Fault lines on the Cubs growing deeper
Updated: April 26, 2009, 5:02 PM ET
Throughout the years, reporters assigned to cover Cubs manager Lou Piniella often have given updates on his emotional state. Inevitably, they've sounded like geologists working on the San Andreas Fault. There are daily temperature readings and pressure checks and forecasts, and I'm sure that Sunday, everyone within a square mile of Piniella will be warned that signs of stress exist. The Cubs are reeling and the Cardinals are rolling, and it never helps when a pitcher walks a couple of guys in front of the greatest hitter alive, as rookie reliever David Patton did before piping a fastball to Albert Pujols, who soared past 1,000 career RBIs with a laser show. The theory always has been that Piniella's emotions can jar and push his teams from a malaise. But at this particular time, that theory might not fit the situation. It might not matter a bit how angry Piniella gets, because the Cubs have serious problems with their lineup, such as: 1. Derrek Lee is not hitting and hasn't for a really long time. In his past 66 games dating back to last season, Lee has batted .252 with four homers, 33 RBIs and a .357 slugging percentage. This season, the first baseman is hitting .197 with one homer. "The way the Cubs' lineup is constructed, they have to have power production from their corner guys -- first base, third base and left field," one rival talent evaluator said. "They're not going to get a lot of pop from their middle infielders, and they don't know how much pop they can get from center and from catcher. They need Lee to hit, and if he doesn't hit, it might be very tough for them to make the playoffs this year, considering how much better the Cardinals are." Lee is a great gift to baseball in many ways, one of the leaders of the sport. But the Cubs are starved for hits from him. He was dropped to fifth in the lineup Saturday, Gordon Wittenmyer writes. 2. Milton Bradley is not playing or producing. In an effort to balance their lineup, the Cubs took a calculated gamble during the offseason and signed the temperamental and oft-injured corner outfielder, despite his history of struggling to stay on the field. So far, he has been out of the starting lineup for nine of 16 games, in keeping with his résumé of having played in at least 100 games in the outfield exactly once in his career. He has batted .043 so far this season. Bradley's biggest foe is himself, writes Chris De Luca. 3. Geovany Soto, last year's NL rookie of the year, is batting .143. In 35 at-bats, he has yet to hit a home run. He returned from the World Baseball Classic bearing some shoulder soreness and for whatever reason just hasn't played that well. The X factor with the Cubs, of course, is that they can make moves. They have resources, and they have an aggressive front office. General manager Jim Hendry's peers respect him for his ability to make deals, and there may come a day when Hendry will decide to make changes, because the Cubs' lineup is dormant. Chicago ranks 22nd in the majors in runs scored, and the journalists/seismologists around him probably dutifully wield their gauges from hour to hour. The Cubs have scored just one earned run in their past four games, Paul Sullivan writes. • Piniella might prefer his problems to those that of Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who finds his middle relief in nothing less than tatters less than three weeks into the season. After the first two games of the Yankees' series in Boston, New York ranks 28th in relief ERA at 6.68 and fourth in total innings. But beneath the ugliness of those numbers, it gets worse. Brian Bruney, who was supposed to be the set-up man, is on the disabled list with a sore elbow, and Damaso Marte has an ERA more than 15. Jose Veras struggled with his command again in the marathon against Boston on Saturday and is part of the reason the Yankees have become only the fourth team since 1900 to give up 15-plus runs in at least three of their first 17 games in a season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the other three are the 2000 Blue Jays, the 1951 St. Louis Browns and the 1904 Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees have called up Mark Melancon, who by all accounts could be a high-impact reliever. But he's a rookie, and Girardi will not lean on him too heavily. You do wonder whether, as the Yankees move forward, they will again consider the question of whether utilizing Joba Chamberlain as a reliever might be the best thing for the team in 2009. He is off to a mediocre start in the rotation, and scouts and executives who have seen him recently are taking note of the marked decrease in his velocity. In Boston, it wasn't long ago when the Red Sox had a plan to place Jonathan Papelbon in their starting rotation, but in time, the practical needs of their team dictated a shift for Papelbon into the bullpen. If Phil Hughes returns to the Yankees' rotation on Tuesday and pitches effectively, and the Yankees see improvement in Chien-Ming Wang as he goes through his disabled list stint, the most useful place for Chamberlain right now might be the bullpen. He could anchor a group of young middle relievers who are floundering. The Yankees blew a 6-0 lead even with A.J. Burnett on the mound, Mark Feinsand writes. From Elias: The last time the Yankees led a game by at least six runs and lost that game by at least five runs was on June 9, 1956. They had led the Indians 6-0 and lost 15-8. They gave it away, writes John Harper. The weekend will stay a disaster for the Yankees no matter what Andy Pettitte does Sunday, writes Mike Lupica. It appears the Yankees made a poor choice to re-sign Marte, writes Joel Sherman. Mariano Rivera welcomed Melancon to the bullpen, writes Ken Davidoff. The Yankees' staff is looking shaky, writes Bob Klapisch. It was a strange day, and Dan Shaughnessy is dazed. • A rival talent evaluator raved about the Phillies on Saturday afternoon in the aftermath of Philadelphia's comeback victory over the Marlins on Friday. "Mental toughness -- just great mental toughness," he said. "They really know how to dig in deep when they have to." A few hours later, the Phillies dug in deep again, Todd Zolecki writes, picking on the Marlins' Plan B closer, Leo Nunez. The Marlins blew another lead, Manny Navarro writes. To continue reading Buster's blog, with news on Cole Hamels and Joe Mauer, and putting Pujols in historical perspective, please join ESPN Insider.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider