Sunday, May 24, 2009

Looking for the bottom

The Cubs have lost seven straight, their worst run since the bloody awful season of 2006. The culprit is the anemic offense, which has been a problem all season, but now the slumps and injuries that were affecting a few players in April have spread to the whole team like--wait for it--swine flu.

The best hitter on the team, Kosuke Fukudome, has cooled off, though he continues to look sharper than last season by drawing walks even when he's not hitting. Ryan Theriot lost touch with his brief power surge and isn't scratching out multi-hit games like last year, and Alfonso Soriano has faded after a strong start. Derrek Lee, Geovany Soto and Milton Bradley have shown glimpses of promise, but mostly remain mired in the doldrums that have affected them since Opening Day. Aramis Ramirez remains on the sidelines and Mike Fontenot, perhaps feeling the pressure of being a multi-position starter, has all but lost his job. Don't even get me started on Aaron Miles.

When Lou Piniella is talking about moving Al-So to second base, you know your troubles have almost hit bottom. But, have they hit bottom yet? We may find out when Pittsburgh hits town tomorrow, a brief respite for the Cubs between the hot-running opponents of the last week (Cardinals and Padres) and a face-off vs. 2008 postseason nemesis the Dodgers, who are 2009's best MLB team thus far. Yet, while the Cubs have recently faced teams who were playing very good baseball, the losing streak is undoubtedly of their own making. Pitching has been at least adequate and often very good in the last seven games. The most startling offensive stat: The Cubs have no walks in their last two games.

How long can it go on, and could hitting coach Gerald Perry be the fall guy, if the Cubs continue to play far below the unreasonably high expectation we have come to have for them? Perry's greatest accomplishment has been getting hitters to be more patient about begging off pitches away from the center of the plate. But, suddenly, the player have forgotten the lesson they seemed to learn so well last season.

The fans are getting pretty agitated and will be more so if the Cubs fail to win a couple against Pittsburgh. There's already quite a bit of grumbling about the Bradley signing being a bust, and the delicate relationship between him and the fans could be nearing a breaking point. I don't think moving Soriano is the answer, and I'd actually rather see D-Lee sit to get Micah Hoffpauir in the line-up. I have to credit Lou for experimenting with the line-up, but nothing seems to be working. Perhaps a visit from minor league stud Jake Fox is in order. The only other thing to really look forward to, short of the current line-up wking up, is the return of Aramis Ramirez, which as probably at least a month away.

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