Tagged: Brewers

Cubs Struggles Not All That Surprising

On July 29th, the Cubs returned home for the first time since the All-Star Break, seven games under .500, and without Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano, who’d both been dealt on the west coast road trip.  Things looked good.  They’d won the trip against the Rockies, DBacks, and Giants, in spite of moving Garza and Soriano.  But some warning signs were there…

First, they weren’t scoring all that much in San Francisco.  They scored six runs in the series.  It’s not like they were lighting the world on fire.  They were just less futile than the Giants that particular weekend.  And the Giants hadn’t been playing all that well, anyway.  The Cubs were playing an equal, in spite of what that banner from last October might have said.  The Giants simply aren’t all that good this season.

Coming home, they got a series with the lowly Brewers.  Who are in the division.  Which, this season, automatically means inexplicably losing at least two of the games.  Lo and behold, they drop three of the four, all of which were in typical 2013 Cubs fashion.  Pedro Strop gave up the only five runs he’s allowed as a Cub in the first game.  They dropped both games of a doubleheader, blowing leads on a James Russell home run allowed in the first game and a Kevin Gregg blown save in the second, with a third strike call that wasn’t and a soft line out to short that wasn’t helping them blow the lead in the ninth inning.

After the Brewers, they got the Dodgers for four.  As of today, the Dodgers have won 40 out of their last 48.  In case you weren’t sure, an .833 winning percentage is freakin good.  They’ve been killing everybody lately.  It would have been a surprise if the Cubs won more than once in the series, and it doesn’t come as any surprise that they didn’t win at all.  The Dodgers are a buzz saw right now, and the Cubs were a thin sheet of plywood at that point.  Sure, they could have scored some runs in the last two, but it’s not earth shattering news that they didn’t…they haven’t been scoring all that much all season long.

The road is a little more kind to the Cubs.  Splitting six games with the Phillies and Cardinals is a good result.  In spite of their record, the Phillies still have some talent on their roster, and the Cardinals have been toward the top of the standings in all of baseball since Opening Day.  Winning half of your road games is a good thing, so no complaints there.

Getting the Reds, and Mat Latos when you get back home isn’t the house warming gift a struggling offense wants or needs.  And Latos was nasty on Monday night.  So they got shut out again by another good pitcher.  They got to Homer Bailey a little bit, which was nice to see, but Bronson Arroyo, who’s pretty solid, and loves to stick it to the Cubs for whatever reason, shut them down again.

I give you that nice summary of the painful last two and a half weeks to tell you this…all of those (with the exception of the Brewers) are pretty decent teams.  The Cubs just aren’t.  Not after trading away another 40% of the rotation and the clean-up hitter.

Let’s go back to spring, with a refresher of what Theo said…

“What I want to avoid is the middle ground.  It’d be nice to make the playoffs or get a protected draft pick. We’re not hiding that. There’s no glory in 78 wins instead of 73. Who cares?

We’re going to see where we are and take a real cold assessment in the middle of the season. If we have a legitimate chance to push for a playoff spot then 2013 can become our primary focus. If we think a playoff spot’s not in the cards, there will be no concern for appearances or cosmetics whatsoever. We’ll continue to address our future and trade off some pieces that would keep us respectable.’

And presto…the team who didn’t have a chance for the playoffs this season made their cold assessment, looked to the future, moved some parts that could keep it respectable, and it’s gotten ugly against some better than average competition.  And we’re bitching about not scoring any runs?  WE WERE TOLD THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN SIX MONTHS AGO!  If you thought the Cubs had a chance to win the division or compete for a playoff spot, you were one of three things: on the team and have to believe you’re not going to suck just to keep your own sanity, a big time optimist, or delusional.  I had the Cubs, as they arrived at camp, hanging around .500.  (I also had the Pirates finishing dead last in the division, so take it for what you will)  I made that prediction early because nobody for sure can never tell who’s going to stay or go, or get hurt.  And, the team that broke camp, actually played well enough to be near .500 every month except for April (10-16) and thus far in August.

