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Mystique and Awful
by Derek Smart
Remember what it was like to be in ballgames for nine innings? Maybe even win some? Ah, those were the days. Shoot, even during their struggles in early May the Cubs were at least close enough to engender some hope of recovery, futile though it often proved to be.
Now they've lost six of seven, and during those half-dozen defeats have been outscored by a shocking 55-17. That's getting whupped, folks, but even though the first three of those six provided the majority of the margin (the Marlins and Red Sox took those three from the Cubs by a combined score of 32-7), the team didn't truly look awful until they stepped into the House That Ruth Built this weekend.
I don't normally get into the intangible side of things, because, really, how can I possibly know what goes on in someone else's head, and how it affects them? Yet, I couldn't help noticing that the Cubs, nearly down to a man, looked intimidated and a little bit frightened. Not so much scared of who they were playing, but rather, cowed by where they were playing.
That could all be so much mumbo jumbo, though, and really, such observations are the sort of thing I usually scoff at. It's the worst kind of ex post facto fitting of previously held perception to outcome - I think Yankee Stadium could be intimidating, so therefore when the Cubs performed poorly there, that must be why. Still, as humans, we look for things to explain our experiences, and that's the best thing I can come up with for what was, as far as Cub baseball was concerned, a truly lost weekend.
Either that, or they just stank.
For those of you who didn't hear Tim McCarver gushing all over Derek Jeter during Saturday's game (and this was before the slam, mind you), take a peek here for the transcript. It was an amazing display by a man already famous for his Jeter-worship, and believe it or not, was over the top by even his standards (although, reading the transcript, the text doesn't convey the love in quite the same way). Truly, I needed a towel and a shower afterwards.
When I saw Joe Borowski coming in to face Derek Jeter with the bags juiced on Saturday, I could have sworn I heard his arrival on the scene at Yankee Stadium accompanied by that famous Metallica hit, "Enter Gascan".
I don't mean to be glib about Borowski's recent struggles, and you have to believe that I root for him like crazy - anyone who busts his butt to make it back to the Majors after being in the Mexican League has earned my respect - but at this point, with the way he's throwing, I'm happy for him that he got his money when he did.
The Cubs can afford it, and he earned what he's getting with his work in 2002 and 2003, but from what I've seen thus far, I don't know that he'll ever truly be effective again. Sure, there's a lot of season left, and I'm no pitching coach, but I've yet to see anything that gives me hope for his future, and no fastball and no slider make Joe a very hittable boy.
Since the end of the famously successful west coast road trip, Neifi! has apparently reached the end of his contract with that fella whose home is spelled with double hockey-sticks, hitting an appalling .130/.149/.152 over his last 47 plate appearances. This is the gentleman who has been given the responsibility of leading off the game and thus getting the most plate appearances of any Cub player, so since he has been entrusted with so much offensive responsibility, it is my duty at this time to declare the Non-Sarcastic Exclamation Point Era officially over.
Would I be more forgiving of another player struggling in a similar manner? You bet. Especially if that player hadn't inflicted a historic amount of damage to Major League offenses over the course of his career. The problem with Neifi!, of course, is that he has been that rough on his teams' run scoring chances in his previous nine years of play.
In his case, the anomaly isn't these recent 46 bad at bats, but the 205 good ones that went before, and knowing that's the case, it's time that something be done. I don't think there are any legitimate trade options out there, so it's time to either bat him eighth, or if you're in a gambling mood, call Ronnie Cedeno back up. The ride has come to an end, and as such, it's time to get off.
It's news good enough to deserve its own post, but with all this unfortunate weekend hoo-ha, I have to mention here that hearing how Mark Prior might be back before the end of the month is music to my ringing ears, food for my starving stomach, manna from heaven itself. Add that to Kerry Wood's eminent return, and hope still springs eternal here in Cub Town.
Back to more familiar foreign climes tonight, as the Cubs take on the Brewers in the House That Bud Built On The Backs Of Milwaukee Taxpayers. It's Maddux versus Ohka, a matchup of pitchers whose previous starts couldn't be more different - Ohka's a complete-game shutout, Maddux's three and two-thirds innings of seven-run suckitude. How about a little reversal of fortune, gents?