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Monday, March 29, 2010
Updated: March 30, 12:24 PM ET
For Cubs, offense a question mark

By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com

Kosuke Fukodome
Kosuke Fukudome, along with Ryan Theriot, needs to cut down on strikeouts in 2010.
Will the Cubs score enough runs to be viable in the National League Central? That's the question Lou Piniella was asked on Monday. Piniella said the team should be able to score 800 runs in 2010, which would be an increase of 93 over its 2009 total. (The Cubs led all of baseball in runs scored in 2008, with 855.)

If the Cubs are able to score that many runs, the division race could be a lot more interesting than it was after August 2009, when the North Siders were passed by the St. Louis Cardinals on their way to a division title.

The return of Aramis Ramirez is probably the most important key to increased run production for the 2010 Cubs. Ramirez played in only 81 games last year due to injury, and assuming he's healthy this season, an extra 50 runs produced by the Cubs' All-Star third baseman should be an easy matter while he hits in the four hole.

Derrek Lee
Derrek Lee is coming off a career high in RBIs, but won't have to carry the offensive load for the Cubs in 2010.
No. 3 hitter Derrek Lee, who is coming off a career high in RBIs, will not have to carry the entire offensive load with Ramirez back and the additions of Marlon Byrd and Xavier Nady to the offensive mix. Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto both must have comeback seasons for the Cubs this year. Soto, after dropping 30 pounds in the offseason, should be penciled in for 15 homers and 70 RBIs. Soriano could easily drive in 90 with so many good hitters batting ahead of him. The top of the order, of course, will be the key to any increase in run production. Shortstop Ryan Theriot must get on base more often this season. The Cubs shortstop's on-base percentage fell to .343 last year -- his career OBP is .356.

Kosuke Fukodome's .375 on-base percentage in 2009 was eight points higher than his career mark. Both Theriot and Fukodome must cut down on their strikeouts -- 100 strikeouts for leadoff and No. 2 hitters is unacceptable. If they can possibly get on base and cut down their strikeouts, both could score 90 runs, which would be a sufficient amount for a very good offense.

Two wild cards that might make run production a little easier for Piniella's team is the aforementioned Nady and spring training sensation Tyler Colvin. Nady has big-time home run and RBI potential if the Cubs' management can get him enough playing time while he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Colvin has been the wonder child of spring training, and he may create a pleasant problem for Piniella, who has promised to get him into the starting lineup at least two or three times a week. Colvin's left-handed RBI-producing bat is something that's been sorely missing in the Cubs' lineup since Jim Edmonds was on the team in 2008. Colvin also puts pressure on Soriano and Fukodome to produce or possibly sit.

The Cubs' manager, who is in the last year of his contract, will play the individuals who produce and worry about hurt feelings later. Soriano has worked hard with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who has had a slow but impactful effect on the Cubs' hitters. Jaramillo's five-point plan of hitting fundamentals will take some players a little longer to catch onto than others.

Cubs' offensive strengths: Start with Jaramillo, whose teachings should keep players like Soriano, Soto and Fukodome away from any extended slumps. This team is also loaded with good right-handed hitting all the way through the lineup. The addition of Nady makes it even more potent.

Cubs' offensive weaknesses: Left-handed hitting and speed are noted weaknesses for this team. If Colvin can crack the regular lineup, the Cubs' balance of left-handed and right-handed hitters could be dramatically improved.

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! The lineup produces 850 runs; Theriot and Fukodome score 100 runs apiece.

Cubs Lose! Cubs Lose! A dearth of left-handed hitting continues to plague the offense. The Cubs once again are a station-to-station baserunning team that finishes last in the National League in stolen bases for the second year in a row.