The moral of the story here is simple…It is ridiculous to be on board with the rebuild and bemoan that the team isn’t all that good during the middle of it.  It’s even more ridiculous to be critical of how ugly it is when we were told explicitly by the guy who was going to decide on who to move and when to move them that it was probably going to happen.  None of this is a surprise.  If it is, you haven’t been paying attention.

I now return you to waiting for Javier Baez to hit another home run in AA.

Advertisements

As Deadline Passes, Cubs’ Priority Should Be Extending Dale Sveum

In just about two days time, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go.  The Cubs, who have been more active than any team in the month of July, will see a considerable slow down in activity with the passing of the draft, the initial international free agent signing period, and the trade deadline.  That leaves them with an ample opportunity to take care of what may be the most vital piece of business they have left before next season: Extend the contract of Manager, Dale Sveum.

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Photo: Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

As Theo Epstein’s hand picked successor to Mike Quade, Dale Sveum has done everything the Cubs could have imagined…and more.  He deserves to go into next season with some job security, and the Cubs should go into this off-season, where they will surely try to add players who can help the major league team take the next step toward respectability, with stability in the manager’s office.

Although his 109-156 record isn’t outstanding, it is also not his fault.  He walked into a complete overhaul of a roster of albatross contracts, aging veterans, and young players who really weren’t major league players.  To make matters worse, the front office either traded or shut down major portions of his starting rotation…in both 2012 and 2013.  The bullpens he’s had to work with have been largely unproven young players or veteran retreads (*cough cough* Shawn Camp *cough*), and it has shown in the win-loss column.

Dale Sveum was hired to do two main things: Keep the clubhouse together and develop young talent.  He’s done exceedingly well on both fronts in his first two seasons.

On the player development front, the biggest feather in his cap is the coaching staff he’s put together.  While he may have had Rudy Jaramillo and Pat Listach as hold overs for either part or all of last season, the additions of Dave McKay, David Bell, and Chris Bosio have all been successful.  Dave McKay helped turn Alfonso Soriano into a serviceable left fielder.  After years of being afraid of the wall and hopping around like a wounded bunny rabbit, Soriano had the highest UZR among NL left fielders last season.  It’s amazing what a little coaching will do after Soriano admitted that he hadn’t gotten any outfield instruction before last season, from either Quade’s staff or Lou Piniella before him.  Anthony Rizzo is another success, as Sveum, the former Brewers hitting coach, brought his hands down, shortening his swing, and making him better than the .141/.281.242 hitter he was with the Padres in 2011.  The anecdotes serve as evidence of a whole: the Cubs are a vastly improved defensive team from the years before Sveum.  And the approach at the plate is starting to get better, too.  Nothing happens over night, but the results are starting to show up.  In spite of all of the player movement, trades, and lost veterans in the clubhouse, the Cubs have a winning record since May 26 (30-25).  While the sample is small, the results matter.  Even with major bullpen issues and a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are playing competitively.  The steps in the right direction are adding up.

The clubhouse is the other place Sveum was asked to thrive.  As a former top prospect, he can relate to the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and soon Javier Baez, et al.  He can also relate to the 25th man on the roster because that’s where his career ended after a devastating leg injury.  He knows the weight of expectations and he knows the plight of the role player who is tasked to sit and wait for his name to be called, and the need to be ready.  He relates to his players because he’s been there and done that.  And while he took some undeserved criticism for his loyalty to Shawn Camp from fans, it was not his job to get rid of Camp.  It was the front office’s.  Having his player’s back, especially one who he’s had history with, was the only move he could make that doesn’t send the alienating “as soon as I see trouble, I’m going to turn my back on you.” message.  That’s a terrible image to portray to the rest of the team.  The fact that Dale said it was tough to see Camp go may have made fans cringe, but it probably made the team smile a little bit.  When veterans like Matt Garza hang around after being shut down with 2 1/2 months left in a 100 loss season, it says as much as there is to say about a clubhouse…especially when Garza admitted if it had been Quade’s clubhouse, he would have gone home.  And being able to sign quality free agents like Edwin Jackson after a 100 loss season doesn’t happen if the player thinks the manager is a bum who can’t manage a clubhouse.  Think about it.  Has anything obscenely negative come out of the clubhouse during Sveum’s tenure?  For a team with the win-loss record the Cubs have had, you’d think there would be something.  Especially in a media market like Chicago.  But it’s been remarkably quiet.  Which means the bad stuff is being handled where it should…in house.

