It Ain't Over Yet

October 05, 2007 | Comments (0) | by Rich Funk

As I sit down to write this, I have about a million thoughts going through my head.

I’ll start off by saying this: The Cubs are in trouble. The Cubs are in really big trouble. I’m not trying to be negative, just realistic. It sank in to me last night that if we lose just one more game out of the next three, we’re going home. No World Series. But we would get a fantastic consolation prize: 5,000 stories involving the words “curse” and “century”.

For the first 2 games against the Diamondbacks, the Cubs looked like the same team they were in April. They were swinging at everything, trying to go deep on every pitch. Right from the start of last night’s game, you could tell that everyone was a little nervous. Now that every game in this series is going to be a do-or-die for the Cubs, nerves can become even more of a factor.

But by no means is this series over. If the Diamondbacks can win 2 games at home, we certainly can too. But to understand what has to be done for that to happen, we have to look at what’s gone wrong so far:

The Big Bats Are Silent: $32,250,000. That’s the combined salary of Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. How many postseason hits has that produced? 4 hits. Stephen Drew has 4 hits all by himself. Hell, Augie Ojeda has 4 hits. Now it doesn’t surprise me that Soriano is struggling. He’s been an incredibly streaky hitter all season, and there’s just as much of a chance that he has a series where he hits .200 as there is of him having a series where he hits .400 with 4 home runs. And I’m a bit surprised but not too shocked that Derrek Lee is hitting this poorly through two games. He’s been a bit hot and cold this season too.

My main disappointment is in Ramirez. He’s always seemed like the guy that’s come through with the clutch hit. He always seems totally locked in and ready to take just about anyone he faces deep. But in this series, especially last night, he’s looked completely lost. When he struck out twice last night on the same low-and-outside breaking ball, he didn’t look like himself. He looks like he’s pressing. The whole offense looks like they’re pressing. Which brings me to my next point…

Lou Needs To Do His Job: I’m not going to go into his decision to take Carlos Zambrano out of Game 1 early. Sure, playing for a game that may or may not happen is not the way to do things in the postseason, but Marmol has been absolutely lights-out all season. There’s no way Lou could have known that Marmol was going to struggle. Plus, Lou has a lot more Major League management experience than I do, so I can’t really second guess him.

Where Lou needs to do his job is in the clubhouse. The hitters seem to be trying too hard to hit a 5-run homer every time up. Lilly was a little on edge last night. It just seems like the entire team isn’t focused, or maybe even focusing too much and getting inside their own heads. Either way, the Cubs don’t look like the same team they were when everything was clicking. They look stiff and unenergetic. Now coming back to Wrigley Field for (hopefully) 2 games should help, but Lou needs to get his troops together and get their heads in the game. He needs to tell them not to forget that this is a do-or-die game, but at the same time to play lose and let the game come to them.

Frank TV: I do believe that this Frank TV is at least partially responsible for the Cubs’ poor play. What the crap is this stuff? I will give Mr. Frank this: he does sound like the people he’s impersonating. But what he seems to be forgetting is that there’s a lot more to doing an effective impression than sounding like someone. First of all, you have to at least resemble the person you’re lampooning, something that is easier for thin people than larger people. If a thin person does an impression of John Goodman, there are ways to make them look bigger. If this Frank wants to do an impression of George Bush, he’s already fighting an uphill battle. I’m not saying that Frank is fat, but he’s certainly larger than President Bush (and Jack Nicholson…and Al Pacino). I don’t care if Vin Diesel can make himself sound just like Woody Allen…you need to have the look too.

Every time an ad came on for Frank TV, I felt the urge to punch myself squarely in the face, as I’m sure all of you did too. As if Cubs fans don’t have enough anxiety and frustration coming at playoff time, now we have the urge to do violent things? These bad vibes are traveling from all over the country to Arizona. I’m convinced that if there was no Frank TV, Zambrano and Lilly would have fired back-to-back perfect games.

Now there’s not much we can do about Frank TV, other than not watch it and hope that it goes the same way that all other TBS sitcoms go (Remember 10 Items Or Less? Me neither…). But the other 2 things are fixable. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

I don’t think the pitching is a problem. Sure, Lilly threw out a frozen turd on the field last night, but everyone can have a bad game. The Diamondbacks are hitting .259 this series, right on par with their team batting average during the regular season (or the “normal season” as Dick Stockton annoyingly refers to it as). The problem is that the Cubs are hitting .179. This needs to improve. Coming home, I think it will. If Soriano, Lee and Ramirez can get things going, we’re going to be set. Soto has been taking some good swings, and DeRosa is always a threat to have a 4-4 game. I do think Lou needs to put DeRosa in the 2 spot and knock Theriot down in the order. I love The Riot, but he hit .202 in September and seems to be bringing that rut into October.

I also think we need more Kerry Wood. This dude has been to the playoffs with the Cubs twice now and knows what it’s all about. But more than that, this dude is a gamer. When he melted down in Game 7 against the Marlins in 2003, he made no excuses, took responsibility for the loss (whether it was his fault or not), and was truly upset. He felt like he let his teammates down. This guy truly cares about Chicago and the Cubs. Kerry comes to play every day. This was never more clear than the September 27th game against the Marlins. Wood had to come into a game with the bases loaded and no outs, knowing that every game had major playoff implications. The Cubs wound up losing that game, but Kerry seemed like he was trying to put the entire tem on his back and carry them. Bases loaded with one out? Nothing a strikeout and double play can’t take care of. It just seemed like as the season wore on more and more, Kerry got more focused and determined that he was not going to let anyone beat him. Even in last night’s game, you could tell that he was pissed. That’s what the Cubs need right now. We need the team to grab a little of Wood’s mentality and tenacity.

I like the Cubs chances at home against the 87 year old Livan Hernandez and the rookie Micah Owings. Livan has major playoff experience, but ask Ramirez, Lee and Soriano how much playoff experience is helping them out right now. Aside from Hernandez’s playoff experience and the fact that Owings is a terror with the bat, they’re both just average pitchers. And yeah, if there’s a Game 5, we’ll have the impossible Brandon Webb, but by that time, we’d have all the momentum in the world. Sure he’s one of the best in the National League, but so was Jake Peavy. What’s he up to this week?

I know that it’s easy to lose faith after last night’s loss. Hell, I know I did. I wrote my game recap about how this loss was totally embarrassing in the 5th inning and didn’t have to change a thing by the time the Diamondbacks put the game to bed.

If we had lost 2 a Wrigley Field and would have to win 3 straight in Arizona, I would say we’re done. But we’re going home. That crowd is going to be absolutely insane from the first pitch to the last. They aren’t going to let this team get embarrassed. Not at Wrigley.

I’m not saying we might win game 3. I’m saying that we will win. I’m predicting that it’s going to be one of those games where the Cubs grab an early big lead, and the game is a laugher from then on (remember Game 5 of the 2003 NLCS when Aramis hit the gramd slam off Dontrelle Willis in the 1st inning? Something like that). I think coming home will solve the hitting problems, and I’ve always thought Rich Hill would come through when it mattered.

Don’t sell those Game 4 tickets yet. Just be a little more patient. It’s not like Cub fans don’t know how to do that.