The Chicago Cubs are scuffling. Before a win Wednesday night, they were a season-low six games under .500. It’s not like this was a team that people were pegging for World Series hopefuls, but at the same time, this 2011 squad is very talented (and highly paid) and a less than .500 season should be unacceptable.
So, here at IvyReport, we’ve come up with five things the Cubs need to do to turn around the 2011 season:
1. Get back to the fundamentals.
This is the first and one of the most important keys to this year’s team. People complain that Kosuke Fukudome and Marlon Byrd are still playing despite some rough weeks. However, the reason both are still out there (lavish contracts aside) are that they are two of the Cubs’ best fundamental players. And manager Mike Quade loves the fundamentals.
For the most part, these two show the hustle Major League players should. They tend to hit the cutoff man, and have very solid, fundamental at-bats. Kosuke takes a lot of walks, and Byrd is pretty good at handling the bat (his ground ball to advance Carlos Pena in the second inning Thursday night against the Marlins was a prime example).
However, they’ve gotten away from the fundamentals, too. Kosuke had a terrible overthrow of the cutoff man in the epically bad Reds series and Byrd had just 9 RBIs (prior to Thursday’s game) while spending much of the year in the three-hole.
CSN’s David Kaplan had a great article Wednesday about the Cubs needing to get back to basics. Kap said Quade should hold a practice every day at the ballpark at 3 p.m. to work on the fundamentals. I say, go for it. These are Major Leaguers that seem to have lost their way.
2. Improve the defense
There is no excuse for losing a game 7-5 when there wasn’t an earned run given up. That means every single pitcher who took the bump in the game for the Cubs actually lowered their ERA and the offense pushed across five runs, yet the team STILL lost. Got a Bad News Bears kinda feel to it doesn’t it?
The defense needs to shape up, plain and simple. The aforementioned practices should help alleviate some of that issue. Byrd, Kosuke, Darwin Barney and Pena are all fantastic defenders, but they need to actually play up to that billing on a consistent basis. Pena has been fine, but his bat has been so bad at times that Quade has had to insert Tyler Colvin or Jeff Baker at first so the veteran slugger could try to get his swing figured out, and that switch impacts the defense for the worse.
Castro’s still so young and his fielding woes will continue as he grows and learns the MLB game. But he is working hard and he will improve. Aramis Ramirez is a whole different story, but that guy is so stubborn that I doubt he even listens to any of the coaches about his defense.
Prior to Thursday, the Cubs made 29 errors in 41 games, leading to 19 unearned runs. It’s sad that seven of those 19 came in the one game, but it’s still an unacceptable total either way.
I think this is the most important key for this year’s Cubs team. Before Tyler Colvin’s demotion to Triple-A, who was being held accountable for their actions? Certainly not Ramirez and his 1 HR and 15 RBIs while hitting cleanup. Definitely not Alfonso Soriano and his sub-.300 on-base percentage. Not Byrd and his single digit RBIs through the first quarter of the season.
Colvin’s demotion was just a product of poor luck and poor coaching. Yes, he wasn’t hitting well (.113 AVG at the time of demotion). But then again, he wasn’t getting anything close to regular at-bats because guys like Soriano and Fukudome and Byrd were being trotted out there every day despite some major flaws in their game.
Byrd is one of the main culprits. He’s hitting just .213 with runners in scoring position (10 hits in 47 at-bats) with just 7 RBIs. That’s unacceptable from a middle-of-the-order guy. Ramirez is in that same boat. And don’t even get me started on Soriano. So what if he leads the team in home runs and RBIs? He’s a horrible defender and is far from productive at the plate when he keeps the ball in play.
The length or size of the contracts should mean nothing. If a player is not performing up to standards, he shouldn’t be playing. If a player doesn’t hustle, he shouldn’t be out there. No more of this laissez faire attitude. Mike Quade needs to get inside these players heads and make an example of one of the veterans, proving that nobody’s job is secure.
One game, the offense will be there. The next, a brilliant pitching performance. The next, some highlight-reel defensive plays (though those are few and far between). Yet how many times this year have the Cubs put all three of those categories together for one game? A handful, at best.
Don’t get me wrong, they’ve started out many a game clicking on all cylinders. But, they always blow it late with some shoddy defense, untimely hitting or horrible pitching. The Reds series was a perfect example.
Plus, the only streak the Cubbies can put together are losing streaks. They can’t string together any wins or get on a roll. I still maintain that all this team really needs is one good stretch, where they win 10 of 12 or something like that. And then they’ll be right in it for the rest of the year in what appears to be a wide-open NL Central. Just gotta put everything together…
Mainly, this is runners in scoring position. The Cubs as a team are hitting .279, good for second best in all of baseball, behind only the St. Louis Cardinals. However, with runners in scoring position, the Cubs are just .229, good for 24th in the Majors.
That’s just not acceptable. And if Chicago is going to have any sort of success this year, that needs to come up to the .260 mark, at the very least. Especially if the team is hitting almost .280 overall.
As for pitching, the hurlers just need to hit their spots. Ryan Dempster hasn’t been allowing many more walks this season than in years past, his velocity isn’t down and his health is reportedly OK. So, he’s just not hitting his spots within the strike zone then and he’s giving up far too many hits. Carlos Zambrano, same thing. Both of these guys need to keep their ERA under 4.00, yet Dempster’s is approaching 7.00 and Z’s is nearing 5.00. Unacceptable when 40 percent of the Opening Day rotation is on the DL.