What's Wrong With The Cubs?

Starlin Castro of the Chicago Cubs comes to the aid of teammate Aramis Ramirez after Ramirez was hit in the mouth by the ball against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field on June 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Astros defeated the Cubs 3-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Cubs are having an awful 2011 season, now one-third in the books. What are the causes of this misery?

On Wednesday, the last day of a disastrous 3-6 homestand for the Cubs, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey asked Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts "What's wrong with your team?"

"We’ve got a lot of injuries," he says. "We’ll be fine."

I’d ask a follow question if not for the fact that Ricketts is scurrying away as if his ride has finally showed up. One writer immediately refers to me as a "rally killer." I’m OK with that.

Injuries are a part of the Cubs' problem, for sure -- currently, Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Matt Garza, Andrew Cashner and Marlon Byrd are all on the DL; Randy Wells and Geovany Soto have both spent time there. For those counting, that's nearly a third of the Cubs' Opening Day roster and 60 percent of their Opening Day starting rotation.

But to fully explain how the Cubs got from a 97-win team in 2008, the Cubs' best season in 63 years, to a team that just lost six of nine at home to three (other) bottom-feeders in the league -- the Mets, Pirates and Astros -- we need to return to the scene of the Cubs' sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in their 2008 Division Series, upon which then-manager Lou Piniella and assorted other Cubs brass said, "We need to get more lefthanded."

Never mind that the righthanded-batter-heavy 2008 Cubs had led the NL in scoring by a significant margin; the "lefthanded" mantra led to the signing of Milton Bradley to be a "middle of the order run producer" -- never mind, again, that he had never been that throughout his career, never mind again his myriad of other issues.

That led to the disposal of useful parts like Mark DeRosa and Jason Marquis. The Bradley signing led, in turn, to his disposal for half a decent season of Carlos Silva, who also had to be dumped when he trashed his pitching coach this spring.

The Cubs could have used Silva, bad as he was, when starting pitchers went down one after another. They could have used Tom Gorzelanny, sent to the Nationals in what appears to be a minor ($2 million) salary dump, too. Few teams figure they have to go to their eighth or ninth rotation option, but the Cubs have been so desperate they dumpster-dived for Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez and Ramon Ortiz (Ortiz hasn't been seen above Triple-A Iowa) and put James Russell in the rotation for five starts, even though Russell was so bad as a starter in the minor leagues that he was converted into a lefty specialist.

Result: Davis, Lopez, Russell and Casey Coleman have started a combined 18 times -- exactly one-third of Cubs games to date. In those starts, those four pitchers have combined for 78 innings (averaging 4-1/3 per start), and allowed 67 earned runs. The Cubs' record in those games is 3-15, the three wins seem like a miracle.

Calling that "bad" would be an insult to bad things. You can easily see that if the Cubs had even been able to split those 18 games, they'd be 29-25 and very much in the picture in the NL Central.

It's not just pitching, though; the Cubs' offense has been mostly moribund this spring. Alfonso Soriano led the majors with 10 home runs in April. He hit two in May -- before he hit the DL. Aramis Ramirez hit a home run on April 6... and then didn't hit one again until 45 games later, on May 29. He's trailing a former teammate in RBI count 20-19, which might be OK if that former teammate wasn't named "Ryan Theriot". And then Ramirez got hurt yesterday when a sharp ground ball to third base hit him in the face. Fortunately, all he needs is stitches; he should be available on Friday when the Cubs begin a 10-game trip to St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Some Cubs fans, looking at the homestand just concluded, fear the Cubs could lose all 10 games on that trip.

It doesn't help when manager Mike Quade makes inexplicable decisions like starting infielder Blake DeWitt in left field -- a position he had never played professionally -- and giving him his first such start at Fenway Park. DeWitt doesn't hit well enough to be a corner outfielder and he has now slipped while en route to a batted ball in three consecutive games. (If there's not a record kept of such things, there should be.)

Quade, who managed for 18 years in the minor leagues, appears to be treating this like Double-A, where you try to develop a player, or play people at different positions, just to try them out (as he did with Russell as a starter). Granted, he doesn't have a lot of options, but speedy Tony Campana could play center field and Tyler Colvin left while Byrd and Soriano are out. The Cubs sent Colvin to Triple-A because he wasn't hitting and they wanted him to get regular playing time; when he was recalled after the Soriano injury, he went straight to the bench his first day -- for DeWitt.

It's a combination, then, of mediocre field management, bad front-office decisions, injuries and players growing old -- sort of a perfect storm of bad luck. There is hope in the pipeline; Starlin Castro, just 21, looks like a keeper, and the Cubs have prospects like outfielder Brett Jackson and Trey McNutt who may be ready by next year.

For Cubs fans, who have waited a very long time for the ultimate prize, next year can't come soon enough. Already.

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