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Chicago Cubs: Are The Wheels Coming Off?

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJuly 9, 2009

PHOENIX - APRIL 29:  Manager Lou Piniella talks with starting pitcher Ryan Dempster #46 of the Chicago Cubs during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 29, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Cubs 10-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Things were starting to look up for the Chicago Cubs. They took three out of four games from the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend and appeared to be turning the corner offensively.

As Aramis Ramirez, Reed Johnson and Angel Guzman came back from their sorted injuries, the Cubs seemed to be in decent shape, just a few games behind the division-leading Cardinals.

And then the Cubs won on Sunday. The bench was excited by the series victory as the team stormed the field. Some took the stairs to leave the dugout.

Ryan Dempster decided to hop the fence.

It got worse on Wednesday as news circulated the Cubs' media and clubhouse of Dempster's fractured toe, which could lead to as many as four weeks of missed time.

After batting practice before Wednesday's series finale against Atlanta, catcher Geovany Soto was scratched from the day's lineup. After he left Wrigley Field mid-game to get an MRI, it was revealed that he had strained his left oblique while taking swings in the cage.

Soto's status is still day-to-day, but the fact he left the stadium during the game for an MRI doesn't sound good.

This year's Cubs team is in a battle to remain mediocre in a division they should, and still could, win. As long as the Cardinals and Brewers refuse to leave the Cubs behind, there will remain a faint hope that the National League Central crown could stay in Chicago.

But how long can this roster continue to flirt with disaster?

The Cubs have already struggled with players on their roster before Dempster's toe injury. Rich Harden has already taken his annual month off. Carlos Zambrano tweaked a hamstring before enjoying a few days off via suspension. Guzman is just coming back from injury.

Meanwhile, Ramirez has dealt with his shoulder injury while Johnson has dealt with a bad back. Derrek Lee has been plagued by bulging discs in his upper back and has fought through them to have a fantastic, resurgent first half.

The only other major issues of note are one cancer in the clubhouse (Milton Bradley) and potentially devastating cataracts in both of Alfonso Soriano's eyes, considering he hasn't seen a good pitch all year.

Now that the Cubs are facing the potential of losing Dempster and Soto for a good length of time, the rest of the season and its fate lays where it began: on General Manager Jim Hendry's desk.

As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, now is the time Hendry must decide whether the Cubs will be buyers or sellers.

Speculation has long been that Hendry was handicapped by the dragging sale of the club. However with reports indicating that the Tribune has accepted as many as two bids, there could be some flexibility for Hendry to add a player for a stretch run.

But if Hendry feels like this veteran roster doesn't have it, or if there are any more major players lost to injury in the next three weeks, Hendry might decide to break things up and get whatever value he can for valuable veterans like Harden, who's in a walk year.

The Dempster and Soto situations feel like cruel twists of fate appropriate for Cubs fans to deal with once the team got their act together. The next few weeks could be interesting on Chicago's North Side.

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