Dale has been charged with over-seeing a complete rebuild, which couldn’t have been fun, couldn’t have been easy, and couldn’t have happened in any worse a place than Wrigley Field, where every year is “THE YEAR” to a group of people who only watch the game and read the box score in the paper each morning.  The reality is, last year, this year, and probably next year are not “THE YEAR.”  But the team is heading in the right direction in spite of the instability among the player personnel.  That is a credit to Sveum, and the right thing to do is ensure that he never gets to “lame duck” status in the last year of a contract with a team, who next year may be able to win consistently for the first time in his tenure.

Besides.  He got shot in the face and laughed it off.  How cool is it to have a manager like that?

Cubs Will Have Competition When Selling Off Pieces

With the news that the Cubs are now “Open For Business,” it is apparent that the “cold assessment” of where the Cubs are is complete, and the plug is being pulled.  In reality, it isn’t any big secret that the Cubs were going to sell off pieces this summer, as the rebuild continues.

The timing couldn’t be better.  While other teams are deciding whether or not to get into the market and start moving anything that isn’t bolted down, the Cubs should start making moves now.  The reason is simple: they have a lot of pieces that can be had from other teams if and when they get into the fray.

Starting pitching is going to be heavily available this summer.  The Phillies have denied that Cliff Lee is going to be available, but that is far from definite.  The Phillies could cure a lot of ailments with that arm, and if they decide to move players, Lee is the biggest and best chip they have to push into the center of the table.  His presence would put a major damper on the market for Matt Garza.  If a team like the Giants or the Rangers is looking for an arm to push them back into the Fall Classic, Lee is going to be sought before Garza.  He comes with more control and he’s a better pitcher.  His price will be bigger, but his reward will match.

Trading Garza will also be met by the resistance of the potential for the Brewers to put Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse on the market, the Blue Jays to seek to move Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, or the White Sox trying to trade Jake Peavy.  All would be nice acquisitions that could be thrown into the middle of someone’s rotation for a run to October.  At this early stage, it would appear to be a buyers’ market for mid-rotation starting pitching as the deadline draws closer.

The same can be said about a player like Scott Feldman, who can start at the back of a rotation until the playoffs and become a contributor out of the bullpen in October.  The Twins can move Kevin Correia, the Marlins will likely move Ricky Nolasco, and the Astros are going to try to unload Bud Norris, so the market for a piece to add to the back of a rotation could also get to be a little crowded.

Yet another problem the Cubs face is the marked improvement of their farm system.  The Cubs are not in a position where they have to take on as much talent as they can get because the system is so depleted that it needs as many good bodies as it can take on.  The major area of weakness for the Cubs is in the pitching department.  The front office acknowledged that the pitching is going to come from international signings and from the trade deadline.  The problem with that strategy is simple: the teams who are going to look at adding pieces aren’t rich in pitching prospects.  The Giants and Rangers don’t have a lot of pitching depth in their systems.  Kyle Crick and Clayton Blackburn are the Giants’ top two prospects, and both are in the bottom quarter of Keith Law’s top 100 prospects this season.

What has been said repeatedly still holds true.  If the Cubs can find a team who needs multiple pieces that the Cubs can provide, they have their best opportunity to maximize their return.  What has not been said, though, is that the Cubs face a lot of competition for the players they have to offer, especially the pitching.  It would be doubtful to see the extensive sell-off this season for that reason.  There will be more teams offering similar pieces, and the other teams offering their veteran players need a lot more for their depleted farm systems, which make it much easier to make a deal.

