Woes at Wrigley
Talent-rich Cubs disappointing fans with lackluster startPosted: Friday May 10, 2002 1:42 PM
Updated: Friday May 10, 2002 3:14 PM
By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com
Cubs fans don't ask for much.
Sun-splashed days at Wrigley Field. A cold beer in hand. A Sammy Sosa home run or two.
Truth be told, the Cubs usually are just a diversion until Da Bears start playing.
But once a decade or so, Chicago surprises (teases?) its fans by putting together a playoff team, a la 1984, '89 and '98. This was supposed to be one of those seasons, but the Cubbies are off to a brutal 13-20 start, the second worst in the NL.
The Cubs spent money in the offseason for a change, signing Moises Alou (three years, $27 million) and trading for shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who came with a $4.25 million price tag. The team payroll was raised from $64,015,833 in 2001 to $75,690,833.
The veritable spending spree, combined with the return of Fred McGriff for a full season and a pitching staff led by Jon Lieber and Kerry Wood, raised hopes that this would be the North Side's first World Series winner since 1908.
So what has gone wrong? In a word, Wrigley. Maybe it's the cold weather in Chicago this spring, or bad karma from the new screens that obstruct the views of rooftop fans. For whatever reason, the Cubs are a league-worst 6-12 at home, hitting a paltry .208 in the Friendly Confines (.265 on the road).
Clutch hitting hasn't been there, either. The Cubs are 14th in the NL in hitting with runners in scoring position (.226).
Despite the slow start, the Cubs are far from out of the NL Central race, mainly because the Astros and Cardinals also have played poorly. It's not like the first-place Reds are going to pull a Seattle and run away with the pennant.
But if Chicago doesn't make a significant turnaround before the All-Star break, it might have to give up on this season of hope and begin a modest rebuilding phase with its loaded farm system.
According to Baseball America, the Cubs have the top-ranked collection of prospects in baseball. Pitching stud Mark Prior and second baseman Bobby Hill, an on-base fiend, already are at Class AAA Iowa and could be called up in the next few weeks as reinforcements. If they can't spark the club, then struggling young right-hander Juan Cruz should be given more time to work out his problems, and playing time should be found for corner infield prospects Hee Seop Choi and David Kelton.
This might not be the Cubs' season in the sun after all, but hey, there's always next year.
For all the wrong reasonsBy now, Pirates fans have to be dreading Kevin Young's next at-bat as if it were a trip to the dentist.
And if you give Devil Rays fans a choice, they may in fact prefer a root canal (sans anesthesia) than be forced to watch another of Greg Vaughn's pathetic attempts to hit a baseball.
The same can be said of Anaheim's perennially slumping Tim Salmon.
What do these three sluggers have to do to earn a spot on the bench? Vaughn (.107), Young (.171) and Salmon (.189) have become human out machines this season. They play every day, consistently producing nothing. They are being lapped in batting average by several NL pitchers (Curt Schilling, for one, is hitting .273).
All three have been in steady decline the past couple of seasons. Now it appears their eroding skills have hit rock bottom.
So why are they still playing? Money. Vaughn makes $8.75 million, Salmon $9.65 million and Young $5.625 million. If they are waived, they will go unclaimed and their teams will be stuck with the bill. If they are benched, then there is no chance they will snap out of their slumps long enough to draw trade interest.
Random pitching observation, Part I
Complete games have all but gone the way of the dodo, with the best starters rarely finishing what they start.
So why is it that so many pitchers still put up a fight when their managers come out with the hook? You know the drill: After a little haggling, they reluctantly give the baseball to the skipper and walk dejectedly to the dugout.
This ritual goes on regardless of how the pitcher is throwing. He could be working on a three-hit gem, or he could have just given up three straight hits and thrown a couple to the backstop. Either way, he won't ever greet the manager with a smile and say, "What took you so long? I've got nothing!"
Random pitching observation, Part II
Pitchers, while assessing their performance after a game, often say they were ineffective because they were "up in the zone" and couldn't "keep the ball down."
Baseball commentators are especially prone to restating the following blanket statement in some form or another: "High pitches are bad. Low pitches are good."
It seems to make sense, so everybody repeats it. The only problem is it's just not true.
There are plenty of pitchers who make their living with high fastballs -- Schilling comes to mind right off the bat. When Dwight Gooden was in his prime, he racked up most of his K's on pitches at the letters. Basically, any pitcher with a great fastball is better off "up in the zone."
Also, there are hitters like Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero who love to send low pitches into orbit. And left-handed power hitters in general are known to love the low pitch as well.