Monday, July 25, 2005

any room for optimism?

now that i'm finally recovering from neifi's shocker, which improbably defused a near-perfect late-inning cub implosion, realizing that the cubs somehow escaped their last trip to the busch concrete doughnut with two wins, i'm forced to take stock. is this the beginning of something? are they better than i thought?

sadly, probably not. folks, it's still harder than it sounds.

this is a team that is now 4.5 back, which is an improvement on six back, right?

well, yes but. examining the situation closely, the standings at the all-star break were actually only slightly worse for the cubs. less distance to cover to the top now, sure -- but, instead of having atlanta or washington, florida, new york, philadephia and houston to leapfrog, we have... atlanta or washington, florida, new york, philadephia and houston to leapfrog. the cubs have actually lost ground on philly and the mets as they've gained it on the braves, nats and marlins. somehow, i can't believe looking up at the entire NL east is a good thing for a team trying to get into the playoffs.

and it bears mentioning that the cubs have won 7 of their last 11 to jump not a single team in the wildcard standings. this may be as good as it gets.

qualitatively as well, the basic weaknesses of this cub squad are becoming glaring and nauseating with regular repetition. dusty's refusal to use the hit-and-run in the seventh to keep walker from an unsurvivable gidp or taking the bat away from his fourth and fifth hitters to bring up the pitcher's spot only to be bailed out by a lightning strike only begins to touch on his deep responsibility for what ails this club. the bullpen has been utterly horrid, posting a 6.42 era and 1.71 whip in 20 innings over the last seven games. and the offense continues to refuse to work for an advantageous count or situation, placing 15th in the NL over the last 30 games in pitches seen per plate appearance at 3.61. burnitz against suppan in tropical heat is a good example, but we could be talking about virtually any cub except derrek lee.

to make it worse, some of the players are increasingly showing signs of mailing it in. the team has chalked up 11 errors in as many games, and has played sloppily in the field throughout. aramis particularly has quit hustling or playing the field, a fact somewhat hidden by his massive output at the plate recently. maybe it's been the heat, or maybe it's just the dog days -- or maybe it's just having to stand next to overachieving cardinals like eckstein, mabry, and john rodriguez for the last three days -- but there is a listless, cavalier, undisciplined air about the team that is hardly reassuring.

looking ahead, dusty's kids get frisco for a few while four of the five teams ahead of them play each other. while that can be good news, it's also bad news. while two of the four are guaranteed to lose at least two of their next three, two others will win at least two of their next three. meanwhile, the mets are headed to denver -- which means three teams will win two of the next three. i'm not very enthused about the cubs chances to do anything in 2005 -- but, if you're still holding out hope for this lot, the cubs need a home sweep to materially make up ground on the field. we're four and a half games and five teams back, looking at august 1 with a club that's far from being the '27 yankees in camouflage. win now or give up the illusion.

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