The Cubs Are Slumping and on the DL

chicagocubs03Over the course of a 162 game season, even the best teams have slumps. Particularly in this era of relatively balanced competition even the perennial division winners – teams like the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Angels – run into rough stretches. But the 2009 Chicago Cubs are currently enduring a slump that even the worst teams have to avoid staring directly at. The Cubs current play makes me wonder not when will this slump end, but rather when will this season end.

NEW YORK - MAY 15:  Carlos Zambrano #38 of the...
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I have a theory about Carlos Zambrano that I have stated repeatedly, and I will do so again here: Carlos Zambrano is pretty close to becoming the greatest pitcher in the history of Wrigley Field. There have simply been very few pitchers who have sustained success over several years pitching in Wrigley. The best pitcher is probably Ferguson Jenkins, and Zambrano is probably second. Already. At the age of 28.

Fact is, Wrigley Field chews up pitchers, and unfortunately for Big Z, I think it is chewing him up as we speak. His best year was 2004, his best three years were 2004-2006, and he currently appears to be in Year Three of a three year decline. But I don’t blame Carlos, and I wished he’d get more credit than he does. I would imagine it is awfully hard to get on a roll when you have to pitch at Wrigley Field.

The rest of the staff is suffering much the way Zambrano is, and they are currently posting classic 21st Century Cubs numbers – second in the league in strikeouts, third in the league in homeruns allowed. Throw in Rich Harden’s latest trip to the DL – premised upon a “no, really, it’s not my shoulder, I’m just a little sore around the knees!” that no one believes – and the Cubs’ pitching staff looks like it could be in for a bruising.

The only consolation for the Cubs in the bullpen is that the jettisoned Kerry Wood is pitching horribly in Cleveland, so he probably wouldn’t be doing better than Carlos Marmol or Kevin Gregg. Gregg can barely keep the ball in the park, and while Marmol strikes out over a batter per inning he almost walks that many as well. Wrigley Field will simply chew guys up.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 11:  Alfonso Soriano #12 of t...

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At the end of the day, though, the Cubs pitchers are pitching well enough to win ballgames if their offense would show up, but it simply hasn’t. The Cubs currently have several players hitting unimpressively – Alfonso Soriano, Micah Hoffpauir, Ryan Theriot – and several players hitting terribly – Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto, Aaron Miles, Mike Fontenot, Milton Bradley. The Cubs’ two best hitters at this point are Aramis Ramirez, who is hurt, and Kosuke Fukudome, who got off to a fast start last year before crashing down to earth. All would appear to be lost for this squad on offense.

So what does this team need to do to improve? I don’t know, but Alfonso Soriano recently suggested he would be up to playing second base if it helped get Hoffpauir more at-bats in the outfield. I am not sure having a guy who was terrible at second base when he last played there five years ago is the answer to the Cubs problems.

I am also not terribly sure there is a lot to be done for this team by way of trade. I think the word is out on Derrek Lee at this point, and no one is going to rid the Cubs of his bat. Milton Bradley has only just signed what already looks like a terrible $30 million deal, and the answer to the Cubs pitching woes is not likely to be trading away the few talented pitchers they have.

SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 27:  Micah Hoffpauir #...
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The pity of it all is that the Cubs find themselves with a bunch of over-priced veterans at a time when they should be playing talented youngsters that they’ve developed. While the team pays its absurd, underachieving Bradley-Fukudome-Soriano outfield a combined $40 million, minor league leftfielder Jake Fox is hitting .423 with a 1.389 OPS and 17 homeruns and 50 RBI in 40 games so far this season with no hope of being called up. As Derrek Lee toils away for the Cubs, his career all but over, to the tune of $13.25 million, Micah Hoffpauir can’t get on the field.

The Chicago Cubs have somehow become the New York Yankees.

There are some lessons to be learned here, and some potential upside. Fact is, one of the Cubs top two starters and one of their top three hitters are out right now – any team would have trouble in that situation. And the pitching, though struggling, can improve if it can simply get control of itself. Despite the fact that the Cubs have given up the seventh most homeruns in the major leagues, they have allowed the third fewest hits in the majors. This means that the defense is doing its job, and this team is built to succeed if the pitching staff doesn’t kill itself.

Another strange statistic for the pitching staff is K/BB ratio. The Cubs currently lead major league baseball in strikeouts per inning, which is impressive given the Giants’ and Marlins’ staffs. However, the Cubs have given up the seventh most bases on balls in all of baseball as well.

The Chicago Cubs have become the team-pitching version of Nolan Ryan.

Basically, the Cubs are giving up runs and losing ballgames because of defense-independent statistics. This simply has to stop. Whether we were all wrong about Geovanny Soto, or Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild is losing his touch, these guys have got to stop walking batters and stop giving up long balls.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 11:  Jake Fox #74 of the Chic...

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As for the hitting, well, as discussed above, the Cubs are not currently putting their best offense on the field. Micah Hoffpauir and Jake Fox should be playing everyday at this point, and Aaron Miles, Mike Fontenot, and Milton Bradley should not be. Unlike the pitching staff, the offense does not seem loaded with talented offensive players right now, and that is unfortunately unlikely to change in the near future. Unless teams are looking to acquire Milton Bradley and Derrek Lee, which they aren’t.

Add on top of all this the fact that three NL Central teams look to have come to play in 2009, and it is beginning to look like a long summer for the Cubbies.

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  1. Nick Kappel

    June 2, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Interesting take on the Cubs here Asher.

    As you mentioned, the Cubs are in a world of hurt right now, and it’s impossible to blame it on one single player or stat. I do believe, however, the return of Aramis Ramirez (hopefully by the ASB) will be a tremendous lift to the offense.

    Milton Bradley’s bat is coming around, and it looks as though he may be the one to carry us for a month or two.

    Jake Fox is a player I’ve been watching here in Iowa all season. I’m glad he’s finally getting a chance to prove himself, and his willingness to learn is admirable. However, D. Lee’s defense is better than Fox’s offense, leaving Fox without a position. I wouldn’t mind giving him a shot at 3B, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see that backfire.

    I’ve always been a big fan of Zambrano, but he is who he is. He’s not about to change his game now, and the fact is he still walks way too many batters. With the uncertainty surrounding Harden, the Cubs are in a situation where they must make a deal for Peavy. Problem is, they likely don’t have the resources to swing a deal.

    There’s a chance Matt Holliday could hit the trade market soon as well, and while I’d like to see the Cubs make a push, what do they have to give?

    The Cubs’ window of opportunity is closing quickly. They have done a less than great job of developing young talent over the last decade, and are paying the price now as you mentioned.

    It’s still early, but based on this year’s strength of the NL Central, the Cubs will be forced to make an incredible second half run in order to return to the playoffs.

  2. MusLopil

    June 3, 2009 at 12:34 am

    What interesting article, but where took information?

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