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Cubs concerns? Sure, but perspective needed, too
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist

Marlon Byrd's first-inning homer wasn't the only bright spot in the Cubs' 16-5 loss to Atlanta on Monday, and Carlos Zambrano's early exit wasn't the only negative, either.


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Published: 4/6/2010 12:14 PM

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ATLANTA - One thing is true about Opening Day in baseball: It's a lot easier to jump to conclusions about a team than it is to draw them after one game.

But such is the nature of Opening Day.

If the Cubs had lost 16-5 in the middle of July instead of Monday, not a lot would have been said.

But because it was Opening Day, with all of Chicago media at Turner Field and fans starving for games that count, the result drew swift and heated reaction.

On the Daily Herald's baseball blog, Chicago's Inside Pitch, suggestions included:

• Offering pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol in trades.

• Discussing third baseman Aramis Ramirez' opt-out clause in his contract.

• Talking about the possibility of trading first baseman Derrek Lee if the Cubs are out of the race.

All after one game.

That's not to say there aren't concerns - and serious ones - about this team.

But what's needed most is perspective.

The 2007 and 2008 teams each lost their season openers, but both went on to win division titles.

In '07, Carlos Zambrano gave up 6 hits and 5 runs in 5 innings in a 5-1 loss at Cincinnati. He was horrendous Monday, lasting only 11/3 innings and giving up 6 hits and 8 runs.

In 2008, relievers Kerry Wood and Bob Howry ruined a big debut by Kosuke Fukudome in a 4-3 loss to Milwaukee at Wrigley Field.

The '07 team finished 85-77 and won the National League Central by 2 games. The '08 team finished with the best record in the NL (97-64) and won the division by 71/2 games.

Predictably, Zambrano trotted out the line of, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish," after Monday's debacle.

Who knows? Maybe Zambrano gets too keyed up on Opening Day, and perhaps for that reason manager Lou Piniella should go with someone else. But if Zambrano stays healthy, there's no reason he can't or shouldn't have a good year. He entered this season with a lifetime record of 105-68 and an ERA of 3.51.

He denied being too emotional Monday.

"No, no, no, I was nice and calm," he said. "I was trying to do the job, and unfortunately I couldn't do it today."

The Cubs needed their "ace" to shut the door on the Braves, and he couldn't do it.

As far as other observations and concerns go:

• The offense managed just 5 hits Monday, 2 each by Fukudome and Ramirez and a 3-run homer in the first by newcomer Marlon Byrd to stake Zambrano to a 3-0 lead.

Piniella has voiced concern all spring about the need for the team to "swing the bats." Catcher Geovany Soto had a horrible spring training at the plate, and Monday he managed a pair of groundouts and a strikeout. Until Soto proves otherwise, the jury is still out whether he'll return to his Rookie of the Year form of 2008 or whether last year's down season is what the Cubs are going to get.

• Left fielder Alfonso Soriano had 2 weak groundouts and 2 strikeouts. He did not get down the line very fast on either of the groundouts. He says his surgically repaired knee is fine, but it's something to watch. One has to wonder why Piniella didn't put Tyler Colvin into left field after Colvin pinch hit in the seventh.

• The bullpen still has a lot to prove. Dependable lefty Sean Marshall had a lot of bite on his curveball and had 5 strikeouts in 22/3 innings of relief. Rookie left-hander James Russell looked comfortable on the big stage in his major-league debut, with 2 innings of shutout ball.

However, Jeff Samardzija, who lost the battle for a rotation spot, walked the bases loaded in the seventh and gave up 6 runs (4 earned) in just one-third of an inning. The Cubs want him to be more aggressive and display more of a reliever's mentality on the mound.

Rookie reliever Justin Berg also couldn't find the plate and gave up 3 walks. Berg caught the Cubs' attention in the minors and spring training by keeping the ball down. He may have been over throwing it and losing the sinking action on his pitches because of opening-day adrenaline. That bears watching, too.

The Cubs spent Tuesday relaxing in and around Atlanta. There are 161 games to go. That's either the good news or the bad news.