At no time this season has anyone taken the Chicago Cubs seriously as National League pennant contenders, even though the club went 21-10 prior to the July 6 All-Star break. The problem is a combination of not enough balance, not enough good players, and a pitching staff that has given Manager Lee Elia only four complete games so far. But Chicago does have one of the top relievers in baseball in 25-year-old Lee Smith, a towering right-hander who usually keeps his bullets in the strike zone. The number of teams that have tried to pry Smith loose from the Cubs in trades is now said to be in double figures.
Earlier this year, after Elia foolishly blasted Chicago fans in the press for their lack of baseball knowledge and patience, Lee had to have his foot removed from his mouth by General Manager Dallas Green, who literally saved his job. However, Elia might not be safe next year, even though he is basically a solid baseball man. In fact, Lee's chances of returning may hinge on how interested Rene Lachemann, fired recently by the Seattle Mariners, is in helping to rebuild the Cubs.
Part of Chicago's offensive problems may stem from too many streak hitters (Ron Cey, Keith Moreland, Jody Davis, etc.), whose flash-or-crash ways often make things tough on managers. Yet only two other National League teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, have hit more homers this season than the Cubs.
Cey, the former Dodger who started poorly at the plate this spring in his first year with Chicago, deserves a lot of credit for the way he has battled back despite injuries that probably would have sidelined most players. Moreland, who doesn't usually hit for average, has done this so far while also staying close to the club leaders in runs batted in. And Davis, who tied a club record with two grand slam home runs in June, is already one of the best young catchers in baseball.