It’s been a long while since the last time we stopped to take a look at the state of the Cubs, and given their inspired play on this current road trip, you can see why.
After a great start to the second half, the Cubs have muddled along on their longest trip of the season through Miami, Cincinnati and Denver.Â A win tonight would make them 5-5 on the trip, which isn’t bad.Â Not great, but not bad.Â But it’s the way they’ve played, especially since Wednesday in Cincinnati that’s so alarming.
Far be it from me to accuse a team of not caring, but they’re certainly playing like it.
It’s not a matter of not “showing fire” or whatever that bullshit that gets thrown at teams, normally when they’re having a hard time scoring.Â It’s a matter of actually…uh…running.Â By now we’ve seen Alfonso Soriano single off an outfield wall so many times we almost don’t notice.Â But it’s not just him (not that it would be OK if it was just him, but you know what I mean.)Â Milton Bradley plays every ball hit to right field with disdain.Â Ryan Theriot couldn’t be troubled to run hard from second to home on Saturday night because he didn’t think he had to.Â Aaron Miles fucked up a double play the other night because instead of catching the ball and setting his little toddler feet he just tried to sling the ball across his body while in mid-air.Â Mike Fontenot doesn’t know where or how to cover second base.Â Ryan Dempster can’t be troubled to cover first base.Â Maybe if there was a railing between the mound and the bag he’d try to jump over it, just for fun.
I give Bob Brenly credit.Â When he first took over for Steve Stone in 2005, people seemed concerned that he wouldn’t be as free to criticize the Cubs as Stone the Sage was.Â Forget that Stone wasn’t really all that critical of any player or manager until he could be assured they were certain to be gone soon.
Bob has had his moments, and he had one on Saturday in which he just lost it and started yelling about the Cubs can’t be troubled to run hard even once or twice a game.
He was, of course, completely right.
So let’s hope that Lou’s hissy fit near second base yesterday fires the team up, and they go on to play inspired ball the rest of the way, and win not only a very winnable division but league.
And now, let’s also ponder the absurdity of a 65 year old man having to inspire a bunch of millionaires by nearly falling down trying to run 200 feet from the visitor’s dugout to second base to argue a call so blatantly blown by the second base umpire that you have to wonder about the visual acuity of the man.
We’ve sat through a lot of crap so far this season.Â We’ve seen good players get hurt, bad players play too much, we’ve watched the left fielder passively refuse to move out of one spot in the batting order, only to thrive when he finally was moved.Â We’ve listened to the right fielder blame everybody but himself for everything.
But this latest rash of poor, and downright lazy play is by far the worst.Â If they can’t even fake like they give a shit, then why should any of us?
And with that bit of inspiration, let’s take our tour around the roster for a team that is still only two games out of two chances at a playoff spot.
Carlos Zambrano — I will start this entry on Carlos by pointing out the obvious.Â That Dave Kaplan is complete moron.Â He’s also figured out the only way he can attract any attention to his lousy excuse for a blog is to attack Carlos Zambrano.Â The simple retort to Kaplan’s lunacy is that Zambrano was given a large contract by the Cubs that is completely in line with his success on the field (fourth most wins in baseball since he became a full-time starter), his durability (he’s averaged 33 starts per 162 games in his career) and his age (he’s 28).Â So, in other words, as we’ve known for some time, Dave Kaplan is a fucking idiot.
Ted Lilly — Zambrano is currently on the disabled list, and he’s joined there by the Cubs’ lone All-Star in 2009, Ted Lilly.Â Lilly had been struggling with a sore knee, and when he came down with a case of shoulder tendonitis (yes, you can catch it just like a cold), the Cubs put him on the DL and had him get his knee fixed.Â He’s due to come back next week.Â The Cubs have patched his spot together pretty well, with Kevin Hart winning twice and Tom Gorzelanny once (of course as I write this, Gorzelanny is being ripped a new one by the Rockies and just fell off the mound and threw a ball backwards, so…awesome.)
Ryan Dempster — Dempster just got off the disabled list a couple of weeks ago, after he broke his toe by falling over the dugout railing after a Cubs win.Â He pitched terribly in his first start off the DL, but has been good since.Â He makes a lot of money ($52 million over four years with a no-trade clause), is older, hasn’t been as durable or as successful as Zambrano, but the same people who think Zambrano is the scourge of the city don’t have any problem with Dempster’s contract.Â Could that be that Dempster never met a reporter who’s ass he wouldn’t kiss?
