After an ugly 3 game series with the Washington Regionals the Cubs season is coming more into focus. Don Zimmer said that after 40 games, you pretty much know what your team is. Well as it stands now, the Cubs can be no better than 20-20 after their first 40 games. They’re sitting in 4th place in the NL Central 7.5 games behind St. Louis, with the Brewers(!) and Pirates(!!!) in front of them. Here’s what I learned during the Washington series:
The Turning Point:
For most teams, this comes on the field. A big game, or a big series the outcome of which dictates the flow of the rest of the season for a team. In 2003 that point came when the Cubs and Cardinals squared off in a 5 game series, with the Cubs taking 4, sending the Cardinals into a tailspin, and riding that momentum to a division title. In 2004, it came in the August series with Houston, where the Astros took 3 out of 4 and then went on to their best finish in franchise history taking the Wild Card as the Cubs collapsed in the final week. This year’s turning point may not come on the field at all. Because right now the fate of the Cubs season depends on the outcome of the MRI that will be performed on Carlos Zambrano’s right elbow on Monday. Make no mistake, if Zambrano’s arm is badly hurt, there’s going to be hell to pay. The finger is going to pointed at everyone from Larry Rothschild for not getting Zambrano to economize pitches, to Dusty Baker for the 136 pitch complete game to Jim Hendry whose failure to upgrade the bullpen meant that Baker had no real choice but to leave Zambrano in. And mark my words, without Carlos Zambrano this Cubs team will be lucky to finish 4th.
Jerry Hairston is getting the Mark Bellhorn treatment from Dusty
When you think about it, Bellhorn and Hairston aren’t that different. They’re slightly below average hitters with an aptitude for taking walks. Bellhorn has more power, and Hairston’s a little better defensively, but that’s about it. Oh, and both managed to play themselves into Dusty Baker’s doghouse in record time for veteran players. Hairston has to know it’s bad when Aramis Ramirez gets the day off, and Baker elects to go with Macias, Perez and Cedeno in his infield. I don’t expect Hairston to be long for this team (actually, at the start of the season, I advocated trying to trade him for bullpen help before all the injuries to the middle infield), because face it, when Baker suddenly starts a rookie over a vet, that’s something. Do I think Baker is wrong in playing Cedeno over Hairston? No(although I have a bad feeling that we may see Jose Macias at 2nd when Ramirez comes back). But it definitely shows an inconsistency (and some would say favoritism) in Dusty’s management style. I mean, if Todd Hollandsworth was hitting .255 with a .360 OPB, do you think Jason DuBois would be playing?
LaTroy Hawkins is ruined
I was worried that keeping Hawkins in the closer’s spot too long might affect him mentally. If Hawkins wasn’t mentally tough enough to pitch the 9th inning, what would make us think that he’s mentally tough enough to bounce back from that failure and subsequent demotion. LaTroy may eventually bounce back, but for now he’s the most expensive long reliever in the league.
Andy McPhail is still annoying
You’ve all seen this quote from McPhail in Joe’s post:
”Like everybody else, I am not wowed by the won-loss record,” MacPhail told the Chicago Tribune. ”But the blame game is something that seems to be more prevalent today in our sports media than it was 10 or 15 years ago. What we are really focused on is trying to fix the problem, not assigning blame. You know, assigning blame is kind of a waste of energy.”
I’m not sure exactly what Andy’s point is here. That the media is playing the blame game? The media’s job is to report on, analyze and yes, criticize the team. As for McPhail, he hasn’t done anything productive since he hired Jim Hendry. Maybe he doesn’t think “assigning the blame” is a good use of time, but last time I checked most people are judged upon results in their jobs, so blame certainly can be constructive in determining who might need to be fired or retained. But then unlike most people, Andy got a high profile job in baseball because his daddy had one, so I guess I shouldn’t presume to know as much as he does.