It’s only the middle of August, but it may be time to count the Cubs out of the playoff race. Sure, the Northsiders are three games out of the NL Central lead, but it may as well be 30; as we noted yesterday, Chicago hasn’t taken a series against a winning team since April, and that streak is likely to continue after last night’s backbreaking 12-inning loss to the Phillies.
It’s to the point where manager Lou Piniella has gone from lovably gruff to just, um, gruff. To wit, an exchange with a reporter after the game that, while not inexcusably mean-spirited, was certainly an overreaction to a bland question.
Lou Piniella is frustrated.
He’s angry. He’s upset. He’s exasperated. His team is losing and he has tried everything he possibly can throughout the season to get it back on track. But as the season rolls to the end, each loss becomes a little more painful as evidenced by Sweet Lou’s mood after the Cubs 4-3, 12-inning loss to the Phillies on Tuesday night.
Since his bullpen’s performance makes most fans want to pull their hair out, I figured it would make sense to ask Piniella if he shares the fans’ frustration.
“I’m not frustrated with anything.” Piniella snapped back. “You always have the same question. Your question is always one of frustration. You want to manage and lose five out of six? And see how you feel? You come up here and you sit here and let me ask you the question and then let me see what your emotions are.”
Mreeeowwwr! Bad kitty!
Whether Piniella enjoys his job or not is likely immaterial to the question of whether he can do a good job managing the team. Either he’s got the team to win or he doesn’t. Either he does a good job or he doesn’t.
But it certainly seems like the knowledge that his team is not, in fact, capable of contending in the playoffs is wearing on Piniella. Whereas before the Cubs were a good team that got cold at the wrong time in October during the last two years, now they’re just a soft-hitting, injury-prone team without a bullpen. Alfonso Soriano’s contract is quickly turning into a disaster, and there’s few fearsome hitters in the lineup outside of Aramis Ramirez. The starting pitching’s pretty good, but there are no lights-out aces, and starting pitching can’t win a division by itself if the bullpen’s blowing leads all over the place.
So Piniella, who probably wishes he was retired right about now, has to go about the task of trying to get a non-winning team to win. It’s unenviable, to say the least, and reporters should expect more spittle (and little else) until the season’s over. And the odds that Uncle Lou’s back in 2010? Roughly 50,000 to 1.