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Snap Judgment: Your First-Place Chicago Cubs

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Snap Judgment: Your First-Place Chicago Cubs
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A welcomed site for Cubs fans, even if it's only one game in.

COMMENTARY | Take a good look at that screen capture, and the Yahoo! Sportacular app will kindly inform you that the Chicago Cubs are in sole possession of first place in the National League Central. Pay your debts, folks.

The Milwaukee Brewers lost last night, and the 1/2-game lead--a full game in the loss column, mind you--is turning heads in Chicago the way the Chicago Blackhawks' point streak did last month.

OK, no it isn't. But if you're a Cubs fan, enjoy it. If you're not, mock it.

We can collectively agree we don't expect it to last, so here are some more snap judgments about your 1-0 first-place Cubs.

LIKE IT OR NOT, THIS IS THE FORMULA FOR SUCCESS

Early lead with run production from the top of the order + Gem from one of the top of the rotation guys + Hold on for dear life = The most likely way the Cubs will win baseball games this season.

Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run home run in his first at-bat of the season with Starlin Castro on base, Jeff Samardzija did what I expect of him this year, and the bullpen got through a shaky ninth inning to escape with a 3-1 win.

The Cubs are going to be ultra-dependent on the top of the order this year. David DeJesus has to get on base. Castro has to drive the ball the way he's shown he can. Rizzo has to adjust to however pitchers adjust to his 2012 success. And Alfonso Soriano has to put up the numbers he did last year for this team to win games. After the No. 4 spot in the lineup, things are not just fractured like in other NL lineups. Entire bones are missing.

That means it's unlikely for this team to put up many crooked numbers, and Samardzija and tonight's starter Edwin Jackson are going to be expected to put up zeros the way Samardzija did in the opener. After that, when in the lead, the Cubs' bullpen arms are going to be pitching with much less room for error than the majority of the league.

This is clearly not an ideal way to win games, but I'm struggling to find a more realistic one. The truth in this observation reveals the uphill battle the Cubs face this year.

THE DEFENSE UP THE MIDDLE …

… just got worse. Catcher Welington Castillo is unproven. Castro, though improved, has a proclivity to throw the ball into the stands from short, and DeJesus playing center field could make the manageable power alleys at Wrigley Field look as endless as neighboring Lake Michigan does from its beaches.

With Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney on the 15-day disabled list with a laceration on his left knee, an already-suspect defensive group up the middle takes a hit for the start of April. Barney made two errors at second last year. Fill-in Brent Lillibridge is halfway there after one game at second.

The bottom half of an already top-heavy lineup also got worse. Barney struggled batting in the two-hole last year (.214), but swung the bat reasonably well at Nos. 7 (.280) and 8 (.290). Lillibridge hit a combined .195 while dancing around three American League lineups last year.

DALE SVEUM IS MANAGING FOR THE NEXT OUT, NOT NEXT YEAR

Say what you want about expectations for the Cubs this year. Manager Dale Sveum managed Monday like he is making moves for a team he expects to compete this year.

When closer Carlos Marmol put three of the four batters he faced on base, the organizationally future-savvy thing for Sveum to do would have been close his eyes and pray for stray darts to hit the bull's eye, not draw attention to the fact that the closer the front office wants to trade wasn't able to make it through his first save opportunity by pulling him. He went and got Marmol, managed for the next out with James Russell, and I applaud him for that. Cubs fans wanting to see any semblance of decent baseball this year should do the same.

Sveum may or may not believe his team can compete this year. He'll understandably never reveal the latter, but the important thing is he's already showing winning baseball games early in the season is the priority over auditioning someone for a role in another city.

And one game in, that's why he's in first place.

Kevin Chroust has covered baseball and various other sports since graduating from Colorado State in 2005. He has been following the Cubs since age six when Mark Grace hit .647 in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinchroust.

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