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The Cubs: Cracks in the foundation

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  • The Cubs: Cracks in the foundation

    Chicago Cubs: Cracks in the foundation
    By Rick Hummel
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    09/06/2005

    And soon it will be 97 years and counting that the Chicago Cubs won't have won the World Series and an almost unfathomable (even for the Cubs) 60 years since they even have been in one. If this season plays out as it appears, the Cubs won't have had as many as three consecutive winning seasons since they had six in a row in the Leo Durocher era from 1967 to 1972.

    There probably are 100 reasons this has happened, and they aren't all named Steve Bartman. But consider these two names - Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston. And then consider these names - Ty Griffin, Earl Cunningham, Lance Dickson, Derek Wallace, Jon Ratliff, Jayson Peterson and Todd Noel.

    First baseman Grace and shortstop Dunston, cornerstones for the Cubs in the late 1980s and much of the 1990s, are the only position players of prominence developed by the Cubs who played for the Cubs for any appreciable period of time since Don Kessinger manned shortstop for the franchise from 1964 to 1975.

    Center fielder Corey Patterson should be in this group, but he has fallen from prominence the last couple of years and no longer appears a given in the Cubs' future.

    As for the second group of names, those were all first-round draft picks for the Cubs from 1988 to 1996. The extent of their big-league time with the Cubs consisted of three starts by lefthander Dickson, who was rushed to the majors the same year he was drafted from the University of Arizona in 1990. He lost all three and never appeared in the majors again.

    All this is a prelude to the consideration that the Cubs, who have developed top-of-the-line pitchers like Greg Maddux, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambano, finally do appear to have some position-player prospects ready to help as the franchise tries to rebuild yet again.

    Shortstop Ronny Cedeno has hit close to .300 in three stints with the Cubs this season after starring at Class AAA Iowa. Outfielder Matt Murton hit .342 at Class AA West Tennessee, earning a promotion to the big leagues, where he has hit .333 in part-time duty.

    The crown jewel is 20-year-old outfielder Felix Pie (pronounced pee-AY), who has speed and power but who suffered a severe bone bruise in his leg while playing at West Tennessee this summer, pushing him back probably a half-year or so.

    "I think we all feel that Cedeno's going to be a real good player," said general manager Jim Hendry. "And we're thrilled the way Murton has come up from Double-A and played. It's unfortunate what happened to Pie because he would have been here when Murton came up.

    "We've done a pretty good job of developing our young pitching, but not our position players."

    Whatever has happened this year to the Cubs isn't being laid at manager Dusty Baker's feet, at least not by Hendry. Baker "absolutely" will be back for his fourth year as manager next year, said Hendry.

    "When things don't go as well as we all planned, there's enough fingers to be pointed everywhere, but it's certainly not coming from (management)," Hendry said.

    Baker says he hasn't given up on this season yet, even though the Cubs began Tuesday night's game here five games under .500. But he hasn't had a team out of contention for the playoffs since 1996 at San Francisco.

    "It's tough," Baker said. "But ... there's always some goal that you can try to attain even if you make up something.

    "You've got pride and there's something most of you have never heard enough - if you weren't winning, you'd come up with a salary drive. You'd try to round your year off to a good year. If you were hitting .258, you'd want to hit .260. If you had nine victories as pitcher, you'd want 10. You'd play tricks with yourself in order to stay motivated.

    "Plus, in my mind, you still have a slim, outside chance of getting there (to the wild card). And you've still got 14 games left with the Cardinals and Houston, so that's a big thing for this year, plus you can set the tone for next year. You try to finish as high as you can finish, because that's what people remember and what you remember."

    Baker said the five priorities for next season, as he sees them, are bullpen help, bench help, more speed, better defense and fewer walks.

    The Cubs are 13th in double plays turned, 12th in fielding percentage and third in most walks issued, a statistic that goes with a young staff.

    In Hendry's first full year as general manager and Baker's first year as manager, 2003, the Cubs were five outs from the World Series, and they should have won the wild-card berth last year. When it became apparent that neither was going to happen this year, Hendry said, "It felt terrible for a long time.

    "But instead of 'coulda, shoulda, woulda,' I tried to channel our direction to getting a month's head start on next year. Instead of our scouts advancing like we usually do in September, they're going out to see the free agents or guys we might have an interest in trading for. We're trying to turn it into a productive month instead of feeling sorry for ourselves."

    The Cubs have some free-agent decisions of their own to make, such as whether to re-sign infielder Nomar Garciaparra, injured much of the season, or more likely infielder Neifi Perez.

    "And no matter what happens, we're going to need some outfield help," said Hendry.

    One of the few bright spots has been first baseman Derrek Lee, who led in all three Triple Crown categories much of the season. But Hendry said the Cubs' lineup was so strong at the beginning of the season, and resultant optimism was so high, that Lee was hitting sixth.

    "We had a healthy Nomar, who was going to hit third. We thought Corey was going to take a step up, instead of a step back," Hendry said.

    Prior said, "With the talent we've had this year, it's been disappointing not to get where we wanted to be. We've had three seven- or eight-game losing streaks. You don't see teams like the Atlanta Braves doing that. That's why they're so good.

    "We shouldn't be under .500."

    Now ... how far are the Cubs from pennant contention?

    "We've been behind the Cardinals - and rightfully so - by a huge amount the last couple of years," Hendry said. "But I don't feel our situation here is gloom and doom by any means.

    "No excuses. No complaints. But we certainly are not looking at it like we have insurmountable obstacles to overcome."

    Baker has been on a World Series winner as a Los Angeles player, two other Dodger teams as a runner-up and has been on losing World Series teams as a San Francisco coach and manager. So he doesn't believe that the Cubs' near-miss in 2003 is going to be his last opportunity.

    "I think I'm going to get a lot of chances, big-time," he said. "That's how I look at it.

    "It was kind of weird last year going home watching people in the playoffs on TV - when that used to be you."

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    Originally posted by *007*@Sep 7 2005, 01:44 AM

    Baker says he hasn't given up on this season yet, even though the Cubs began Tuesday night's game here five games under .500. But he hasn't had a team out of contention for the playoffs since 1996 at San Francisco.
    :o

    Put down the crack pipe and back away slowly, Dusty......I'm sure Hendry traded our starting LF'ers for minor league talent to help us make a run.

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