It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for a team that won a National League-best 97 games a year ago.
A team that had two 17-game winners (Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly) and a flamethrower like Carlos Zambrano in the rotation.
A team with big bats like Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano in the lineup.
A team like that shouldn’t be two games under .500.
But that’s exactly where the Cubbies are in 2009. At 35-37, they’re looking up at three teams – the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds – in the National League Central and are showing no signs of turning it around.
There’s no single reason Chicago has been such a disappointment this year. The pitching staff could be targeted – Dempster has been inconsistent at best with a 4-5 record and a 4.09 ERA – but that’d be letting the hitters off the hook. After losing Ramirez to a dislocated left shoulder in May, the Cubs’ bats haven’t done much to pick up the slack. Soriano is hitting a woeful .235 and Geovany Soto isn’t much better at .223.
Chicago has seen its fair share of controversy this season as well. In May, Zambrano was tossed from a game against Pittsburgh and proceeded to destroy the Cubs’ dugout Gatorade machine with a bat, making national news. Early last week, volatile outfielder Milton Bradley (who has been a major disappointment after signing a three-year, $30 million deal this summer: .232 average, 5HR, 16RBI) went berserk after flying out in the sixth inning against the White Sox. Bradley chucked his helmet and went after a water cooler, infuriating Cubs manager Lou Piniella to the point where he sent Bradley home for the night.
That was Piniella’s first major uproar of the season, which has come under scrutiny as well. There’s some question if Piniella’s more “relaxed” approach to this season is the cause for the Cubs’ struggles. Several Chicago-area reporters have openly questioned if Sweet Lou has mellowed with age – at 65, Piniella hasn’t had any of the infamous blowups that have characterized his managerial career. And that’s something, given the fact he’s been tossed from 60 games.
In the end, though, the Cubs might simply be a team crushed under the weight of expectations. The biggest question for Chicago coming into this season was – given its epic collapse in last year’s postseason – if the Cubs could get over the hump in the playoffs.
Now the question is if they’ll make the playoffs at all.