Jbox has been kind enough to invite me to post my thought on this quickie 2-game series between the Padres and the Cubs -- unfortunately, we could not hook up before the series started, so I'll put the coda on this set....
Cubs fans don't have to look very far to find insults hurled at their team. You never know where you'll find them -- even in the Sunday Funnies!
So, I direct you to look up the Get Fuzzy strip from Sunday, April 15th. (I cannot link you to the exact site anymore) Go ahead. I'll wait.
Get Fuzzy, click on the calendar 4-15
(Darby Conly is a Red Sox fan. How soon they forget.)
See what I mean? If you want to make a point in futility -- and you want to use a sports metaphor, there is no other team that the masses, even the non-sports fan can relate to. There are worse teams, really -- The Lions, the Clippers, the Warriors, the Nationals, the football Cardinals, the Texas Rangers -- all sport a capital "F" for futility, but in no way would the cartoonist possibly use those franchise logs to make his point.
No, the Cubs -- alone -- are the be-all, end-all for ineptness. After all, we have the -- 'curse.'
And with the 99 years of baggage since a winning World Series, one that didn't even take place at the grandest of all baseball parks, Wrigley Field -- we enter (as Superstation WGN has dubbed it) 'A Season Of Hope.'
And, yes -- even with this 5-7 start, there IS hope. In what seems to an all-out attempt to win RIGHT NOW, the Cubs have opened their wallet and, as you know, have signed Alfonso Soriano, and other free agents such as Mark De Rosa, Ted Lilly, and Jason Marquis. This, of course -- all came before the Chicago Tribune company (owners of the Cubs, WGN, The Chicago Tribune, and other TV stations, including CW5 San Diego) announced a sale to Chicago businessman Sam Zell, who then announced the Tribune Company will sell the Cubs at the end of the season, so he will not be involved in baseball. (More on the sale, later.)
Yeah, some big-time dollars were expended here, especially for Soriano. But before you say 'these big market teams screw it up for everybody else!' I invite you to check Wrigley Field for some NL Championship Flags. That last one was 1945. Tribco, in my eyes has never spent enough, if you check -- they have been in the Top 10 in payroll, but rarely in the Top 5 -- so to say "The Cubs spend too much" is really a myth. They have made a splash in the free agent market every now and then -- but usually, the signing has been misguided. (Only the mid-level free agents such as Alex Karros, and Kenny Lofton have been successful, not bigger names. We can only hope Alfonso Soriano is the exception.)
This team prints money. I've always contended they should ALWAYS be in the top 3 -- not the top 5, the Top 3 in payroll. The payroll should be Yankee-esque, as far as I'm concerned. The resources were there -- but they refused to spend any cash, satisfied to be at about the middle of the pack in payroll. When they DID throw around dollars, the cash was misspent.
But, the big mind-set change came with the hiring of Lou Piniella, after team president John McDonough was installed in the position this winter. I have to admit -- I didn't really want Sweet Lou in the manager's chair. I was hoping the Cubs could latch on to Bruce Bochy, a manager whom I really gained respect for the longer I watched him work.
That wasn't to be.
Dusty Baker is a nice man. I'd love to have lunch with him. I'd love to talk baseball with him. I don't want him to manage my team, though. A so-called 'players' manager.' Read that to mean:
Anything goes in this clubhouse. Do whatever you want. Dusty had an excuse for everything. "Prior's hurt." "Wood's hurt." "Lee's hurt." Waddagonnado?
Yeah, there were injuries, plenty of them. But Dusty never, ever challenged his team to rise above the adversity. Poor, poor, Dusty. Dealt a bad hand. At spring training this March, I had the unique opportunity to meet with one of the Cubs beat writers, and he said:"Dusty's a great guy. Problem is, he still thinks he's a player. It wasn't going to work."
Dusty got lucky in 2003, and the expectations rose. And, being 5 outs from the World Series -- and falling short -- can haunt you. (As can OTHER playoff losses...)
Until NOW, the Cubs hung their hat on Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood. Unfortunately, those dogs won't hunt anymore, especially Prior. The San Diegan, in my eyes, will never pitch in MLB (successfully) again. I'm not one to make allegations, (ah, why not?) but the 2003 Mark Prior and the 2007 Mark Prior do not look (physically) the same. Read into that whatever you will.
