When I say "this one", I don't mean the Cubs' 7th straight loss, 7-2 to the Padres this afternoon; I mean the entire construction of this team and thus, the way it has not been able to handle adversity and injuries.
We've been over this ground before, but Lou apparently decided that the reason the Cubs lost the NLDS to the Dodgers was that they didn't have enough lefthanded hitters. So -- and Jim Hendry did this with his last celebrity manager, Dusty Baker, too -- Hendry let Piniella dictate far too much the composition of his roster. Instead of simply tweaking a few things that might have been wrong with the 2008 Cubs (e.g.: replacing Daryle Ward with Micah Hoffpauir, getting another lefthanded reliever or two), they blew it up.
Now, "blew it up" is relative: it wasn't as if Hendry had a fire sale, jettisoning productive guys like Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. But he cut the heart (and when I say "heart", I'm referring to the center, not any amorphous touchy-feely thing) out of the bench and cut its versatility down to near zero. It seemed as if the Cubs got to the end of spring training and suddenly realized, "Hey, we don't have a backup shortstop and our fifth outfielder can't really play."
This worked fine until Aramis Ramirez got hurt and there was no backup. Then Hendry shipped off the useless Joey Gathright and got... another player Lou won't use, Ryan Freel. And if Freel was acquired with the idea that he could play third base, the reality is that the last time Freel played a significant number of games at 3B was five years ago; at age 33 and with back problems, I don't think he can really play 3B and be of any help, and Lou apparently agrees. Freel has started only two games in the two weeks he's been a Cub and is 1-for-10. Since the Cubs are basically paying him Joey Gathright's salary, I'd just let him go.
There are problems beyond this even with the lineups on the field. Len and Bob touched on this during the telecast today; the formerly-patient hitting Cubs have stopped having good at-bats and drawing walks. I'm keeping the "Walk Watch" box on the right sidebar for now, but the pace for the season total has dropped below 600. During the losing streak the Cubs have walked only 12 times -- not at all since Friday -- and six of those were in one game, the Friday game at San Diego where they left a ridiculous 13 men on base. Today, the game got somewhat competitive when Reed Johnson hit his first homer of the year to make it 4-2, but when Ted Lilly (who pitched, again, reasonably well) got in trouble, Aaron Heilman nearly got out of the inning save for one bad pitch to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who hit a three-run homer to put the game out of reach.
So what to do? BCB reader ambrosiadreams posted this thoughtful post not long after the game ended and I happen to agree with a lot of what's inside, but let me summarize, prioritize and add a couple of things to what I'd do with 120 games left -- that's still 3/4 of the season and if the Cubs could go 70-50, which isn't impossible, that'd still be a 91-win season.
First, let's end the David Patton experiment right now. And when I say "now", I mean "a week ago". Patton has a great arm and a fine attitude, but think about it. This afternoon's eighth inning, with the team down 7-2, would have been the perfect time to give him an inning of work, but he sat again anchored to the bullpen bench, guarding the pink backpack for the fifteenth day in a row.
Replace him with Jake Fox. Fox had two more hits today and his numbers are ridiculous: .425/.503/.897 with 17 HR and 50 RBI in 39 games. At this point I don't even care that he can't play defense; get him on the roster and put him anywhere so that this team can score a few runs. Plus, for more than two weeks the Cubs have effectively been playing with a 24-man roster; the blame for that lies squarely with the manager who won't use a pitcher who sits in the bullpen.
Count me in the camp that wants to reacquire Mark DeRosa. DeRo would solve a number of problems because he can play multiple positions -- granted, he's not the best defender, but he can play a passable third base and left field, which could free up other players... including Alfonso Soriano, who has offered to play second base if needed. Right now, maybe that's needed. Soriano wasn't a great second baseman during the five years he played it on a regular basis, but he does have 764 major league games played there and for a month, maybe he could do it. That could free up left field for Jake Fox -- he can't possibly be worse than Dave Kingman out there, can he? (OK, maybe he can. We still need his bat.)
The Cubs also have to think about acquiring a pitcher -- not a starter, because even during the losing streak, the starters have done a pretty good job. But the bullpen, particularly the middle relief as demonstrated by Heilman today, is in tatters. Kevin Gregg is going to get as rusty as Patton is; he has thrown only two innings during the losing streak. I'm not sure who is out there to acquire from a major league team, but maybe it's time to give Jeff Stevens a chance.
What made matters worse today is that I got a call from a friend of mine in California, a Padres fan, and the first thing I heard on the phone was, "Happy anniversary." Um, John? I didn't need that. And then I got a text from BCB reader bison, at the game in San Diego, who said HWSNBN was at the game (later on, I heard him on TV). Ugh. Leave him out there, please.
And yet. The Cardinals lost today to the Royals and if the Twins can beat the Brewers, the Cubs will remain only four games out of first place. As bad as things look, the team is at .500 (it feels like about 10 games under, doesn't it?); we know this team has talent and should be better than this. For an example of a talented team that got off to a bad start and recovered, we need go back no farther than the 2005 Yankees, who started 11-19 but wound up winning 95 games and the AL East. Or how about the 2006 Cardinals, who had two separate eight-game losing streaks and another of seven (the latter in late September, no less), and creaked into the playoffs with an 83-78 record.
You know what happened to them after that. There's a long way to go; things look bad now, but this team is better than they've played the last seven games. Perhaps the Pirates will be the cure.