When asked what his team needed to do to turn it around after a fifth-straight loss to the Pirates, Chicago Cubs skipper Lou Piniella had this to say:
"If we start doing the things that we're capable of doing, I won't have to answer these questions all the time."
But the question remains, can this team turn it around in time to make any noise in the post-season picture?
The quest to find this answer began today with a 4-3 comeback win over the Bucs.
Down 3-1 in the seventh, the Cubs found a way to claw back and tie it. In the eighth, Soriano stole his way over to third, and Xavier Nady knocked him in with a single. Marmol was able to hold the one run lead in the ninth.
The win puts the Cubs at 16-22, and gave Lou Piniella his 1800th career win—something only 13 skippers before him have done.
Could this be the turnaround that the Cubs so desperately need? If you go back to the 2007 season it took a Piniella outburst in which he assaulted the third base bag during a late May game against the Braves. The Cubs would get hot in June and eventually catch and surpass a struggling Brewers team down the stretch.
The keys to getting this team going are simple. Sweet Lou needs to rekindle the fire that has made him one of baseball's great managers. No offense to the calm 66-year-old that is having fun, but that isn't what got him 1800 wins.
The next thing that has to happen is that big boppers Ramirez and Lee need to get it going. Ramirez is still hitting below the Mendoza line, and D-Lee is hitting a measly .230 and is second to only Ramirez in strike outs.
The final piece, and the one that has cost them the most games is the awful bullpen. Perhaps the biggest joke out in the pen is the $60 million ace that hits gatorade dispensers just as hard as opposing batters hit him. At 1-3 with an ERA of over 7.00, Zambrano has proven to be the poster boy for woeful Cubs pitching.
Also earning the nod for being a bullpen liability are former Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, Esmailin Caridad, and John Grabow. I know both Notre Dame and Caridad have only thrown a combined seven-plus innings, but a combined ERA of over 14.00 doesn't help keep you in the majors.
Earning honorable mention is Justin Berg and Jeff Gray. The only thing keeping them from being picked on is they are a combined 1-0, even though their ERA's are just under 7.00.
The few bright spots—and I do mean few—are the pitching performance from Carlos Silva, who is 4-0 with an ERA under 3.50. Dempster and Gorzellany haven't pitched horribly, but in most games get no run support, and Lilly has looked decent in his few starts. Finally Marlon Byrd, who I thought would be a waste of money is leading the team in all of the triple crown categories.
Earning honorable mention is Soriano, who is hitting over .300 with seven homers, the newcomer Castro, who had seven RBI's in his Cubs debut, and the bullpen performances from Marshall, Russell, and of all people, Marmol.
The bottom line is that anything coud happen in a division where the Cardinals are clearly the best team. What could help the Cubs is how mediocre the other teams are, and how many times they get each team the rest of the way. But it is gonna take a fire being lit to get this team going.
So what is the future of the Cubs in 2010? I think it is going to be a team looking to sell and get younger by the All-Star break.
If the Cubs can find any value in unloading veterans like Ramirez, Lee, Zambrano, Soriano, Dempster, and Lilly—they should do so. By now it is apparent that this is not the nucleus that will provide the North Siders with their first World Title since before the Great Depression.
However, in these tough times, there will be a lot more sellers than buyers, and moving the high salaries of these older players may be tougher than it once was.
The future of Cubs teams for years to come will depend on what management does with this year's underachieving team. It could be the difference between rebuilding now and for the next two to three years, or sitting with a group of veterans that have yet to even win a playoff game.
Also, when Lou Piniella retires either at season's end, or resigns before season's end, look for the next Cubs manager to be Ryne Sandberg. He has spent several years in the minor league system now and already knows the players that will eventually get called up, in case the Cubs elect to rebuild.
To sum it all up, if the Cubs can't get it together,they will look to rebuild, dump salary, and Ryno will be the skipper in 2011.
I am sure there are many Cubs fans that will disagree with me, but as Dennis Miller would say: "That's just my opinion, I could be wrong."