Phil Rogers, of the Chicago Tribune via ESPN, has these thoughts:
He sees the future as promising
And, I'd have to agree. Lou Piniella is not afraid to start rocking the boat. He did so Monday night, shuffling the lineup, placing Jacque Jones in LF for the first time in a Cub Uni. Matt Murton, a promising young outfielder moved over to RF. Lou had his first mini-meltdown
the other day, when he was asked, after blowing a 5-0 lead to lose 6-5 to the Reds, what he thought about the game slipping away:
"How do you think it looked out there? You saw it." And he later added, "I now see why this team lost these type of games in the past."
Boy, that's a real hopeful sign. I've seen too many managers just blow it off with "We'll get 'em tomorrow," "Wasn't our Day" and other manager-speak type stuff. With his record (forget the Devil Rays) he's allowed to say this stuff, and I want to hear more of it. Finally, somebody is taking responsibility for a loss, rather than saying....."I don't know, dude."
The Padres may have the best bull pen in the NL. However, I'd stack up Bob Howry, Scott Eyre, Michael Wuertz, Neil Cotts and Ryan Dempster as another pretty good pen. (Dempster, as the closer hasn't yet been scored upon in 5 appearences; Wuertz and Cotts have also thrown up zeros.)
Carlos Zambrano has been up, and down, but "Z" usually rights himself. Rich Hill, the young lefty with the Barry Zito-esque curve is 2-0, with an ERA of .64. As you saw on Monday, Jason Marquis is back from the dead, and now has a dandy sinker. (Note to Cardinals fans: Bi-Polar Betty hasn't been spotted. Sorry.) Ted Lilly has been a jewel -- on Sunday, he pitched a 2-hitter through 7 but lost 1-0 to the Reds. That 5th starter -- well, it's Wade Miller -- for now. He did earn the spot over Angel Guzman in Mesa, but if Guzman can look as good as he did against the Padres in future games, he may become the 5th starter.
This line-up should score runs. Matty V was right, as he said Monday night, "...the Cubs offense, down for 2 weeks has come alive..."
Well, this team was way, way overdue to break out.
It's a much more patient team at the plate, too.
Alfonso Soriano will still be hacktastic at times, but with his skill, that's OK. (Many believe he should bat further down in the line-up.) Will playing out-of-position be a problem? Aramis Ramirez was off to the best start of his career, before a hand injury he incurred in Mesa flared up again. Mark De Rosa has been a surprise, providing much more punch. Derrick Lee -- one of the classiest players in all of MLB is off to a slow start, but he should come out of it. The LF platooon of Cliff Floyd/Matt Murton -- well, Floyd can hammer the ball, but he's a statue out there. Murton has amazing plate discipline, and most Cubs fans want the young man out there much more often. The much maligned Jacque Jones -- so inconsistent. A change of scenery might help him, but he really was signed for too much money. It's very hard to unload this guy. He hasn't quite caught the fancy of the Cubs fan -- quite the opposite, the wrath of the Cubs fan is what he has found.
And, there is another hurdle -- Higher expectations in Chicago. "Loveable Losers" isn't going to cut it anymore. There's booing at Wrigley. The White Sox have won. The Bears are winning. The Bulls are winning -- (everybody has forgotten about the Blackhawks) DO SOMETHING!
Dusty Baker couldn't change the culture of losing. In fact, he added to it. Lou Piniella will make a difference.
And, the future will bring a new owner. Names that have surfaced -- Jerry Colangelo, is one notable name (You should remember him as the owner of the World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks.) who is very interested. Some have said that Mark Cuban has quietly, off-hand said he'd be interested. (I don't see that happening) Ernie Banks is linked to another group of Chicagoans. In any event, the era of corporate ownership of the Cubs is going to end. And then --
all bets are off. The Cubs, as a franchise are still a sleeping giant. I eagerly await the future.
But until then, there's a game Tuesday afternoon.
Personally, I wasn't sold on Greg Maddux coming back to the Cubs, to be honest. He's not the HOF Maddux anymore. He still can be on (witness his last start) but those times are going to be less frequent. Granted, he pitched well for the Dodgers, but they were in a pennant race, and that may have helped. But given that, soft-tossers have given the Cubs all they can handle, so far this short season. Wade Miller has to prove he can handle the #5 hole in the rotation.
The Padres will be playing 3 games in about 42 hours, by my count, with travel included. That's rough, and a day game after a night game doesn't help. If I was a betting man -- I'd place it on the Cubs.
But, after all, I grew up in Wrigley Field. Somethings just don't change.
Thanks for the gig, guys.
Late word from cubs.com on Soriano's injury:Outfielder Alfonso Soriano will undergo an MRI on Tuesday on his left hamstring, which he strained on Monday night trying to catch a ball in center. His status was officially listed as day-to-day, but he may be sidelined for a few days.