In the midst of a wretched weekend in Coors Field, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella was ejected for arguing an obviously blown call at second base that cost his team a potential rally.
Afterward, when Piniella was asked a question about the game, he said he couldn’t answer it, and pointed to a couch in the visiting manager’s office: “After I was ejected, I came in here and took a nap. I didn’t watch the whole game.’’
He sounded serious enough, and when you think about it, if you had to watch the Cubs play lately, snoozing while they’re losing doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. Don’t be fooled by how close they appear to be in the NL Central and wild-card races. In mid-August, the Cubs don’t look anything like a playoff team.
Granted, they have had a tough run of injuries. During a four-day (three-loss) stay in Denver, two key recurring injury themes continued:
Pseudo-ace Carlos Zambrano had to be scratched from a scheduled start due to his ongoing back problems, and Aramis Ramirez left a game due to a sore left shoulder (the same one that was separated, costing him two months earlier this season).
And yet another starting pitcher — newcomer Tom Gorzelanny — was forced from a start after a ball hit him in the foot. He’ll make his next start, but Zambrano landed on the DL. At least Ted Lilly is about to come off a rehab assignment.
But the Cubs’ issues go much deeper than injuries:
Number one, put a good team on the field against them, and the Cubs aren’t going to do much winning. In fact, they have won only two series all season against teams that currently have a winning record — and the last of those series ended on May 3. That’s right, in the last four-plus months, the Cubs have lost nine series and split four others against teams that currently have winning records.
“It’s been a long time; we’re aware of it,’’ Piniella said.
Typical of the Cubs’ entire season is their series results since the All-Star break:
4-0 at Washington
1-2 at Philadelphia
3-0 vs. Cincinnati
3-1 vs. Houston
1-2 at Florida
2-1 at Cincinnati
1-3 at Colorado
0-3 vs. Philadelphia
2-0 vs. Pittsburgh
The Cubs pushed to a percentage-point lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central last week, but stumbled and are now five games off the pace. What does bode well the rest of the way for the Cubs is a favorable schedule breakdown:
Twelve series against teams currently with losing records: Pittsburgh (7 games), Milwaukee (7 games), New York Mets (6 games), San Diego (3 games), Washington (3 games), Houston (3 games), Cincinnati (3 games), Arizona (3 games).
And only three series against teams currently with winning records: Los Angeles (4), St. Louis (3), San Francisco (4), and one makeup game against the White Sox.
But much needs to change if the Cubs expect to hang in the playoff chase:
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
And costly defensive lapses — both physical and mental — keep occurring.
In the same game in Colorado, Derrek Lee let a ball go through his legs (originally ruled a hit, later — rightfully — changed to an error), and failed to be the cutoff man on a throw from center field that went through to the plate, alowing the batter/runner to get to second base. And he’s regarded as the Cubs’ best defensive player. Only the Diamondbacks and Nationals have committed more errors among NL teams.
And it’s no secret Piniella isn’t exactly enamored with his roster. At the conclusion of the Colorado series, he said:
“We’ve got to go home and regroup. That’s all. Period.’’
The Cubs promptly lost the next three in Wrigley Field to the Phillies, including Wednesday's 12-5 blowout in which they trailed 12-1 at one point.
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