NEW YORK -- Contrary to what some folks might think, legendary manager
Word was getting around in baseball circles that Piniella is "very down'' about his team, which is now 5-9 and has dropped four straight games. But he still has incredible energy at age 66, and he seems to be focusing on the hope of the long season ahead. On Tuesday at least, Piniella wasn't doing too badly.
"What are you going to do?" Piniella said. "It's not easy when you're losing. But I'm holding up fine.''
Frankly, the Cubs have too many problems right now for being the highest-priced team in the National League. Their payroll is estimated to be $146 million; they have the league's best-paid left fielder (
"I've never been a good loser,'' Piniella said. "We've lost a lot of tough games from the seventh inning on."
Indeed, the bullpen has been easily the Cubs' biggest bugaboo. Their relievers are 1-6 with a 6.00 ERA, better than only the Diamondbacks and Royals. As Piniella succinctly put it, "It's been a problem.''
Going in to the season, Cubs people were afraid that would be the case, and their worst fears have come to fruition. Piniella said, "We tried to trade all winter for a (relief) pitcher. Then (setup man
Piniella and his Cubs bosses are starting to bat around possible solutions.
Top left-handed starting pitcher
Piniella isn't ready to say publicly what the Cubs will do, but indications are strong that left-hander
It's hard to imagine it being Zambrano, who has a $91-million contract. And it's even harder to fathom it being Silva, who's showing signs of resuscitating his career as a Cub after a disastrous two seasons in Seattle. Wells has settled into a nice routine as a starter, too. If it's anyone, Dempster -- who makes almost $13 million a year as a starter but has been a semi-successful closer in the past -- might be the most logical of the four.
Piniella hopes the new reliever -- whoever he is -- will transform the pen, at least temporarily. With the exception of talented closer
The pen may be problem No. 1 but the offense is an issue, too. People high up in the Cubs' organization are dismayed about how free-swinging their hitters have been. The team as a whole has a .317 on-base percentage, which ranks 22nd in the majors, and star third baseman
"It's early,'' Soriano said, agreeing. "We can turn it around. We have a good offensive team and a good starting rotation. We can change it. We're supposed to be better than this. But people don't realize, everyone struggles. Everyone needs to relax, and we'll do a better job.''
Piniella, though, would just like to see a little more versatility. "When we hit home runs, we do better,'' he said. "We're not really good at manufacturing runs.''
As expected, the Cubs hit well when the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field. But when it shifted and started blowing in, they lost two straight one-run games. They also haven't hit very well on the road, where they have a .207 average thus far. Piniella's tried a few different things, but now seems to like
"We're struggling basically with the alignment,'' Piniella said. "But if we have to make changes down the road, we will.''
Their roster is jammed with usable outfielders, and Piniella badly wants to get promising youngster
In the meantime, the best Piniella can hope for is improved play from the high-priced stars they have. Ramirez is hitting .145. Soriano has only three RBIs out of the No. 6 hole, and what's more, he's drawing renewed criticism for the same old issues. He's hitting reasonably well but tends to watch his long hits rather than immediately running, his defense has been atrocious, and he compounds his poor defense by sometimes doing his patented hop while catching flyballs, an unnecessary risk.
"I love the guy to death. But put it this way, he's not going to win a Gold Glove,'' Piniella said. "He's been working hard with the hitting coach. We need for him to drive in some more runs. He's conscientious about it.''
Piniella talked to Soriano about watching a long flyball Monday that became a double but should have been a triple. Soriano acknowledged their conversation. "He told me to run a little bit more because [that day] he thought I could get a triple.''
"I have a good rapport with him,'' Piniella said. "He aims to please. But he gets in his old habits. He told me no more hop, and I thought to myself, 10,000 Little League coaches can breathe a sigh of relief. (Monday) night, he had half a hop.''
In the meantime, there still appears to be a hop in Piniella's step. His friends still say "losing eats at him.'' But if it does, he's hiding it.
"I don't like losing,'' Piniella said. "But I'm fine. We're working. We're tying to do the best we can. And we're going to get better.''
As for Volquez's excuse that he was taking a fertility drug because he wanted to start a family, well, that's not a great one. Even if true, major leaguers should know better since
Baseball is mourning the loss of beloved Rockies president
Baseball people were saddened at shocked at the sudden death of McGregor, who appeared to be the most fit 48-year-old executive in baseball. He often ran five miles a day and looked like he could still play his game. Statements filled with praise and sadness were sent out by commissioner
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