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Series Preview: Chicago Cubs at Houston Astros

I like lists. We're going to break down how the Cubbies are doing before their journey to Minute Maid Park with Five Points:

1) Alfonso Soriano is hitting again - He didn't have the highest wOBA on Chicago's roster in May, but he came damned close. At .434, Soriano is a different player than the last time we saw the Cubbies. Back then, the team was supposedly considering releasing him. Now? He's carrying the offense and Derrek Lee is the one that might be traded. Soriano is still striking out at a staggering 28 percent of the time, but is making good contact. His line drive rate is 24 percent and he rarely hits ground balls. That might explain why he leads the Cubs with nine home runs after hitting just one in the first 14 games of the season. More impressively, Soriano currently has a 10-game streak of at least one strikeout in a game.  If there is good news to be had here, it's that he appears to be slowing up a bit. The 34-year old has just two line drives in his last 11 games and is hitting .230 over that span.

2) Carlos Zambrano is like Brian Moehler - Well, he was a starter, was sent to the bullpen and is now a starter again. So, yeah, he IS like Brian Moehler. Z disappeared into the Cubs bullpen after his demotion, never to be seen again. Well, that's a slight exaggeration, but he only threw 9 innings in 10 games during May. He struck out 7 and walked 2 during that stretch, so he found some success. That explains why his xFIP of 3.79 was much lower than his ERA of 5.00. Still, Z hasn't started a game since April 20th. A 73-pitch simulated game supposedly got him ready to go, but I wonder if he will be on a pitch count. Doesn't seem likely that he'll throw more than 100 pitches, right?

3) Mike Fontenot was the Cubs' best hitter in May - The fireplug second baseman lost half his at-bats to Starlin Castro, but has made the most of his time since then. In 54 plate appearances, he's got nine extra-base hits and a wOBA of .440. He's also cut his strikeouts in half from the past couple of seasons, so I don't expect this streak to continue. Still, he's a potent weapon off the bench for the Cubs and could see some time in this series against Felipe Paulino. After not starting for a while, Fontenot has started the past three games, moving between second and third base.

4) Uber-prospect Starlin Castro has made his splash -The 20-year old made waves first by picking up two hits (a triple and a home run) in his first big league game. He also lived in infamy for a couple three-error performances. So what's his story? Is he as good as Jason Heyward? Well, kinda, but not really. Castro has a slash line of .297/.340/.396. He's also saved one Defensive Run this season, though his UZR/150 is still in the negative. He's only had two extra-base hits since his debut and isn't showing off much speed. His walk rate is pretty bad, but his strikeout rate (12 percent) is decent enough for a player his age. His main asset/problem right now is he hits a ton of ground balls. The fact that his BABiP is at .321 is probably holding his batting average up where it is. If a few more of those grounders find opponents gloves, Castro could see a slump forming.

5) Ted Lilly is not as bad as it seems - Do not be afraid of Ted Lilly. I know, he's been the Cubs' best starter in the past. Since coming off the disabled list, he hasn't been the same. For one, his strikeout rate is down around 4.5. Secondly, his home run rate is only at 0.5, which is very, VERY low. Those two things mainly explain the difference between his FIP of 3.73 and his xFIP of 5.02. Throw in a BABiP of .255 and you can see why that 3.21 ERA is a bit deceiving. Of course, Lilly doesn't start this series, but it's good information to have.

For more info on the Cubbies, check out Bleed Cubbie Blue.