 

Dale and Theo Both Said Starlin Sucks Today

Alright, they didn’t say exactly that, but they did say he has “regressed.”  On ESPN 1000’s “Waddle and Silvy”, Theo said (via Doug Padilla from ESPNChicago.com),

“Failure is innate in baseball; it’s inevitable.  It’s actually an important part in the development of the development process. Starlin is someone who went very quickly through the upper minor leagues. If you look at the number of at-bats he had at the Double-A and Triple-A level, there are not very many and he was in the big leagues instantly and had success.”

Actually, Starlin Castro didn’t have any at-bats at Iowa because he was called up from the Smokies in 2010, skipping right over Triple A.   Theo also talked about the value of such a slump.

“Because he never failed, he never had to make adjustments as an offensive player and he’s going through that now; he’s struggling.  He’s well below the high standards he has set for himself. That means it’s failure, it’s a slump and it’s incumbent on him to work his way out of it and for us to help put him in a position where he can get out of it and I think that he will, and he will be a better player in the long run because of it.”

Dale Sveum was asked about Theo’s comments and agreed with the assessment.  From Paul Sullivan in the Chicago Tribune…

“By numbers alone he’s regressed, there’s no question about it.  He’s getting way, way down as far as all the other shortstops in baseball right now, as far as the offensive part. He’s under a .600 OPS. So that would go without saying that he’s regressed.”

While neither talked glowingly about Castro’s present, they didn’t say anything that should worry anyone about his future.  The major takeaway is that Starlin is struggling and in the long run, he should be better for it.

The current ramifications of his struggles are tied to the team’s success.  Since Starlin Castro is such an integral part of the offense, no matter where he hits in the line-up, his success or failure is going to be directly tied to the team’s success or failure, and it will remain that way for at least the next year.  In some ways, it would seem that the Cubs’ early failures offensively can be tied to Castro’s struggles and at the same time his struggles can be tied to the early offensive failures.  He isn’t hitting well, so the offense looks weak, but because the offense is weak and Starlin knows his value in the line-up every day, he pushes himself harder to perform and doesn’t stay within himself to perform at the level he is accustomed to.

At this point, Starlin Castro is the least of the Cubs’ problems.  There is no reason to think he won’t be the hitter he is capable of.  Even if he stays at a .290/.340/.430 level for the rest of his career, which is on par with the numbers he put up through his first three seasons, he’ll be one of the most productive short stops in the game and be a bargain at the contract extension he signed last season.  Eventually, he’ll come out of the slump.  Hopefully, it’ll happen soon.  The Astros are in this weekend and the Cubs are in Milwaukee next week…and those are some slump busting pitching staffs.

The Cubs Can’t (And Shouldn’t) Try to Win Now

In 2011, the Cubs and Cardinals shared something in common.  Both dreamed of 2012 with Albert Pujols in the line-up.  Jerseys,

shirsies, and Cubs’ gear with the signature 5 on the back started appearing.  And then Jim Hendry gave him a hug.  And we all leaned forward.  And then Hendry got fired and Theo Epstein got the job to lead the front office after spending mega-dollars in Boston.  We all thought it was a sure thing that the Cubs would sign Pujols or former Brewer, Prince Fielder.  And then the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo.  And the dreaming was over.

The start of a rebuild was upon us.  None of us thought it was 101 losses bad.  We didn’t think we would be waiting until 2015 to be realistic contenders.  That is, however, where we are.  And it is exactly where we should be.

My favorite conversations are with the people who talk about “winning now.”  We should buy free agents to win now while prospects develop so that we have a good major league product while we develop a minor league product.  The reality, though, is that logic is flawed.  Because the evidence suggests that it fails just about 100% of the time.

The New York Yankees are the poster-children for throwing money at flaws.  In fact, the Yankees have spent, since 2001, roughly $2.375 BILLION on payroll.  They have appeared in the World Series only three times (2001, 2003, and 2009), and have only won once (2009).  They spent about $792 million per World Series appearance.  Meanwhile, the Cubs have spent about $1.294 billion on payroll for three PLAYOFF appearances, and no World Series berths in the same time frame.  Every year, the Cubs are in the top half (even now) in total payroll and have had among the highest in the National League over the last 13 years.