Rich Harden — After a pretty lousy first-half, Harden has been excellent in the second half, but he did manage to give up a two run homer to Scott Rolen the other day and Rolen was two days off of being drilled in the head by a Jason Marquis pitch, and he has since had to literally had his head examined further because he’s drooling on himself like Troy Aikman.Â There was some talk about only having Harden pitch at night and on the road, but people are generally dumb and apt to talk about stuff like this.Â That doesn’t mean we have to listen to any of it.
Randy Wells — The Cubs rookie has been their most consistent starter since Lilly got hurt, and actually he’d been their consistent starter for a while before that.Â Wells gets by with an average fastball that he can pretty much throw where he wants and an above average slider that he also can throw pretty much wherever he wants.Â Somebody ought to take a DVD of Wells pitching, put it in a metal box and beat Jeff Samardzjia over the head with it until he figures that out.
Tom Gorzelanny — The Cubs needed to add a lefty reliever so that Sean Marshall had some company in the bullpen and they worked out a deal with Pissburgh that netted them that reliever and Gorzelanny.Â He pitched great in his last ten starts at AAA Indianapolis for the Pirates and then threw a great game for the Cubs against AA Cincinnati, but the Rockies bent him over and reminded him that if he’s lucky he might someday become a poor man’s Greg Hibbard.Â (If you’re wondering, that’s not a good thing to be.)
John Grabow — One of the great things about baseball is that you can find a statistic that will defend any argument you want to.Â Want to prove Albert Pujols sucks?Â There are five teams who he has hit less than .200 against so far this season (HOUÂ .133; COLÂ .071; FLA .167; DET .167; PHI .190).Â Want to prove that John Grabow can’t get lefthanded batters out?Â Point out that his batting average against is higher right now against lefties (.263) than it is against righties (.223).Â And ignore the fact that over the last three years lefties have hit hi far worse than righties do, and that even this year lefties are hitting him with almost zero power (two doubles and one homer in 67 plate appearances), and that his strikeout to walk ratio is much better against lefties (18:8) than against righties (25:24).Â But that’s fine, you’re numbers are better, because they took you almost no effort to find and cling to them.
Carlos Marmol — You want weird numbers?Â Guys hit .169 against Marmol in the first half with almost no power (.261 SLG) and those numbers have gone down in the second half (.162/.216), but guys reached base on him in the first half at a ridiculous .380 clip, and while it’s down in the second half, it still sucks (.340).Â When he throws strikes, like he did Saturday in Colorado, you have no chance.Â When he doesn’t (like most of his other appearances) you still aren’t going to hit him, but if you just stand there he’ll either walk you or hit you (49 walks and 10 hit bastsmen in 57 innings.)Â Guh.
Kevin Gregg — He was cruising along as the Cubs most dependable reliever until he filled his pants on back to back nights in Florida last weekend.Â The Cubs blamed it on a tired arm, and that was probably somewhat true, but the way his former team, the Marlins, jumped on him, especially on his slider (Dan Uggla’s ninth inning homer on a slider looked like Reynel Pinto going after a porkchop) made me wonder if he was tipping his pitches.Â After the Cubs left Miami, one of his buddies on the Marlins told him that indeed he was and they knew when his slider was coming.Â Still, the one he threw to Uggla was flatter than Kate Hudson, so it probably would have been annihilated regardless.
Angel Guzman — What’s more alarming, that he’s the same age as Zambrano and just finally now making his way in the big leagues, or that he stole Jose Ascanio’s glasses and made that poor dope go to Pissburgh without them?
Jeff Stevens — One of the three guys the Cubs got when Hendry tried to make the Cubs leftists and dumped the greatest utility player of all time on Cleveland, Stevens put up good numbers at Iowa, but he walked too many guys, and he’s put up bad numbers in Chicago (ERA over 7.00) because he’s walking too many guys (5 walks, 6 K’s.)Â He’s also the only guy named Jeff Stevens ever to pitch in the big leagues.
Jeff Samardzija — People are getting impatient with Samardzjia, which is just dumb.Â He’s still very young (24) and hasn’t pitched all that much.Â Obviously he didn’t play fall baseball at Notre Dame because he was busy being an All-American football player.Â Spring baseball season in the Big East is pretty short.Â He made it to the big leagues just two years after being drafted and was pretty solid last year.Â There’s really no good reason why he’s not at Iowa learning how to pitch, instead of sitting in the Cubs bullpen, except of course that the Cubs are trying to justify the big contract they gave him to give up football and play for them.Â Oh, and he’s also the only guy named Jeff Samardzija to pitch in the big leagues.
