to really carry the load. I know myself, being in and out of the lineup and haven't been hitting, we need to get in there on an everyday basis and take the load off other guys."

Ramirez's injury isn't the only adversity the Cubs have had to overcome.

Lee has been bothered by neck problems. Milton Bradley was slowed by a groin injury for much of the first month. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano returns Friday from a stint on the disabled list. And catcher Geovany Soto has slumped while battling shoulder soreness.

With the exception of Ramirez, the Cubs will be at full strength beginning Friday.

Since May 9, the Cubs have gotten overall good results from the rest of the big hitters. Here's who is coming through and who needs to pick it up:

Derrek Lee: After getting an MRI on his neck May 11, Lee returned to the lineup the next night. Since coming back, he has gone 5-for-15 (.333) with a homer and 3 RBI in four games.

The Cubs desperately need Lee to pile up some extra-base hits and improve his slugging percentage from its current mark of .396. Coupled with Lee's on-base percentage of .300, he has an OPS of .696. His OPS last year of .823 was last among regular first basemen in the NL Central.

Kosuke Fukudome: After a miserable second half of 2008, Fukudome has returned to become the Cubs' most consistent hitter over the first six weeks. Since May 9, he's 12-for-27 (.444) with 6 runs scored and 2 RBI. His OBP of .454 ranks second in the NL, and his OPS of .989 is 12th.

Alfonso Soriano: Good health is the key for Soriano. He has hit 12 homers and driven in 25. Since life after Ramirez began, Soriano has gone 10-for-32 (.313) with 6 runs, 3 homers and 7 RBI.

Geovany Soto: After giving new meaning to the term "sophomore jinx," Soto has returned to the form that earned him Rookie of the Year honors. In seven games since Ramirez got hurt, Soto has gone 8-for-24 (.333) with 3 runs, a homer and 6 RBI.

Ryan Theriot: He has vaulted himself into the "big-hitter" category with his May power burst, which includes 5 homers. Since May 9, Theriot is 5-for-23 (217), but he has a four-game hitting streak during which he's 5-for-14.

Theriot has a pair of homers, 6 runs scored and 3 RBI since Ramirez went out. His season slugging percentage of .485 is far and away better than last year's mark of .359.

Mike Fontenot: He has seen the most time at third base since Ramirez went out. Whether he's pressing isn't known, but manager Lou Piniella may have one of his "nice chats" with Fontenot in St. Louis today before the series opener.

Fontenot is 1-for-20 (.050) since May 9. His last homer came May 3, and his last RBI was May 7. He's batting .204 for the season with 5 homers, 17 RBI, an OBP of .307 and a slugging percentage of .380.

And just in case you're wondering, former fan favorite Mark DeRosa is batting .242 with 6 homers, 25 RBI, an OBP of .313 and a slugging percentage of .416 with Cleveland.

We'll leave him for another day.