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Frustration Mounting for Cubs

June 1, 2007 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett needed a time out with the team struggling.
Let’s hope the current downtime being given to Michael Barrett, right, will stop him from going squirrelly again.

‘I don’t know what else we can do.’

A grade four student trying to invent time travel? A man trying to cure his wife’s habit of browsing shoes and handbags online? Nope.

Those words were uttered by Lou Piniella, just 51 games into his tenure as manager of the Chicago Cubs yet sounding very much like a man resigned to his lot in life.

And after getting swept by Florida this week ‘ by a composite score of 23-7 ‘ small wonder he’s getting frustrated. Before Wednesday’s debacle, a 9-0 shellacking that gave the Fish the series sweep, there was a players only meeting and an executives only meeting, the latter of which was attended by Piniella and ownership, getting the tongues wagging that something is awry in the Windy City.

Piniella, with his 20 years of experience and 1,500+ career wins, was brought in ‘ as part of a $300-million makeover this winter ‘ to turn this team into a winner. Well, they are currently on pace to top last year’s 66 wins by about three or four victories, but that’s not exactly what they had in mind, was it?

Something has got to give here soon. Michael Barrett appears ready to snap, and is taking three days off to clear his head.

Of course, we discussed the Cubs’ situation back in April when things also weren’t going to swimmingly. But we’re now into June and the situation grows more tenuous by the day. This team has dropped four straight and eight of its past 10 to fall to 22-29. Fortunately, they are still tied for second in the woeful NL Central, a topic we discussed earlier this week, so the good news is there’s plenty of time to fix this.

It’s got to start now, however. The Cubs have a weekend tilt against Atlanta at Wrigley, and given that they are just 10-15 at home, and that the Braves have won the past four series in Chicago, an instant recovery may not be in the cards.

Let’s examine some of the storylines that are affecting this club at the time being.

  • Alfonso Soriano struggled through a 2-for-14 series against Florida. Four homers in 45 games? Ah, that’s not why he gets the big bucks.
  • Ryan Theriot is a full-time player lost in a super-sub role, playing second, short, third and left field. By constantly shifting him around the diamond, the Cubs are throwing a different lineup out there almost every day.
  • Wade Miller, given the fifth starter gig out of spring training, didn’t last long before landing on the DL in late-April and he’s had to visit the surgeon who operated on him in 2005. Obviously, that doesn’t sound promising. And with Mark Prior unavailable to help out this year, the Cubs need to deal for some pitching. Could they move Matt Murton somewhere so he could get the starting job he deserves?
  • In an effort to shake up the lineup, clean-up hitter Aramis Ramirez and number five man Cliff Floyd swapped spots on Wednesday. A-Ram’s numbers are down slightly, but don’t forget he was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half last year. Floyd has been pretty productive this year, and is doing a great job of getting on base. The Cubs managed a mere five hits with Floyd at cleanup, but he got two of them. If this switch sticks for a while, Floyd’s RBI count will make him quite valuable.
  • No one doubts that the Cubs have the sticks to make a run, but they are currently ninth in the NL in scoring, and after batting just .204 in the Marlins’ series, more tinkering seems in order. Wednesday marked the second time this year this team has been shut out, and the convincing nature of the bitch-slapping really seems to suggest the Cubs have bottomed out. Or at least they hope so, anyways.
  • The bullpen has been bad, ranking 12th in the NL with a 4.44 ERA. In 8 2/3 innings vs. Florida, the pen gave up nine runs. Throw some kerosene on that, boys! The main culprits here are: Scott Eyre, getting battered at a .375 clip and giving up almost a run per inning; Bobby Howry, who has surrendered 30 hits in 24 2/3 innings; Neal Cotts, who failed as a reliever and was sent down to Triple-A to be converted into a starter (he may be needed back in the majors later this season in that role); and Will Ohman, but in fairness, he’s pitched better than his 4.85 ERA would indicate. Even swingman Angel Guzman, as solid as he’s been this season, has looked quite ineffective his last couple of outings. Should the pen continue to struggle, Carlos Marmol, pitching extremely well since his recall a couple of weeks ago, stands to benefit with greater responsibility.
  • Derrek Lee is suddenly in a tailspin. It’s hard to find fault with his game overall, but in the last nine games, his BA has plummeted from .394 to .352 and he’s fanned an uncharacteristic eight times in the last four games.
  • Staff ‘ace’ Carlos Zambrano has been anything but this season. It’s been impossible to determine which Big Z will show up from start to start. While he looked good against the Dodgers on Saturday, what can we expect from him tonight when he takes the mound vs. Atlanta? He’s 2-1, 4.29 in eight career starts against the Braves, but hasn’t beaten them in five years. Zambrano has somehow won five times, but his command has been awful and he’s getting battered around harder than at any time during his seven-year career.
  • Even Ted Lilly, as good as he’s been this year, has been roughed up in his last two starts. His peripherals, however, have been off the charts good this season. With 65 strikeouts against just 15 walks, Lilly is displaying command vastly superior to anything he’s ever done before.
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