Published May 20, 2010
CHICAGO – Woody Allen once said "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.''
Right now, God must be splitting his sides with laughter over what's happening on Chicago's North Side.
Check out the Cubs lately?
General manager Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella carried out an offseason plan that has worked great, but the results aren't showing in the standings. With a new owner -- the Ricketts family -- that has no emotional ties to Hendry and Piniella, the Cubs are prime for speculation about what might be.
"What do I care about speculation?" Piniella said. "I've been doing this for 23 1/2 years, and I'm going to worry about speculation? I don't think so."
These Cubs aren't easy to figure out.
They unload the headache known as Milton Bradley in a trade of excess baggage with the Seattle Mariners, landing right-hander Carlos Silva in the process. Then Silva becomes the first Cubs starter to open a season 5-0 since Greg Maddux in 2006.
They signed free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd, who not only filled the center field void but is sitting second in the NL with a .340 average, and shares the team lead of seven home runs with Alfonso Soriano.
New hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has been a key factor in the revival of Kosuke Fukudome, who is hitting .313 and recently moved into the leadoff spot. Jaramillo also has a lot to do with the fact that catcher Geovanny Soto is hitting .298 and Alfonso Soriano is hitting.320 with power.
Now, glance at the National League Central standings.
The Cubs arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday night four games below .500 (18-22), and 5 1/2 games back of the surprising NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.
Well, don't be.
Their 3-4 punch, Derrek Lee (.229) and Aramis Ramirez (.171) are in a season-long funk. Their rotation stalwart, Carlos Zambrano, is 1-3 with a 6.83 ERA and was banished to the bullpen; and now, after an ill-fated attempt to pitch relief, he's headed back to the rotation.
"We're only in the middle of May," Piniella said. "This is not Sept. 15. There's a lot of time to straighten things out and that's what we're hoping to do."
Here are some other numbers to chew on. The Cubs have baseball's third-highest payroll, $146.6 million on Opening Day. Lee, Ramirez and Zambrano alone accounted for $46.65 million of that payroll. That's more than the entire payrolls in Pittsburgh ($34.9 million) and San Diego ($37.8 million).
"The bottom line is this is hard to figure," said general manager Jim Hendry. "The guys who are having good starts are the guys that we were worried about, but Derrek and Aramis have not been themselves. The best two players are having a rough go.
"Derrek struggled some last year, but I don't know that Aramis has ever struggled. He's so natural."
A career .282 hitter, Ramirez has a career average of .257 or better in every month of the season throughout his career, but he can't even see .200 yet this season.
"We went out and brought in some guys we felt could help us and they have," Hendry said. "We had some guys we wanted to help get back on track and they have. ... If you told me we could add a middle reliever I'd do that, but I don't know who we could get position-wise to get better. We've got guys who we feel can do the job."
So far, however, the Cubs haven't gotten the job done, and they know it.
Piniella, in the final year of his contract, has battled through storms that encompass any manager of the New York Yankees, brought success to Seattle and then failed to work a miracle in Tampa Bay before becoming manager of the Cubs.
He did take the Cubs to the NL Central title in 2007 and 2008, although they were swept in the NL Division Series both times. The Cubs finished second a year ago at 83-78, Piniella becoming the Cubs' first manager since Leo Durocher in 1967-71 to enjoy three consecutive winning seasons.
And now this ...
Thanks to back-to-back losses to open the season, they have yet to spend a day above .500 this season. While the Cubs headed to Philadelphia having won three in a row, including a two-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies, they also have lost five of six to the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two weeks. And they have scored two or fewer runs in 16 of their first 40 games.
"Nobody is blameless about anything," Piniella said. "Everybody has a share of the blame and the manager's not immune from anything. When I was hired by the Cubs, I was hired because they thought I would be the manager who could get them to win. We've had three winning seasons here. This year, we've gotten off to a slow start for whatever the reasons. Do I have a share in the responsibility and blame? Yeah, I do."
History for Hanley
Jerked from Florida's game on Monday for his lack of effort, Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez moaned and groaned, complaining, among other things, that manager Fredi Gonzalez didn't understand because he never played in the big leagues.
Hate to see a player as talented as Ramirez waste the talent by being such a punk.
For the record, Ramirez might like to know that there have been 117 managers in the big leagues, including Gonzalez, who never played in the big leagues. The list not only includes current managers Jim Leyland of Detroit, Jim Riggleman of Washington and Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay, but also Hall of Famers Joe McCarthy, Earl Weaver and Frank Selee, along with the likes of Dave Bristol, Jim Frey, Paul Owens, Johnny Keane, Jack McKeon and Grady Little.