Before the start of the 1997 season, a lot of people were wondering if the Cubs could lose their first 14 games. They were coming off a horrendous finish to the 1996 season, and the early ’97 schedule was packed with games against contenders. The Cubs promptly went ahead and proved some of the prophets of doom right by starting 0-14. The question today is: Will the Cubs go 0-7 on this current road trip?
Think it’s impossible? If so, you didn’t watch the two games in Cincinnati (and all the better for you if you didn’t). The Cubs blew two leads and played horrible fundamental baseball in the process. So yes, with games coming up against the Florida Marlins and Boston Red Sox, it’s quite possible for the Cubs to go 0-for-the-road in this segment.
The Marlins were rained out Tuesday (the Cubs should have been so lucky). They enter today with a record of 24-16, one-half game behind the Phillies in the National League East. They’ll host the Cubs for two beginning tonight in Florida. The Red Sox also were rained out last night. They’ve played much better of late after a poor start and are 21-20, 2 games behind Tampa Bay and a half-game in back of the Yankees in the tough American League East. They’ll host the Cubs for three beginning Friday at Fenway Park.
If you’re a Cubs fan, you’ve got to hope manager Mike Quade puts Alfonso Soriano nowhere near the Green Monster in any of the three games.
So if the first question is: Can the Cubs run the table on this trip? The second becomes: What happens if they do? Let’s see here:
--An 0-7 road trip would put the Cubs at 17-28 for the season and pretty much bury them for good.
--They come home to play the Mets next Tuesday. The Pirates and Astros follow the Mets into town, but you already know how the Cubs have fared against the “easy” teams. As our old pal Lou pointed out last season, maybe those teams view the Cubs as “easy.”
--The natives are getting extremely restless. Go to any media outlet, and you’ll find that out quickly. How many empty seats will there be at Wrigley Field next homestand?
--Will Tom Ricketts be forced to give GM Jim Hendry the dreaded vote of confidence on the next homestand? Truth be told, I’m sure Ricketts will keep his feet moving quickly when and if he sees the beat writers, whose questions he never likes to answer. Ricketts’ initial and most fundamental problem was not hiring a baseball man as president the minute he bought the team. A Pat Gillick would have looked mighty good at the top of the baseball org chart, and he would have been a good counterbalance to Hendry’s more impulsive nature.
--What will Hendry say? What can he say? He’s signed through 2012, and he’s not foolish enough to walk away from the money. Ricketts isn’t going to fire Hendry and throw the organization into turmoil just a few days ahead of the amateur draft. About all Hendry might say is, “Obviously, we haven’t played up to expectations. Obviously, some of our key people haven’t hit with men on base. Obviously, we’re missing two pitchers from our starting rotation.” And so forth.
Ricketts has shown no sign of wanting to let Hendry go. The owner seems to be putting his faith in Tim Wilken’s drafts and Oneri Fleita’s player development and counting the days until the likes of Brett Jackson, Trey McNutt, Jae-Hoon Ha, Rob Whitenack, Matt Szczur, Ryan Flaherty and others are ready to move up.
Other than Jackson, No. 1 draft picks from the Wilken era _ Tyler Colvin, Josh Vitters, Andrew Cashner and Hayden Simpson _ are having their problems for various reasons, some related to injuries and others to performance.
The current Cubs roster is full of immovable parts:
--Soriano’s contract will go down as one of the worst ever handed out in sports history, and it still has three years to run after this. Do you just eat the money at some point down the road?
--Aramis Ramirez has 10-5 rights. He hasn’t homered since April 6, so who would want him anyway, and what would you get? He’s looked terrible uninspired in the field so far.
--Kosuke Fukudome is an expensive, no-power, high-OBP guy. Not much you can do there.
--Carlos Zambrano has pitched well, but his contract is cost-prohibitive.
--Ryan Dempster has 10-5 rights and shows no willingness to want to leave Chicago, even if the Cubs did want to trade him.
There are players other teams would want, but the Cubs want to build around them: Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Jackson and some of the other prospects mentioned.
So, for trades, that leaves you pretty much with:
--Marlon Byrd. His contract runs through next season and is reasonable cost-wise. His line is .309/.337/.383. He has a 3 percent walk rate, 1 home run, 8 RBI and an ISO of .074. You might be able to get a little something.
--Catcher Geovany Soto is on the DL. There’s been speculation on this blog that he could fetch something. Maybe, but he’s got to stay healthy first. The Cubs seem to have decent catching prospects in Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger and Micah Gibbs. I hate to get the anti-Koyie Hill sentiment stirred up here, but watching Castillo, you can see he still needs some work behind the plate. (To avoid all that silliness with Miguel Cairo last night, all Castillo would have had to do is tag him.)
--Relievers Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall might look like nice hood ornaments on a jalopy right now, and I’m sure both would fetch something. But what does that leave you with in your bullpen?
The bottom line is you can make the case for firing Hendry and cleaning house up and down the organization. Hendry has been the GM since July 2002 and has won three division titles and only one playoff series. His proclamation at the 2007 Cubs convention of, “We’re going to get good, and we’re going to stay good,” already is haunting him. What we’re lookin’ at ain’t good these days.
But if you fire Hendry (and Fleita and Wilken follow him out the door) whom do you bring in, and do you trust Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney to hire the right people? Think about that for a sec.
What they all should be embarrassed about, in addition to the bad play the last two nights, is that they have a team in Chicago, by far the largest market in the National League Central, and they’re getting out-everythinged by teams in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh (at least as of today’s standings).
Cubs fans have seen enough of it.