The Chicago Cubs won the first two games of a four-game set in Pittsburgh before losing the final two, each by a single run. The team now sits a game above .500 heading into a big series in Cincinnati. Below are five thoughts following the Pirates series.
1. Addison Russell is here. The NL's new youngest player wasn't spectacular (yet), but he did have his first hits and a great RBI double. I love the promotion and his opportunity to learn on the job while playing for a team with a chance to compete now. I do believe Starlin Castro should remain at shortstop, at least until the All-Star Break, and probably the whole year. After that, if they want to find a way to move Russell to shortstop without trading Castro, I'd support that as well.
2. Kris Bryant will let the team know if/when he is uncomfortable. I'm sure the Cubs appreciate everyone's concerns about "putting too much" on Bryant's shoulders by having him hit 4th and play wacky positions like center field. But the kid is so confident in his talent, and he knows what he can and can't do. Although my fantasy lineup would benefit greatly from some LF eligibility for Bryant, if he's more comfortable in CF, then we should just trust everyone involved.
3. What will the Cubs do about the catcher situation? Getting a player like Matt Szczur back up from Iowa would help avoid the whole "Bryant in the outfield" thing and would be a lot easier if the team didn't have three catchers on the current roster. But it's a tough situation. Welington Castillo is obviously the one who will be moved eventually (if any are moved), but the team will not just give him away. Meanwhile, Castillo is hitting the ball well, while manager Joe Maddon loses flexibility within his roster. (By the way, why is no one talking about Junior Lake? I know he underperformed last year, but his spring was decent, and he isn't playing badly at Iowa.)
4. The bullpen quickly went from a strength to a problem. Guess what? Edwin Jackson and Brian Schlitter haven't magically gotten any better, despite the year changing to 2015 and injuries giving them chances to redeem themselves. I know it's shocking, but it's true. The good news is that Zac Roscup and Gonzalez Germen have looked good so far, so maybe there is still hope that this will get sorted out quickly. In the meantime, this team has got to cut its losses with Jackson and possibly give Schlitter one last chance in Iowa. The fans have reached our limit on Jackson's outings, I believe.
5. At least the Cubs aren't brawling with other teams. For a team that looked so awful for the first six weeks of 2014 (13-27 record on May 16), an 8-7 start is wonderful. If Jon Lester is the stopper he's being paid to be, the losing streak will end at two. Impressively, the Cubs were the last team to have a two-game losing streak this season. Bryant and Russell are starters, Jorge Soler looks like a veteran, and Castro has quickly become a leader. The team is clearly headed in the right direction, especially when compared to the other Chicago team. The White Sox are struggling at 6-9, and (former Cubs) ace Jeff Samardzija is fighting more consistently than winning. It's great to finally see the focus for the Cubs remain on the field.