Tuesday, April 24, 2007

the fat lady sings

this boat is sunk, kids. put it in the books. april 24.

let it be recorded that -- as your writer attended the funeral of the father of two dear friends -- a positively sprightly brewers club administered last rites to the northsiders on a pleasant tuesday evening on their way to what looks to be a very interesting season for their fans.

for us lot, on the other hand, confirmation has arrived that the cubs are simply not a very good ballclub -- yet again -- and that their remaining string will perhaps be intriguing from time to time but very probably never interesting in the way that milwaukee's will be.

it was only yesterday that the cubs managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again.

if disappointment had a graph, this is what it would look like

with that triumphant loss, the cubs managed simultaneously to fall five games back of the brewers in the national league central and five back of atlanta in the wildcard.

the followup to that loss was merely to roll over and die on a chilly wednesday night, putting club ace rich hill behind the 8-ball for the sin of being merely mortal. having pitched as a minor god in his first three starts -- which, as it happens, appears to be the only way to go 3-0 in three starts for this club -- hill was overdue for a bout of normality. for this team's starters, more often than not that means shouldering a loss.

there are going to be five long months to dissect in detail what went wrong with this ballclub -- including why they were so overrated by so many, including yours truly, who projected upon them the vision of 82 glorious wins. indeed, they may yet hit that mark and save this writer from some small measure of humiliation -- but for now the probabilities are what they are, and they are nothing to inspire optimism.

in the final outs of going six back of both the division leader and the wildcard at this writing, the cubs have more than violated the five back rule at the infernally early opportunity of 19 games. as past history has shown, this places the cubs in a bin from which we might expect a year-ending winning percentage of somewhere around .450 -- a 73-win pace. this serves as a woeful second to an earlier analysis of the club's slow start which found them likely crippled in pursuit of not only a playoff appearance but a break-even record.

but beyond the probabilities, the anecdotal signals are absolutely screaming that this is a failure of a ballclub. the team has now assured that it will take but one of its first eight series. it has lost 6 of its last 8, and 11 of its last 15. and in doing so it has gotten some of the best, luckiest pitching in baseball out of a decidedly average pitching staff -- an event which ought to have been, in the estimation of this page, enough to make this club formidable.

instead -- by compiling a litany of timely bullpen collapses, howlingly bad baserunning, poor fielding and simply daring to be a merely average power club (placing 7th in the nl in slugging coming into the day) -- the cubs have managed to turn what was probably one of their best possible 20-game stretches in terms of runs allowed into a terrible losing skid. the offense has made pitchers like kyle lohse, braden looper and jeff suppan in their turn look the ghost of walter johnson himself. and they have further suffered singularly at the hand of dame fortune, who has capricously crushed them under an 0-8 record in games decided by two runs or less.

there are plenty of excuses, one can be sure, and hopes for reversal both sane and insane. but none undoes a 7-13 start -- and calling an end to this year's festivities is less about the projections of the preseason than overcoming both the burden of history and the damage already wrought. the former we have addressed. as for the latter, to find a handle on a 13-7 brewer ballclub -- one that is now, with a fast start behind them, a fair candidate for 90 wins -- the cubs are going to be greatly pressed. should even milwaukee falter and play just .500 baseball from here, they would win 84; for the cubs even just to tie that low target, they would need now to play 77-65 (.542) -- a record they have shown zero inclination to reach over even a relatively short stretch, much less more than five months. furthermore -- at least as damning as that -- the cubs not only need to significantly outplay milwaukee but houston, cincinnati, saint louis and pittsburgh.

what else is there to say, dear reader? if you were duped by the spending spree that wasn't, you have a lot of company -- and this page is certainly saddened but hopes you find instruction in its criticism. and there will almost certainly be some better days to enjoy in this year than these, so if your object remains a mere construction of escape from your bleak reality there is still reason to watch. indeed, some small possibility must still be allowed for a reversal of fortune -- more amazing things have, of course, happened.

but on the evidence there can be little doubt -- reasonable expectation of a winning season, much less a playoff year, is already gone even where hope may remain. teams that sink so far so soon almost always simply continue to struggle for the same reasons that they got into this position in the first place. the cubs join the kansas city royals, the washington nationals, the philadelphia phillies and the colorado rockies as those wandering tribes who -- for this season, at least -- remain, barring a miracle, on the outside looking in.

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