Sean Marshall — His stats as a reliever make it seem like he’s far better suited for the bullpen, but you know what?Â That’s the truth.Â As a reliever he’s got a 1.21 ERA and batters are hitting .184 against him with an anemic .559 OPS.Â As a starter?Â 5.24 and .288.
Aaron Heilman — Sucks.
(Oh, and to the guy who gave that passionate defense about how Lou just misuses him, and how he’s so much better when he has two days rest between relief apparances…you know who else he has that in common with?Â Every other pitcher in the history of the world.Â What makes you a good reliever is the ability to pitch effectively and often.)
Derrek Lee — I admit I was one of the dumbass chorus in April calling for Derrek’s head (though, thankfully I never advocated starting Micah Hoffpauir), and since May he’s been the best player on the team by…a lot.Â He’s hitting for power, he’s getting on base, he’s hitting for average, he’s playing great defense and except for his habit of sliding late into bases and hurting his neck, he’s durable, too.Â He’s got another year on his contract and suddenly that doesn’t seem like a bad thing any more.
E-ramis Ramirez — His shoulder injury in April looked like it doomed the Cubs until he came back in July and the Cubs crawled back into first.Â But he’s hurt again, though not as seriously, and he’s joined on the infirmed list by far too many of his teammates.Â When he’s played this year he’s been great.Â It just hasn’t been enough, and it’s starting to look like hasn’t been enough is going to change to wasn’t enough pretty soon.
Ryan Theriot — I was also fond of saying that Ryan Theriot’s a good player, just not a shortstop and I’m going to stop qualifying it.Â He’s just not that good.Â He’s the king of the hollow stat.Â He’s learned to post a good batting average and a decent on base average, but it really doesn’t overcome his terrible baserunning and his far below average defense.Â The Cubs are supposed to be a team built around pitching and power, and it’s curious to try that approach while throwing middle infielders out on the field every day who can’t cover any ground and just don’t make very many plays.Â He’s a crowd favorite because he looks like he’s trying really hard.Â We need a smarter crowd.
Mike Fontenot — Jim Hendry put a lot of faith in Fontenot by basically giving him the second base spot and Fontenot rewarded him by proving he’s not really very good.Â His batting average is 77 points lower than last year, his on base average is 97 points lower and his slugging average is 130 points lower.Â He covers no ground at second base, he doesn’t know how to cover the bag at second on steals and he offers no value as a baserunner.Â Other than that, he’s fucking awesome.
Aaron Miles — Is worse than Fontenot.Â By a lot.
Jeff Baker — He’s taller than Fontenot and Miles, maybe combined.Â But he sucks, too.Â Second baseman can’t be that hard to find, but the Cubs have only found guys who can’t play it.
Andres Blanco — He’s pretending to be hurt so he can hide on the DL until September 1.Â If Miles, Fontenot and Baker aren’t going to hit (and they’re aren’t) you might as well play Blanco, since he has a skill that the Cubs need.Â He’s a great defensive player.Â It wouldn’t be the worst idea to play him at short every day and move Theriot to second.Â I don’t think that will happen, and this offseason the Cubs have to find a second baseman who can actually play.Â It’s not Fontenot, Miles, Baker or Blanco, either.
Geovany Soto — He’s not in sophomore slump, he flunked out.Â He showed up fat and lazy and he got hurt.Â He got healthy and slowly started to play well and got hurt again.Â He was the rookie of the year last year, but honestly, how can the Cubs have any confidence that he’s going to get back to that level?Â What has he done this year to show that it’s going to happen?Â Unless you are a Molina you don’t get to be sloppy fat and expect to be able to play every day.
Koyie Hill — He filled in admirably for Soto, but he can’t hit, he’s never been able to hit and he will never hit.Â The fact that he had to catch 25 games in a row should be a profound embarrassment to the franchise because it shows that they have no depth in their farm system.Â After 10 years of Jim Hendry working in the organization the Cubs farm system is a laughingstock.Â And when they can’t produce as passable third baseman or catcher to fill in for an injured player it’s a reminder that the system sucks, and it costs the team games.Â Sometimes lots of them.
Jake Fox — Maybe the Cubs actually did have a passable third baseman/catcher in the system, but if it was Jake Fox they sure acted like it wasn’t him.Â This is a team that used Fontenot, Bobby Scales, Ryan Freel, Baker and Hill at third before they finally gave him a shot at it.Â When they did, they found out he wasn’t terrible there, and since he was the only one of that bunch that could hit he’s actually kind of useful there.Â Fox has been great, and he’s proven to be competent (though not much more than that) in the outfield, at third, at first and even behind the plate.Â Proof once again that the Cubs are so used to not having anything in their system that when they actually do it surprises them.
