CHICAGO -- Cubs general manager Jim Hendry understands the frustrations of fans as the team he put together struggles, adding Thursday that any criticism for the disappointing performance should start with him.
The Cubs, the two-time defending NL Central champions, began a crucial 11-game homestand before the All-Star break against the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night. Chicago was in fourth place, a game under .500 -- not what was expected of a team with a payroll between $135 million and $140 million.
Milton Bradley, the team's major offseason acquisition at three years and $30 million, has struggled, as has Alfonso Soriano. Fans are upset that the Cubs traded away versatile Mark DeRosa in the offseason and that after a short stint with Cleveland, he's ended up with arch rival St. Louis.
Hendry is the target of many of the critics.
"I've heard a lot of great things said about me and written that I didn't believe. I try not to go too far in the down column when it's not going well," Hendry said.
"It's OK. I think it's part of the job. If it doesn't go well, it ought to start with me. That's how I usually try to approach it for myself. I'm OK with that. I'm as disappointed as anybody else we're not playing better."
The Cubs have been without last year's RBI leader, Aramis Ramirez, for nearly two months because of a shoulder injury. He is headed out this weekend on a rehab assignment for Class A Peoria.
They've struggled offensively, batting just .245 and their 311 runs scored were the second fewest in the NL. All of that and the Cubs were still only 3½ games out of first in the division.
"You can't panic," Hendry said. "And you've got to let the players know that as long as they give you a good effort, you're not jumping the ship on them just because they're not performing up to their normal standards."
Lou Piniella, who's also been criticized for not being the same fiery manager he was while skippering Seattle, got kicked out of a game Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
But he's said numerous times that temper tantrums won't get his team going. And the Cubs have had a few blowups this season. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano drew a suspension after losing his cool in late May in an argument with an umpire, throwing a ball into the outfield and taking a bat to a drink dispenser.
And when the emotional Bradley fired his helmet down and went after a cooler in the dugout last weekend at U.S. Cellular Field, Piniella sent Bradley home after using an expletive to criticize the struggling outfielder.
But the theatrics were magnified by the losing the Cubs didn't expect.
"It hasn't been easy for us to win baseball games. It's been a struggle. It really has," Piniella said. "We've played a lot of close games, a lot of extra inning games. We're fortunate in that the division is competitive and even though we're one game below .500, we're still in the race."
Hendry said the pressure of expectations are no greater than the ones he puts on himself.
"I'm sure that's the way it will continue. I can't control what other people might think of me. It's not something I worry about," he said.
"We've got a job to do here, and Lou and I, we work good together. I like our relationship. Nobody likes to lose less than him," he added. "It's a very strange business. We're two weeks away from being right back on track to having a good year."