Bastet's Lair

News, book reviews, essays, interviews, fiction writing, politics, and my view of the world

July 22, 2010

After series win over Phillies, Chicago Cubs still need retooling

By Lynn Voedisch

At the conclusion of the Cubs-Phillies series, which the Chicago Cubs won decisively 3-1 Sunday night, a fan was wildly enthusiastic. "The Cubs are coming back!" he yelled at Wrigley Field, as fans high-fived all around him. "This isn't just a good night. They are coming back, baby!" Sunday's (July 18) score was Chicago, 11, Philadelphia, 6.
As much as one would like to hope, there's little evidence of that.

Now that the All-Star Break has come and gone, the Cubs are still under .500 with a season record of 40-50. New owners the Ricketts family have done absolutely nothing to better the fortunes of this ball club. Everyone likes to talk about the Loveable Losers, but just two years ago, the team won their division in fine form.

They were, as most Cub fans will attest , the best team assembled in many years, with terrific pitching, fearsome hitting, and a proud unit of utility fielders who could interchange whenever manager Lou Piniella felt the need. They were the team Cubs fans dreamed about.
Lou Piniella
Then they went off to the playoffs in Los Angeles and stood like catatonic freaks while the Dodgers romped all over them.
Oh, let's be kind; they underperformed. Badly.

At this point many Cubs fans tore off their jerseys, set up bonfires in Wrigleyville in Chicago and said "Never again. We've been fooled for 99 years, but no more!"

Guess what? It's now been 101 years, and the fooling goes on.
You'd think the Ricketts team would get wise and start moving some people around, make a few trades, even tear up a contract or two. But no, like the frozen Cubbies of two years ago, they don't dare make a move and somehow expect the Cubs to come alive.

The definition of insanity, goes the old saw, is repeating the same old mistakes and expecting different results.

By this token, the whole Cubs organization has sunken into madness. How else do you explain the continued appearance of Anfonso Soriano, the left fielder who does not much of anything but draw catcalls?

Sunday night "Fonzie," had a good outing. He hit a solid two-run homer over the left-field wall in the sixth inning. Then, in the bottom of the seventh inning, he singled, scoring Derrek Lee. It seemed that all was forgiven and he was back in fine form. But not really.

Fans remember the endless strikeouts and the ridiculous plays in left field when Soriano has had trouble figuring out where the ball bounced. He's chained to the Cubs with a multi-million contract, and plenty of fans would like to see it broken.
Alfonso Soriano
One guy who didn't break out of the slump was Aramis Ramirez, the third baseman with whom I have a little more sympathy.

Once a fearsome hitter, he now has completely lost his stride.
I don't know if he needs more coaching, or if there's an injury he's not admitting to or what, but his swing is all wrong, and he looks off balance in the batter's box. He used to be the kind of guy to clean up a bases-loaded situation. Now he just strikes out. Trade him.

Starlin Castro, shortstop, burst on the scene with all kinds of happy press. Fresh out of spring training, it seemed this Cuban phenom could do no wrong. So far, he's not doing much of anything. He had a nice night against the Phillies Sunday, hitting a single that scored the pitcher Tom Gorzelanny (safe by a hair). And he did some nice base stealing that I'd like to see a lot more of. But, so far, Piniella hasn't brought out the star power in Castro that he was bragging about, and we're still waiting.

On the plus side, catcher Geovany Soto remains one of the best members of the team. He hit a two-run homer over the right-field wall in the second, starting things off nicely for the Cubs. Then he slammed a single in the seventh, bringing home Marlon Byrd. Speaking of Byrd, he also is one of the shining lights of the team.

Once called the "anti-Milton Bradley" because he replaced the notoriously cranky middle outfielder, Byrd (who was the Cubs only All-Star player) is a reliable hitter, fielder and all-around go-getter. Hey, he's even a nice guy with a good attitude. We need the replicate this fellow.

Pitching is okay, not like it was in the days of Kerry Wood, but what are you going to do? It's an ongoing process and the organization keeps looking for good prospects.
Lefty Sean Marshall keeps getting better — and I used to be skeptical.

On his sane days Carlos Zambrano is a powerhouse, but he out of the rotation because of his erratic behavior. Now, he's a reliever. However, the rest of middle relief stinks. I'm not sure where the Cubs are getting these guys but how can you find hurlers who will take a no-out situation and start walking players home? That's Cubs' middle relief.

The closer, Carlos Marmol, remains nothing short of spectacular despite a single bad outing the other day. Losing him would be a nightmare.

At mid-season, whether they were victorious over the Phillies or not, the Cubs need some changes quickly. Move Soriano out. Give some of the bench players like Jeff Baker more playing time. Work more with Castro to bring out his brilliance. Either find the basis of Ramirez' problems or lose him. Fill the bullpen with some talent!

Now that "Sweet Lou" Piniella has announced his retirement, he doesn't have much incentive to do much with the team, but a couple young prospects could give him something to work with until he heads off to blissful days without managerial duties at his Tamp home.

Lou got the Cubs to the playoffs once. He can do it again. But not with this bunch.

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This article first appeared in on July 20, 2010.