I was going to refrain from writing about the Chicago Cubs early this season, but after this weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals and watching tonight’s come from ahead loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, I can no longer hold my tongue or my typing prowess any longer. I have watched this Cubs team in person for 5 games now (1-4 record for the games I’ve attended) and watched pretty much every other game this season on TV and I have come to the conclusion that the Cubs are an unmitigated disaster.
(Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo)
Lets look at some of the numbers, just to make sure the assessment is not without empirical evidence. The Cubs are 3-8 at home. They are 0-3 in extra inning games. They are 0-5 in one run games. They are 0-3-2 in series wins at home. They are 1-4-2 in the 6 series they have played this season and are down the first game of the 7th series of the season. The Cubs are 7-12 overall for the season, 5 games behind the division leading Brewers and fading fast. To highlight how bad it has become for the Cubs, only the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals have worse records than the Cubs (both are 6-13) and both teams have actually been on an upswing as of late. If you take out the performance of Rich Hill, projected to be the 4th starter this season, the Cubs have only 4 wins this season. Four.
Now the naysayers and optimists of the world are saying “C’mon SportsMaven, the Cubs have played only 19 games this season. It’s too early to write them off.” Well maybe so, but the signs are not encouraging to say the least, and when you spend in excess of $300 million in the offseason, 7-12 is not satisfactory at any point in the season.
Just to point out some of the weak points in the Cubs season, you don’t have to look very far:
1. The Cubs outfield situation is a mess. LF Alfonso Soriano gets hurt 12 games into the season (slight tweak of his left hamstring). Felix Pie is called up play CF. That leaves LF and RF for a combination of Matt Murton, Cliff Floyd, and Jacques Jones — until Soriano comes back and management says that he will play LF to protect his hamstring injury. Cubs management also says that Felix Pie will play as well, in CF for the Cubs. That leaves the Cubs with 3 RF’s and a messy rotation in the OF. Pie will eventually be sent back to Iowa leaving the original mess that started the season.
2. The Cubs setup men are a disaster. LP Scott Eyre, with a 15.00 ERA after tonight, giving up the tying runs in the 8th inning on a HR by Brewers 1B Prince Fielder ( a left handed batter) and a couple of hits by left handed batters to score the second run. RP Bobby Howry has given up key hits in the late innings to blow leads and ultimately to lose games. Factor in LP Will Ohman’s 40 ft. curveballs, and walking in two runs in an inning against the Cincinnati Reds to lose that game, the set up men in the Cubs bullpen are losing games at an alarming clip.
3. The Cubs defense and baserunning are atrocious. Soriano has been picked off 3 times in key situations in the last 9 games. Apparently Ronnie Cedeno overuns second base on a WALK and gets tagged out. The Cubs have committed so many baserunning gaffes this season (and mind you, it’s only 19 games into the season) they have already had to dispatch baserunning instructor Bobby Dernier to get this fixed. The defense has been terrible as well. Sure handed SS Cesar Izturis commited 3 errors — in ONE GAME. 2b Mark DeRosa drops a sure out infield popup, allowing an inning to keep going and for the eventual winning runs to score later in a loss to the Reds. Jacque Jones still can’t hit a cutoff man.
4. The #1 starter (Carlos Zambrano) with 16 walks/16 strikeouts and a 7.77 ERA entering tonight’s game and the #5 starter (Wade Miller) with a 10.54 ERA giving up a whopping 24 hits in 13 IP this season. Zambrano will come around, so not as concerned about his early season struggles, but it may be time to move RP Angel Guzman (2.45 ERA) into the #5 slot in the rotation.
5. The Cubs have been killed by lack of clutch hitting, as noted by the one run and extra inning record noted above. Latest case in point — tonight’s game. The Cubs had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the 7th and failed to score. Had the go ahead run on 2nd in the 8th and 10th and failed to score. Had a runner in scoring position in the 11th and failed to score. Had the tying run on base in the 12th and failed to score. That’s a lot of failure in the clutch. And that’s just ONE game. This has been a trend in most of the games this season. The hitting, the clear strength of this team, has been a no-show for most of the season.
Amazingly, the Cubs are losing in the midst of some very strong performances by key question marks, specifically:
1. The “weak” spots of the starting rotation have come up big time: LP Rich Hill leads MLB in wins (3) and ERA (0.41) and batting avg. against ( .192) LP Ted Lilly is the hard luck pitcher in the rotation, 1-2 record with a 2.42 ERA. His 2 losses were a 1-0 decision against the Cincinnati Reds and a 2-1 loss against the St. Louis Cardinals. Lilly is leading the NL (and 5th in MLB) in strikeouts (30). RP Jason Marquis is having an outstanding season so far, with a 2-1 record, 1.88 ERA, including 7 shut out innings against the Cardinals last Saturday.
2. 1B Derrek Lee and 3B Aramis Ramirez have been in the NL Top 10 in batting average all season long, both starting the season hot with Lee hitting .360 and Ramirez hitting .340. SS Ryan Theriot has also been on a tear, hitting .340 as well.
3. RP Michael Wuertz has been completely lights out unhittable….in the Will Ohman walking in runs game against the Reds, Wuertz enterted the game with the bases loaded with no outs and proceeded to strike out the side. Wuertz has a 0.00 ERA, 13K’s in 11 IP. Masterful.
4. The Cubs have scored the second most runs in the division (87) and given up the second fewest runs in the division ( 77) and are still in last place….go figure.
So, 19 games into this wonderful season and the Cubs are on pace for a 56 win season, 10 less than last season’s drive to the basement. Makes you pine for the salad days of Dusty Baker…… the old saying goes “you can’t win a championship in April, but you can certainly lose them in April. If that holds true, we will be in year 100 of the latest 5 year rebuilding plan by Memorial Day.