The teams who are winning are those who draft their players, develop them, bring them up, and learn to win at the MLB level.  There is a reason the Rays are one of the most stable franchises in baseball now, in spite of having to let players like Matt Garza, Carl Crawford, James Shields, and likely soon will let David Price walk out the door.  They do their work on the draft and turn their talent into contending quality major league teams.  The Giants have done the same thing with home grown Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Buster Posey, et al winning two of the last three championships.  The Cardinals refused to pay Albert Pujols more than he was worth.  They set a number and a length for him, and refused to budge.  He went to the Angels, and his legs stayed in St. Louis.  Meanwhile, he has eight years left on his contract.  He’ll be a player who can’t run, can’t be traded, and has to be paid until 2021.  Sound familiar?  A certain left fielder has drawn the ire of Cubs fans for failing to live up to his deal, and Pujols has an even worse contract.

Like it did with the Rays, the Phillies when they won with a core of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins (all home grown), and the Giants, it will take time for the Cubs to roll the snowball of building talent into a top down organizational juggernaut like the current Cardinals (who have the best record in baseball and one of  the best farm systems to pair with it), but it is the right direction.

In the coming free agent class, there are no game changers to make the Cubs instant contenders.  That is just another flaw in a completely unsustainable plan.  Robinson Cano is the only potential free agent who could make an impact on a line up, and it is highly unlikely that he leaves New York.  Shin Soo Choo is a nice piece, but he isn’t pushing the Cubs into the category of making a deep October run.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a good player who may finally be healthy, but he is nearing the wrong side of 30, and has an injury history that makes him a salary liability.  And if/ when the Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Brett Jackson, Kris Bryant group gets to Chicago, they have an old player with a big contract blocking them.  The pitching isn’t much better in the coming off-season.  The most accomplished free agent pitcher to be is already on the Cubs’ roster in Matt Garza.

Losing games isn’t any fun.  It’s easy to understand the frustration of watching the team lose games they could win, sink to the bottom of the division in May, and sell off veteran pieces for players who may turn into nothing.  But throwing money at free agents and trading every nice piece in the farm for a chance at one year is how the Cubs got to this point in the first place.  They are much better served developing their players, bringing them to the big league level, and trading prospects only when the return is a player who can be useful for sustained success.  Money is best spent in the manner the front office has shown that it is going to spend it…on its own core pieces.  Keeping young talent in-house for mutually beneficial deals is a very good way to spend money, and the Cubs’ position as a big market team should be able to allow them to hang on to their players, and not have to purge them when they have out-performed their contracts.

An unfortunate side effect to doing it the right way is that it takes time.  And it will.  Anything worth doing, though, is worth doing right.  Doing it right takes time, and good things come to those who wait, and all those other things we were told when we were kids.  They’re all true.

Divisional Failure Skewing an Otherwise Decent Season

There have been times where this season’s Cubs have looked respectable.  There have been times, especially against the White Sox, where this team looked downright good.  None of those times have come against the division.  In a season where there was some optimism from the team about being a sleeper to compete, and the fans expected a step forward, the early results against the division have been anything but promising.

Against all teams not in the NL Central, the Cubs have been interesting.  Their 18-17 record against non-divisional opponents reeks of respectability.  The offense and pitching come together and play solid baseball.  The 7-21 mark against the division is where the disconnect lies.  They have only won one series in the division, the first series of the year at Pittsburgh.  They have not won a single series against the division at home.  And the only team they don’t have a losing record against in the division is St. Louis, who they’ve split two games with.  The Cubs haven’t won a home game against the Reds all season, and today stretched that mark to 12 straight losses, which is the most an opponent has won at Wrigley consecutively since the 1956-57 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Why the terrible performances against the division?  The bullpen is a culprit, because they have blown some leads against division teams in the same ways they’ve blown some against non-division teams.  The biggest contributor to the problems has been the offense, though.  The Cubs cannot find any way at all to push runs across the plate against the division.  Only three times have they managed five or more runs in a single game, where their record is 2-1.  The Cubs have been shutout four times this season, all coming against the division.  They have scored two of fewer runs against the division 12 times, with a record of  1-11, including the four shutout losses.

