Q1. We are at the unofficial quarter point in the season and Alfonso Soriano and Derek Lee have a combined 7 homeruns. Why a power shortage with those two?
That's a very good question. They've blamed the cold weather, but that's an excuse. Honestly, it hasn't been all that cold in Chicago so far this year, and the Cubs have played several games on the West Coast and in domes (Milwaukee). Lee's home runs are way down -- but his power isn't; his SLG is .534, above his career average of .501. He's second in the league with 19 doubles. The homers will come.
Soriano -- well, I'm not quite sure. Part of it may be from being shuttled around to two positions, and also from the hamstring injury that kept him out for a week and has slowed him down. But he is also near the league lead in doubles with 15. If these two do come up to their career norms, watch out.
Q2. Carlos Zambrano (photo) has a 5-4 mark so far. How much have all the off-field activities with his contract distracted him? Do you see him with the Cubs next season?
If you'd asked me the latter question a month ago, I'd have said "absolutely". Now I'm not so sure, although after Saturday's game in LA he seems back on track. If he doesn't have a great "walk year", I imagine he'll probably be wishing he'd signed the extension offered in spring training.
Is all of this a distraction? No, I think not. I think he's got some mechanical problems with his arm angle that are being worked on. He needs to keep throwing strikes the way he did in Los Angeles.
Q3. So far, how would you rate Lou Piniella's job as skipper of the Cubs?
If you want a letter grade, I'll give him a "B". His lineup shuffling reflects an intense desire to win. Unlike the previous occupant of that job, who would have kept sending the same people out there day after day to continue to fail, Lou won't sit still for failure. I like this. One of the Chicago papers today quoted one of his former players as saying "Lou wants to go 162-0 every year", which, of course, is impossible. Lou's got some 'out there' sort of ideas, which might even work, but I think he's playing mind games with both the media and his players when he, for example, says he wants Ryan Dempster to start, then retracts that a day later.
Q4. What areas must the Cubs improve upon during the season? Who are some hot names they may try to acquire during the season?
Bullpen, bullpen, and bullpen. Did I mention the bullpen? This Cub lineup will hit. And the bench is far superior to the one of the last couple of years. And the starting pitching has, in general, been outstanding. The bullpen is terrible, and that's being nice. They are 3-11, have nine blown saves (including two spectacular meltdowns in the last two weeks alone), and are this team's biggest weakness. I haven't heard that many "hot names" as being available -- but I do know I have repeatedly heard the Cubs are interested in Scott Linebrink. It'll cost a lot to get him, but I think they need him, and soon.
Q5. How would you compare this year's Cubs with last season's? What improvements have you seen so far?
There is absolutely no comparison. Last year's Cubs were the worst I have seen in 40+ years of being a fan, and that includes the 103-loss team of 1966 (that team, at least, had three Hall of Famers -- and should have four), and the awful teams of 1980 and 1981. The 2006 Cubs looked disinterested and played like it nearly every day. This year's team has made some baserunning and other mental errors, but they seem to be reducing them, and they do play hard, and when there are mistakes they get addressed immediately. That's the biggest improvement -- that Lou Piniella holds them accountable.
Q5a. One extra question I have to ask, what is your opinion about Barry Bonds and "The Record"?
You *really* don't want to get me started on this one, but I'll try to summarize. If Barry Bonds hits 756 home runs, he will statistically hold the lifetime home run record. In my opinion, that number is tainted. And it's too bad. I read "Game of Shadows", and it appears from what's written there that Bonds, supposedly, started doing steroids after the 1998 season because he was jealous of the attention Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were getting, when he felt *HE* was the best all-around player in baseball. He was right, but he didn't have to do a single steroid, if indeed he did so (it is my personal opinion that he did, but that is strictly my opinion).
He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer by the time the 1998 season had ended. I suppose it would be easier to forgive him, and maybe even root for him, if:
1. he'd come clean, and
2. he wasn't such a jerk, which is further made clear in "Game of Shadows".
There is a possibility, now that he's been in a HR drought, that he might have a shot at breaking the record at Wrigley Field when the Giants are in Chicago from July 16-19. That could be an ugly scene -- Bonds is generally despised everywhere but San Francisco, and Chicago is no exception. No wonder Bud Selig doesn't want to show up. The only consolation I have in knowing that Bonds is likely to break Hank Aaron's record is the fact that Alex Rodriguez will break it himself about six or seven years from now.
I want to thank Al for his time in responding.....it is very much appreciated....