The Chicago Cubs magical first half of the 2008 season has quickly turned into a circus-like atmosphere for destiny’s team in the month of July. The Cubs began the season with few distractions, allowing the team to concentrate on playing very solid baseball, leading to the best record in baseball for much of the first half of the season.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
As of late, a rash of off-field events have provided plenty of distraction for a team already bearing the weight of lofty explanations. Those events include:
- Injuries to OF Alfonso Soriano (twice), P Chad Fox, P Carlos Zambrano, OF Reed Johnson, OF Daryle Ward, P Scott Eyre (twice), P Jon Lieber and now, P Kerry Wood.
- The ownership issue recently picking up steam, with rumors that internet billionaire Mark Cuban is the first round high bidder.
- The Cubs answering the Milwaukee Brewers blockbuster acquisition of P CC Sabathia with their own high-profile deal for P Rich Harden, then the insuing media circus around how the Cubs plan to keep the injury-prone Harden healthy.
- Eight Chicago Cubs players elected to the National League All-Star team, the most in team history, but also preventing the 8 best Cubs players from getting well deserved and needed rest.
- The Cubs receiving a $500,000 fine from MLB for not reporting the signing of a draft pick, prompting Cubs GM Jim Hendry to respond “It was just a clerical error”.
- On July 10th, an 8-year old boy was hit in the head by a foul ball off the bat of Cubs P Ted Lilly, fracturing his skull and ultimately a 10 day stay in the hospital.
- On July 24th, the Cubs Class A minor league affiliate Peoria Chiefs were involved in a bench clearing brawl with the Cincinnati Reds Class A affiliate Dayton Dragons, with 17 total players suspended and the Peoria P Julio Castillo arrested for angrily throwing a baseball towards the Dragons dugout, but instead, hitting a fan in the forehead.
- Finally, the constant and persistent daily reminders from anyone surrounding the Cubs, media, and fans that 2008 marks the the 100 year anniversary of the Cubs last World Series victory.
On the field, the Cubs have been less than stellar, posting a 9-11 record since July 1st. The off-field issues may have played some role in that record, but on-field, the Cubs have been a different team as of late. Some of the on-field issues include:
- OF Kosuke Fukudome hitting .185 in July
- IF/OF Mark DeRosa hitting .188 in July
- IF Aramis Ramirez hitting .176 in July including an 0-28 stretch between July 12-22.
- P Bobby Howry sports a 6.97 ERA in July, giving up earned runs in 3 of his last 5 appearances.
- Scheduling: From June 10th, the Cubs played for 26 consecutive days, including a rained-out affair at the Hall of Fame on June 16th, their only “day off” in that span. On June 29th, the Cubs played the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the week and then had to board a plane to fly to San Francisco to play a game the next night.
- Since June 10th, the Cubs record is 20-21. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Cubs play 20 game in 20 days.
- NL loses to the AL in the All Star game for the 11th straight year, thus securing home field advantage for the AL team, not a good sign for NL contenders such as the Cubs who are substantially under .500 on the road (22-30).
The Cubs are certainly not playing with the same energy that they displayed in amassing the best record in baseball in the days leading to the All-Star break, looking game weary while grinding out a schedule with spans of 26 games in a row and now, 20 in a row.
The Cubs seem as thought they’ve forgotten that playing baseball is fun. The hitters look less patient at the plate, swinging at pitches they took for balls earlier in the season. The once-vaunted bullpen, considered a strength of the team, is in disarray, with the injury to Kerry Wood forcing nearly every other pitcher in the pen to new roles. Jim Hendry is unsure whether to make any moves when considering that considering that when healthy, there could be more players than positions. I don’t know if this is a one week slide or if it’s a longer term issue. I don’t know the cure to what ails the Cubs. I do know that as of today, the Cubs are tied with the Brewers for first in the NL Central and both teams appear to be moving in opposite directions.