Cubs struggling and it’s not just Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano’s dugout meltdown last month is just one of the
problems facing the Cubs as they head toward the All-Star break.
What ails the longtime losers goes much deeper than that and it’s
on full display in Tom Ricketts’ first season as owner.
Poor offensive seasons by 3-4 hitters Derrek Lee and Aramis
Ramirez have helped put the Cubs into a hole that could make
sellers at the trade deadline. It’s also put into question the
future of manager Lou Piniella, who’s in the fourth and final year
of his contract.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another for a team going on 102
years without a World Series title.
There have been embarrassing losses. Last weekend at home
against the first-place Reds, the Cubs gave up nine runs in one
inning and two days later surrendered eight in another frame during
a game that saw Cincinnati hit seven homers. During their one
victory in the four-game series against former manager Dusty Baker,
Chicago stranded 17 runners.
“I don’t like to lose. I don’t think anybody does,” Piniella
said. “But what am I going to do, jump off the Hancock
In an interview with writers this week in Phoenix, where the
Cubs were visiting the Diamondbacks, Piniella said he was planning
to keep his job for the rest of the season. He led the Cubs to
division titles in his first two seasons, but they fell short last
year and things don’t look good this year with the team already
some 10 games out of the NL Central lead.
“I’m not a quitter,” Piniella said. “In this business, you
better be prepared to take the good with the bad. I mean, nobody
wants the bad, but at the same time it happens.”
It happens often enough with the emotional Zambrano, the
one-time ace who was surprisingly sent to the bullpen April 22 and
finally rejoined the rotation in early June. Zambrano, who signed a
five-year, $91.5 million contract in 2007, is just 3-6 with a 5.66
ERA in 22 games this season, including nine starts.
His outburst at U.S. Cellular Field was even more embarrassing
because it came against the White Sox after he surrendered four
runs in the first inning. He apparently was upset because some
teammates didn’t try to make diving stops on some hits, but
whatever the reason the tirade has been replayed numerous
Zambrano was sent home by Piniella, suspended, put on a
restricted list and then assigned to an unspecified treatment
program. When he returns after the All-Star break, he’ll be back in
“It was a good idea – a very good idea, actually – to wait ’til
after the All-Star break before he came in and addressed the
team,” Piniella said. “Things will quiet down a heck of a lot.
And I think that the players will accept Carlos as a
Five months ago in spring training, Zambrano promised he would
be a new man. No more outbursts or tantrums like the one against
umpire Mark Carlson last season that resulted in a six-game
suspension. Or the fight with catcher Michael Barrett in 2007 that
started in the dugout and spilled into the clubhouse, with Barrett
needing six stitches after the altercation.
“Believe me. I think I passed that stage where everything gets
me mad,” Zambrano said this spring. “That’s why you will see a
Carlos Zambrano smiling and laughing with everybody.”
Well, there’s still time. And there are bright spots on the
Right-hander Carlos Silva, acquired in a trade for another
player known for emotional outbursts – Milton Bradley – new center
fielder Marlon Byrd and rookie Tyler Colvin are playing well along
with steady closer Carlos Marmol.
But without the former ace, Zambrano, the Cubs’ pitching has
been spotty. And despite a solid rebound season from Alfonso
Soriano, the offense has struggled even after they added a new
hitting coach in the revered Rudy Jaramillo.
Byrd, who has made the All-Star team in his first season with
the Cubs, said the team must concentrate on winning series.
“That’s why were in the position we are,” Byrd said.
“Four-game series, we’re winning one. Three-game series, we’re
winning one. That’s not going to get it done.”