I love baseball and I love the Cubs, but man, it gets really difficult after games like Saturday's 10-0 shutout loss to the Pirates.
How bizarre is this? In Paul Maholm's 10 previous starts this season, the Pirates had been shut out three times and had scored a total of 14 runs. He was dead last among 75 qualified starters in the National League in run support -- 1.4 per start -- and the next lowest isn't even close (Dustin Moseley of the Padres, 2.2).
Naturally, that meant the Pirates would come out with an offensive explosion this afternoon at Wrigley Field, 10 runs including four home runs. In the 10 previous starts by Maholm this season, the Pirates had combined for... three home runs. Opponents have now outhomered the Cubs at Wrigley Field 25-14 and Ronny Cedeno has now outhomered Aramis Ramirez 2-1 -- and Ronny has as many homers as Aramis at Wrigley Field. If you missed this note when I posted it, Ramirez' 17 RBI is one fewer than... Ryan Theriot.
Had enough? I didn't think so. The Cubs' only three hits today were a double by Alfonso Soriano that went just barely over Andrew McCutchen's glove in center field and two infield singles, the second of which, hit by Darwin Barney with two out in the ninth with a heavier rain beginning to fall, was a "please, why bother?" kind of thing. Maholm threw only 91 pitches. It seemed as if Randy Wells threw that many in... oh, wait, he actually did throw 92 pitches in just four innings.
Wells might have gotten out of trouble in the fourth if Soriano had been able to catch Neil Walker's drive off the wall. Who knows what would have happened after that? The next hitter struck out and maybe Wells gets out of the inning. Instead, Steve Pearce singled in another run; Pearce advanced to second when Tony Campana overthrew virtually everyone in Wrigley Field trying to get a runner at the plate he had zero chance of throwing out. It didn't matter two batters later when Cedeno homered.
That's when it got embarrassing. Pearce really isn't a third baseman -- he's been pressed into service there because of injuries, and generally is taken out for defense late in the game.
Clint Hurdle sent Brandon Wood out to third base as Pearce's defensive replacement -- in the bottom of the fourth inning. That's kind of an insult to the other team, saying, "We're up 5-0, but we don't need that hitter any more because you're simply not going to come back."
And the Cubs didn't.
They are playing listless, uninspired baseball. I have said before that no team is as good as they look when they're on a winning streak, and no team is as bad as they look when they're on a losing streak, but in this case, that old saying may be wrong. This team really may be as bad as they look. There have been a ton of injuries, so Jim Hendry and Mike Quade can be partly excused for running out a team consisting of minor leaguers and pitchers off the waiver wire.
I wrote at the beginning of this homestand that the Cubs really needed to go 6-3 to have any realistic shot at getting back to contention. To do that now, they must win all four remaining games on the homestand. That doesn't seem likely, considering they still have not won more than two straight this entire season; at the end of the homestand we will be exactly one-third through 2011 (54 games).
So let's wait and see a few more days. But after that, if things don't improve, it is probably time to back up the proverbial truck and bring up guys like Brett Jackson and let them show what they can do. At least that would generate some interest for people to come to the ballpark; again, the weather wasn't ideal today, although slightly warmer than the past few days. Of the 38,413 announced, most were in attendance; there were maybe 5,000 no-shows, although the ballpark started emptying out after the seventh inning, and more so after the light rain began an inning later.
If the Cubs don't want even emptier ballparks this year and next, they're going to have to make some bold moves... and soon.