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The Wheels On The Bus Are Falling Off, Falling Off...

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OK, I stole that line from Jeff, who used it last year...

And it's way too early to panic, what with the Cubs' record 12-12, hardly horrid (need I remind you: the 2002 World Champion Angels started 16-22).

But they are looking worse each day. Today's awful 9-3 loss to the Astros was bad on SO many levels, I hardly know where to begin.

Let me begin with the broadcasters, who are beginning to annoy me. I actually like(d) Bob Brenly because he knows the game, has a pleasant voice, and knows how to be a color commentator (i.e. knows when to talk and when not to) -- but I'm starting to agree with those who say they are apologists for management.

In the late innings, after the game was long lost, there was an extended shot of Jason Dubois in the dugout. What do we get? Thoughts that maybe Dubois might play?

No, what we heard was more of "he'll get his at-bats" and "Dusty's trying to find the right matchups".

Please. And especially today, when Todd Hollandsworth had another ugly-looking 0-for-4. Big deal, he had an outfield assist, his first of the year. He rainbowed a throw that Michael Barrett had to come up the line to field, and then reach back to tag Jeff Bagwell, hardly the game's fastest runner, out at the plate. On this play Bagwell ought to have been out by twenty feet, but Hollandsworth made it a close play.

Let's get Dubois in there every day for a week. How much worse could the results be?

Or maybe we should talk about the way the Cubs made the anemic Astros offense look good. In winning two of three, Houston scored eighteen runs in the three games. Before Friday, they had scored twenty runs in their six previous games, including being shut out three times, twice in a row by the Pirates, for heaven's sake.

This game was actually going along swimmingly, the Cubs leading 3-1 and cruising behind Mark Prior before Prior decided to throw what Patrick Michael, writing in the Cubs Usenet newsgroup, termed "the hawkins".

That's a good one -- wish I could take credit for it. But that's what we're going to call, from now on, a fat 0-2 pitch that should have been wasted and instead goes for a damaging home run. Prior threw not one, but two "hawkinses" in the fifth inning (one to Mike Lamb for a grand slam, Lamb's first home run this year, and three batters later, another to Adam Everett, all with two out), and as a result his lovely 0.95 ERA now reads 3.75, and the seven-run inning, biggest for Houston all year (heck, including today they've scored that many in an entire game only five times this season) pretty much ended the game.

Even when the Cubs attempted to get back into the game by getting the first two runners in scoring position -- that's right, second and third with nobody out -- in the sixth inning, the rest of the inning was oh-so-familiar; Neifi! popped out, Corey Patterson struck out swinging (where have we heard this song before?), and then Derrek Lee hit a fly to right; that would have scored a run if either of the previous two hitters had managed it.

But they didn't.

Or how about the ninth inning, game virtually over, the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out, only to fail to score for the second time in the game with the bases loaded. That's an ugly thirteen men left on base this afternoon. Twelve hits and three walks ought to generate more than three runs, but today all they could manage was an unearned run scoring on an error, and a Derrek Lee two-run homer. Luckily, Lee hasn't noticed that it's not April any more -- SHHH! Don't tell him! -- and he's now leading the NL in homers with 8, and with 30 RBI in 24 games, he's on pace for 203 RBI (yeah, I know, that's not going to happen, not on this team, anyway).

The pitching rotation is apparently going to be shifted around for the Milwaukee series, due to Monday's day off and the uncertain status of Kerry Wood (well, officially it's uncertain, but I have a feeling that certainty is going to manifest itself in a trip for Kerry to the DL in the next couple of days).

Carlos Zambrano will take his regular turn on Tuesday. Greg Maddux will throw on normal rest on Wednesday (instead of five days' rest on Thursday), and Ryan Dempster will likely be the starter Thursday afternoon.

That leaves Wood's regular turn coming up on Friday at home against the Phillies, and I'd suspect that Glendon Rusch, who threw two innings and fifty pitches today, will take Wood's turn in the rotation, on four days' rest, and continue there for a while.

The Brewers, who are not a very good team either, ought to be a remedy for the Cubs' woes. But then, the Astros should have been that as well. A corner had better be turned, and soon.

Finally, during the game I happened to flip channels for a bit between innings, and landed on the Braves/Cardinals game on TBS.

Will someone please explain to me who decided that this:

would look good on a major league baseball player as a game jersey? I thought my TV color balance needed to be adjusted. The Braves looked like a bad beer-league team. They won wearing them 2-1, which will only encourage them to do it more often.

The good news is that win was over the Cardinals, keeping the Cubs 3 1/2 games out of first place.

I keep saying that on off days, the brass had better sit down and figure out where this team is going.

One of these off days, maybe they'll even do it.