This recap isn't going to be much about last night's game, which was lost despite a pretty good outing from Ryan Dempster and Derrek Lee's 24th HR. Instead, I'm going to say "J'accuse" at team management, because it's necessary. We have been over the many failures of this team on this site numerous times, but I thought it would be instructive to go over all of them in one place, right here, and to point fingers -- yes, I want to point fingers -- at the two men most responsible for this debacle: Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella.
The Cubs lost their 2008 postseason series in a sweep to the Dodgers and looked bad doing it. In so doing, LA used not a single lefthanded pitcher. Thus, manager Lou Piniella declared (perhaps not in these exact words, but the message was clear): "We're not lefthanded enough."
Thus armed with a mission from his field manager, Jim Hendry set out to make the team more lefthanded, and to make other adjustments.
He set his eyes on a lefthanded hitting, power-hitting, run-producer for the middle of the lineup, since his previous year's acquisition to do just that (Kosuke Fukudome) had failed at the task. In order to acquire one, it would be necessary to clear off some contract space, because there would not be an unlimited 2009 budget. Therefore, a useful fifth starter (Jason Marquis) and a valuable hitter (Mark DeRosa) were traded and Milton Bradley was acquired. This created holes in the rotation and offense, and Bradley was paid far more than a couple of the alternatives (Raul Ibanez and Bobby Abreu) would have commanded had Hendry waited a while. Had he done so, he might have been able to sign Abreu and keep DeRosa. Though Bradley is a useful player, he has not done what Piniella and Hendry expected, and that has left holes in the offense most of the year until Lou finally figured out that Bradley could contribute batting second.
It was further decided that last year's closer, Kerry Wood, should go get more money from another team (his "reward") instead of offering him arbitration to stay, and another closer, Kevin Gregg, was acquired by trade. We all know how that worked out. While Wood has not had a good year in Cleveland, it is impossible to know how Wood, whose family lives here and who has a strong emotional connection to the Cubs, would have done in another year on the North Side. He has remained healthy -- in fact, his only injury last year was not related to his elbow trouble -- and certainly would have been a better choice than Gregg, who, although he did have a couple of decent months, has been pretty bad.
The trade of DeRosa led to the signing of Aaron Miles, who we were told would replace DeRo as a versatile bench player. He has been nothing short of awful. For those who will call me a "DeRomantic", I point out simply this: he has had a good year with Cleveland and St. Louis, and would have been a useful fill-in while Aramis Ramirez was out.
Further, there is the issue of team leadership. This is an unmeasurable factor that drives statistically-oriented people nuts; however, I have absolutely no doubt that it exists and it does matter. DeRosa and Wood were team leaders and DeRo's positive clubhouse presence was noted by several Cardinals within days of his acquisition. Without those two, this team has no leadership. In that sense, I compare it to the 2004 team, which lost its 2003 leaders -- Damian Miller and Eric Karros -- for somewhat similar reasons. Miller was dumped, despite the fact that the pitching staff loved him, for Michael Barrett because Hendry thought a catcher should hit better than Miller, who had a bad offensive season in '03. About the only off-season move that truly worked was letting Henry Blanco walk and naming Koyie Hill backup catcher. With Geovany Soto not hitting and injured (and how you let a guy like that show up as out of shape as he was is beyond me), can you imagine where the Cubs would be if Blanco had been his backup this year? Hill caught 26 games in a row and the Cubs went 16-10, despite Hill hitting only .194 in those games.
Hendry and Piniella, of course, are not responsible for the large number of injuries that have hit this team -- but Hendry, at least, IS responsible for not putting together a roster that could take injury depletion better. There is no doubt that standing pat on a playoff team is not wise -- the Cubs did it in 1999 with their '98 wild card team and failed miserably. However, I maintain my position that Hendry took a 97-win team that simply went cold for three bad days at the worst possible time and blew it up for the wrong reason.
Then there's the matter of Lou looking like a lost little boy most of the time this year. He's nearly fallen asleep at the wheel a couple of times -- last week's failure to have John Grabow warming up with the three best LH hitters in the NL due up and Carlos Marmol walking the world was inexcusable. (And now he wants to make Marmol the closer? I shake my head in dismay.) Is it because Lou's embarrassed that he asked for this kind of team and it's failing? Or is he just past his managerial prime and wants to go home?
The strange thing is, despite all of this, this flawed, injured team still has time to make up a six-game division (or five-game wild card) deficit. There are still good and talented players on this Cubs team who are playing below their potential. They need to start winning the games they ought to, against bad teams like the Padres. Start tonight, please. I haven't given up yet, so don't you either. Go Cubs.