Alfonso Soriano — I was one of the dopes who was excited three years ago when the Cubs finally put on their big boy pants and signed the biggest name free agent on the market.Â That was the problem, he was just the biggest name, not the biggest talent.Â He’s a tragically flawed player with flashes of awesomeness that are too often overshadowed by his day to day mediocrity.Â When he’s hot, like he was for most of July he’s a sight to behold.Â When’s hot not hot he’s a disaster.Â I don’t even mind the disaster as much as it just kills me to watch him never hustle.Â Ever.Â It’s like he’s going for negative hustle points.Â If he hits a ball that’s going to just miss being a homer it’s going to be a single.Â Oh, he might try to make a double after moonwalking down to first, but he’ll be out.Â After two years of leg injuries he’s given up trying to steal bases.Â I think way too much was made of him not wanting to leave the leadoff spot and I think a lot of that was media fueled.Â When Lou finally moved him down to the six spot and left him there, Alfonso hit.Â Now Lou won’t move him out of that spot, and so you get the surreal sight of seeing Soriano bat behind assclowns like Soto and Micah Hoffpauir on occasion.Â And despite all of his huge flaws, he’s still one of my favorite Cubs.Â Why?Â Because I’m a fucking idiot.Â And I like typing FYC when he does something good.
Kosuke Fukudome — I would love to find out that Kosuke’s interpreter hides the fact that Kosuke just rips the Cubs every day, and that his typical postgame answer is something like “These stupid fucks don’t have a clue how to play baseball.Â I’m embarrassed to play with these dumbasses.Â I can’t believe I have to play center field because a 120 pound Dominican named after a dessert coudn’t hit and because they signed a fucking crazy asshole to play the outfield and he can’t play center because his knees will fall off.Â I want to kill myself.Â I hate all of you people.Â Chicago sucks, too.Â Your sushi sucks.Â You put fucking tuna in your sushi rolls.Â What the fuck is wrong with you people?Â I hope Godzilla emerges from that stupid lake and stomps on all of you this winter.”
Sam Fuld — I hate to break it to Cubs fans, but Sam Fuld isn’t good.Â He’s not even close to being good.Â And not just because he looks like the husband on The Little Couple.Â Well, maybe because of that.
Reed Johnson — Reed broke his foot and played two more innings on it.Â So even the tough Cubs are dumb.
Milton Bradley — Jim Hendry allegedly brought Bradley in because the team needed some lefty thump and an “edge.”Â They got an edge alright.Â But it hasn’t taken too long to realize that Bradley’s intensity and his tantrums have nothing to do with the team, and everything to do with his failures.Â Milton only cares about one thing, and it’s hard to believe that one thing is winning.Â None of this makes the other right field off-season candidates better.Â It was insane for the Phillies to give a three year deal to 37 year old Raul Ibanez.Â Adam Dunn isn’t comfortable in any position other than prone.Â Bobby Abreu was probably the lesser of four evils.Â But the real kick in the ass is that Bradley signed a three year, $30 million deal with the Cubs when his only other offer was two years and $15 million in Tampa.Â Nice negotiating there, Jimbo.
Lou Piniella — The fact he’s kept this mess within three games of first with 52 games left (and only 15 against teams with a winning record) is amazing.Â But you start to think that unless this team makes some real changes in the offseason, the kind of changes that Jim Hendry doesn’t seem willing, or capable of making that Lou will probably bolt with a year left on his deal.Â And at this point, I don’t think I can blame him.
Jim Hendry — The last 10 months or so have not been Hendry’s finest hour.Â This was the first offseason when he actually had a financial limit to work with and he botched it.Â He downgraded the roster in an attempt to “fix” it.Â In the past he’d always been able to outspend his mistakes, but this year there was no extra money to work with, and the situation called for something creative, and Hendry wasn’t up to it.Â His farm system is laughably slim, the only trades he seems to be able to make are the ones where the Cubs take on a bad salary from another team and he continually overpays for free agents.Â Other than that, he’s great at this job.Â He’ll be under the gun if a new owner ever shows up, until then?Â The Cubs are stuck in a limbo as the door for this group winning anything important slams shut.
For all of the pessimism, the Cubs are still in it.Â Although they’re starting to teeter.Â The upcoming homestand could make up for the 4-6 road trip, and if it doesn’t, they’re starting to run out of time.Â Because while the Cubs have a favorable schedule, the Cardinals’ is even more so.Â They’re left with only 11 more games against winning teams.