One of the most common ailments that gets talked about with the Cubs is the inability to beat left handed starters.  The Cubs have had 22 such games this season.  They are, again, respectable against lefties outside of the division, with a solid 7-7 mark for this team.  The 2-6 mark against the division is where the struggles have been concentrated.  And it is not a situation where they’re losing to pitchers they’ve never seen.  The Cubs have seen a lot of Wandy Rodriguez over the years with the Astros, and now the Pirates.  Francisco Liriano has looked like Sandy Koufax in his starts against the Cubs this year…and he’s a guy with a career ERA of over four.

To me, the answer is simple.  There is no organizational urgency to perform against the division.  When you see four teams 19 times each, those games matter more because those games comprise just about half of the schedule.  At the current rate, the Cubs are staring a 19-57 divisional record in the face.  A .250 winning percentage against the division is pathetic by any standard.  While the pace of this season is not quite at 100 losses, it’s damn close, and the division is the reason why. 

Many fans unfairly criticize the manager, Dale Sveum.  If there is one place where he deserves some criticism, it is in this case.  Yes, it is up to the players to perform, but the manager must prepare the team, and this team is obviously in way over their heads against division foes.  And it isn’t like Dale isn’t familiar with the other teams in the division.  He was with the Brewers before coming to Chicago.  And coaches Jamie Quirk, Chris Bosio, and Dave McKay have all been in the division, too.  There is familiarity with the opponents.  So even though the team may have a lot of young and new pieces without that experience against the common opponents, the coaches should all have full books on each and every one of the four division rivals.

I can’t believe, in spite of everything I’ve seen, that the Cubs will finish 19-57 against the division.  It can’t be that bad.  Even though all of the pronounced losing streaks through have been at the hands of the division, including a current 1-5 home stand against the Pirates and Reds, there has to be some positive regression.  There are 48 divisional match-ups remaining.  The hope should be a clean split, which would be consistent with the way they’ve played everyone else.  Unfortunately, with the loss of the Astros to the AL West and the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates all playing well, that could be just a touch optimistic. 

And in no way should hoping for a 31-45 record for any 76 game block be what we have to hope for.

Rizzo and Castro Struggle, Dale’s Cubs Future, and Blaming the Fans?

In today’s loss to Pittsburgh, Starlin Castro had two hits and Anthony Rizzo wore the collar again.  That’s not really too different from the last week or so, where neither has been setting the world on fire.  In Starlin’s case, he’s been less productive all season than he has in his first three.  Anthony Rizzo has been as streaky as it gets.  He ended a 40 PA streak without a strike out with a flurry of them coming in the last four ballgames.  Ultimately, both have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  Starlin Castro is not as protected as he was when he was called up three years ago.  Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are not in the line up to protect him anymore, and it has shown since the beginning of 2012.  Anthony Rizzo never got the luxury of  being in the line up with Ramirez or Lee, and has been the man since last June when he was called up.  At least Alfonso Soriano was swinging the bat when he got the call.  Early on, that hasn’t been the case at all, and Rizzo has also done some uncharacteristic swinging and missing, in an obvious effort to carry the offense.

