|Down and dirty: another sorry chapter for the reeling Cubs|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 02 June 2007 10:37|
Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett are fighting in the dugout. The team is breaking down on the field. And manager Lou Piniella is steaming, disgusted with a group that he insists does not play like major leaguers.
He's also kicking dirt on umpires, throwing his cap and getting ejected - an outburst that came during Saturday's 5-3 defeat to Atlanta for the Cubs' sixth straight loss.
And that's just the past week.
This descent into mayhem was hardly envisioned after the club committed about $300 million during the offseason to build a winner.
``I am fed up with some of the play we've had on the field,'' Piniella said.
He did, however, have a request: ``I hope I don't get judged by my start. Just give me time to get this thing straightened out.''
That will pose a challenge. At the moment, the Cubs are a mess.
Everything came to a head Friday, when Barrett went to the hospital, needing six stitches after his fight with Zambrano. The trouble in the dugout was compounded by trouble on the field: The Cubs lost 8-5.
``Something's got to change,'' Aramis Ramirez said.
Derrek Lee said it's up to the players to make those changes.
``It's on us, not management,'' he said. ``We've been talked to over and over. We've talked among ourselves. It's just time to do it.''
Things got ugly between Zambrano and Barrett in the fifth inning when the Braves scored five runs. One came on a passed ball and throwing error by Barrett, and he and Zambrano got into a shouting match in the dugout before the bottom half.
Zambrano screamed and pointed toward his head as he approached Barrett, who gestured toward the field while yelling at him. The pitcher shoved Barrett and slapped him. He had his right fist cocked as the two were separated.
Piniella and several players led Zambrano back to the clubhouse and the manager told him to shower and leave. Piniella then returned to the dugout.
Barrett went back to the clubhouse, and Round 2 was under way. This one left him with a split lip and bruise below the left eye.
Piniella's temper came to a slow boil later when someone asked about his frustration. It ended with him shouting:
``I only have so many players that I can play! You know? And it's about time some of them start playing like major leaguers! Or, get somebody else in here that can catch the damn ball or run the bases properly! All right? That's all I can say!''
He left the room, uttering an obscenity along the way. And he was still riled up on Saturday.
Piniella said he and management are on the same page, but this clearly has been a difficult season.
``Some of the things I've seen here, I haven't seen anywhere else I've been,'' he said. ``I'm not fed up with it, but it's got to stop. Or, obviously, we've got to make some changes.''
The frustration for the Cubs - who have not appeared in a World Series since 1945 - has been percolating all season. This was a year they thought they were playoff contenders after a 66-win season.
Andy MacPhail resigned as president at the end of the season, and the Cubs decided not to renew former manager Dusty Baker's contract. General manager Jim Hendry got the equivalent of a blank check from ownership and went shopping.
He hired Piniella. He re-signed Ramirez for five years and $75 million.
Then, he reeled in the big catch of the offseason - Alfonso Soriano, for $136 million over eight years. And Hendry wasn't finished.
He strengthened the starting rotation with Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly, and both have performed well.
Soriano has not lived up to expectations, though. He was batting .289 with four homers and 12 RBIs and had to be moved from center field to left - his position with Washington last year - about three weeks into the season. Jacque Jones went from right to center. Cliff Floyd and Matt Murton are in right.
Piniella has promised to settle on a consistent starting lineup. But that ``Cubbie swagger'' he vowed would develop remains a ``Cubbie stagger,'' one that has plagued the franchise since it's last championship in 1908.
``You can't shoot your foot all the time,'' he said.
The Cubs are beset by the same sort of fundamental breakdowns that marked the past few seasons with Baker. And the soap opera episodes aren't going away, either.
Closer Ryan Dempster, a former starter, told reporters he was headed to the rotation, only to retract that statement about 30 minutes later. Piniella's temper has flared several times this season, the latest coming Saturday.
He became enraged after Angel Pagan was caught stealing third base in the eighth inning. And the thumb by third-base umpire Mark Wegner was not about to stop him. Piniella continued to argue as fans littered the field with debris and chanted ``Lou! Lou! Lou!''
On Tuesday, there was a 9-4 loss to Florida in which Mark DeRosa got thrown out trying to go to third on a grounder to short and Barrett got picked off second. Afterward, Piniella suggested it ``might be our worst game of the year.'' Clearly, he didn't know what was coming.
A day later, the players held a long meeting. Piniella and management had one of their own, although they said it was just a routine get-together.
The Cubs then lost 9-0, and a day off Thursday didn't help, either. On Friday, things turned ugly long before Zambrano and Barrett went at it.
The Braves scored a run in the first after Ryan Theriot lost a pop fly in the sun and Ramirez bobbled a grounder, forcing him to get the out at first rather than try for a double play. And they got another in the fourth when Murton dropped a fly to right.
``We're doing stuff you don't even see,'' Lee said. ``Dropping fly balls. That's really inexcusable. We've just got to do something else.''