Posted: Monday August 15, 2005 12:27PM; Updated: Monday August 15, 2005 1:47PM
Todd Walker and the Cubs aren't much to look at this season.
As underdogs go, nobody beats the Cubs. Nobody does futility better. No other team in the majors can hang with the Cubs' history of heartbreak. With the quaint park, their rabid fans and all of that pent-up underdogness, the Cubs are the type of team that a fan -- a non-biased, baseball-loving fan -- can root for.
But, man, this is one painful team to watch. This is ugly.
Really, is there a more dysfunctional team in the majors? The manager, Dusty Baker, is melting from all the heat in the Windy City. He gets ripped for abusing his pitchers. He's second-guessed every day on his lineup, especially for putting Corey Patterson and Neifi Perez, two guys who struggle to get on base, in front of MVP candidate Derrek Lee for most of the season. He's ridiculed for a lack of in-game strategy.
One Web site suggests signs to bring to Wrigley -- ranging from "Dusty a Busty" to "Stick a toothpick in him, he's done" -- and there's a lot of talk Baker could be gone after this season. A new rumor chronicling Baker's supposedly imminent exit (to the Dodgers, maybe, to somewhere else?) pops up every week.
Baker, of course, is only part of the pain that is the Cubs. The pitching staff, the supposed backbone of the team, has been jelly all season, racked by injuries, ineffectiveness and a general sense of being lost. And the Cubs could be the least fundamentally sound team in baseball. In one game, Cubs outfielders threw lamely to cutoff men twice, setting up runs for the opposition. In another, pitchers failed to cover first base on ground balls to first baseman Lee -- three different times. The team's fielding percentage (.982) is better than only Colorado and Milwaukee in the National League.
Cubs broadcaster and former big-league manager Bob Brenly, hired after the team tired of constant criticism from their former broadcast team (Steve Stone and Chip Caray), laid into the Cubs, saying on a blog, "I think the biggest problem is what appears to be a lack of concentration and a lack of focus."
It's bad all over.
"We'll go a week or maybe 10 days where we can beat anybody and we're in every game and don't beat ourselves," former Cubs reliever Mike Remlinger told the Chicago Sun-Times before his trade, "then all of a sudden the other team shows up that couldn't beat anybody, and we are at a loss to know where [the poor play] comes from."
After losing eight games in a row and 12 of 15 -- half of those losses to the Reds and Diamondbacks, two sub-.500 teams -- the Cubs pulled a big turnaround again last weekend, rallying to win three of four from the Cardinals.
The Cubs, who hit .234 in the 15-game stretch before they played the Cards, hit .352 with six homers in the four games against St. Louis. Greg Maddux threw a complete game in a win Thursday, despite earlier talk -- mainly from Baker -- of Maddux's possible retirement. Carlos Zambrano won, too, as did Mark Prior on Sunday night.
The Cubs have no business being anywhere near a wild-card discussion. They are below-.500, and six teams are ahead of them in the race for the wild card, a practically insurmountable obstacle.
Still, after the strangely successful weekend series against the Cardinals, the Cubs lurk 6 1/2 games back of the NL wild-card leading Astros. Hope still flickers in Chicago. The game's biggest underdog still lives.