Dale Sveum has shown up as the scapegoat for this season.  It isn’t a surprise that Dale is the one being chased with torches and pitchforks.  After all, he is the one who is hanging sliders late in games.  And it is Sveum who is swinging at pitches a foot off the plate with runners in scoring position.  It would be unimaginable to forget all of the errors in the field he’s committed, as well.  Actually, I’m being told that he hasn’t done any of those things thus far.  While he (and every other manager/ head coach in professional sports) has done some things that may not seem to be the right move, or clearly haven’t been the right move, it is absurd to blame him for the failures of the bullpen this season.  He could not have known, before the season, that Carlos Marmol was going to be as bad as he was out of the gates after as good as he was in the second half of last season.  He could not have known Kyuji Fujikawa would have a forearm injury and not tell anyone about it.  The same applies to the Shawn Camp fiasco that happened earlier this week.  While it is fair to question some of the moves Dale has made in some situations, to pick him apart and blame him for the failures of the team would be a disservice, especially since he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the development that he has overseen.  The Cubs were the worst defensive team in baseball in 2011.  They are much better now (spare me the errors, crap.  Those are 100% subjective.  Peripherals say the Cubs are much better than they were in 2011).  They are much better base runners.  They make some silly plays on the bases now, but they are errors or aggression, and not errors of not knowing what’s going on.  All of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija have grown in the time Sveum has been around.  Darwin Barney won a Gold Freaking Glove.  Matt Garza stayed with a 61 win team after being shut down in July because of the atmosphere of the clubhouse when a lot of players go home to rehab.  That speaks volumes to Dale Sveum’s ability to manage a clubhouse and a ball club.  He should get the credit he deserves if he is going to get the unfair criticisms of being the reason a team with a talent deficiency is 10 under .500.

All of that leads me to this…when do the fans start looking in the mirror and blaming themselves?  The obvious answer is never.  Because nobody wants to think they’re the reason for anything.  We as a fan base, collectively, have a lot more effect on things than we might think.  Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are two very rich players who fans are always talking about being the future of the team and the cornerstones of a team that lead the Cubs fans to the promised land.  That’s a heavy burden on two kids.  Because they are kids.  23 years old is young if they were starting in Iowa.  They are both starting every day at Wrigley Field.  While I am not tremendously older than either of those two, I do know that I have undergone a major transformation in the years since I was 23.  That’s just out of college for most people.  These two are being counted on to win a World Series where one hasn’t been won in 105 years!  Are they feeling the pressure of expectations levied on them by media and fans?  I can’t answer for sure, but I would venture to guess the obvious answer is yes.  It shows in their performance.  They are both trying to make things happen when nothing is there to be made…and it is hurting them and the team.  Matt Garza has already addressed the negativity around the team this season from the fans.  Since he’s still new to the whole Cubs atmosphere, he must not realize the negativity has been going on for a long time.  Dale Sveum isn’t the first “moron,” “idiot,” “over-thinker,” or “washed up player” to come through here and be run out of town by the fans.  It happened to Mike Quade, Dusty Baker, and Don Baylor…all in the last 12 years.  It probably would have happened to Lou Piniella, too, but he got the hell out of town before he could be chased down Sheffield Avenue by an angry mob.  All of the things that I love about being a Cubs fan…the passion, the loyalty, the undying desire to see the Cubs win it all…have to make being on a team that doesn’t win it all an unmitigated hell.  We’re the people who booed Carlos Marmol before the home opener this season.  We’re the people who booed Alfonso Soriano unmercifully for not running out a line drive that was caught at third base on national television.  We’re the people who, inexplicable, found some cause to boo Aramis Ramirez when he made his first visit to Wrigley last season as a member of the Brewers.

And for what?  Because every year has to be THE YEAR?  I’ve said it before, other bloggers have said it before, and the front office and manager have said it before if you listened closely to what they’ve said…this is not the year.  This is another completely developmental year.  Theo, and I paraphrase, said it’s either playoffs or protected pick.  And if you hooked him up to a polygraph, he’d probably tell you playoffs were never really an option.  He’s smart.  He knows who is on the line up card Dale fills out everyday.  It’s not a playoff team.

I’m not saying to applaud mediocrity.  I’m not saying to ignore mistakes and to not boo a lack of effort.  I’m saying that we aren’t helping.  The players that are running out there everyday feel the weight of a fan base pushing down on their shoulders.  And there are only a few who are out there everyday.  Castro.  Rizzo.  Barney.  Those are the ones who will have the best chance of being a part of the team that does win it all.  Crushing them now is just counterproductive.