I don't know what it is about the Cubs and their inability to beat really crappy teams, but it has to be the most irritating of the innumerable frustrating things about the 2010 season.
Seriously, the Astros and the Pirates? Who can't beat them? Besides the Cubs, I mean.
The Astros are 39-56. That is a 96 loss pace. They are 6-3 against the Cubs. They are 4-2 against the Cubs at Wrigley. The Astros are 14-28 against everyone else on the road, but there they are beating the Cubs and killing a perfectly good post-All-Star game feel-good story.
The Cubs' performance against the Pirates is worse. They are 3-9 against the Pirates. The Pirates are on pace to lose 102 games and the Cubs have lost nine of twelve against them. Do you know the next most wins the Pirates have against any other team? Four. FOUR!
The Brewers blow as much as the Cubs do, but they've managed to beat Pittsburgh nine times. Houston has beat them seven times.
The Pirates are 24-57 against everybody else. That would come out to 114 losses over 162 games.
People in St. Louis are laughing their asses off. Cincinnati can't get too condescending yet, but they are definitely smirking.
Who can possibly look at this team and think it only needs some minor adjustments to get back into contention? I'll tell you who. Probably these guys:
And these people:
They'll probably mention that if the Cubs had only played .500 ball against the Pirates and Astros, the Cubs would be at .500 and within striking distance of both the Cardinals and the Reds. Holy underwear! All we have to do is beat those shitty teams half the time and we could be within five games of first place? That's easy!
That fact alone will justify them not completely blowing up the team and starting over like they should. That will be enough to sell to the fanbase that the Cubs can contend next year, so you better not give up your season tickets! Make sure you get in line for your wristbands in February! You better take advantage of the OPPORTUNITY to buy Cubs tickets at 20% mark-up before they go on sale for real to the less loyal, non-believing, fair weather fans that are waiting until they go on sale for face value... or you'll be sorry!
So they'll hold onto the veterans with most trade value so that by the time Brett Jackson, Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner, Jay Jackson, and whoever else are actual impact players instead of feel-good youngsters with a lot of upside, Marmol, Soto, Marshall, and Byrd will be part of the problem.
So then they'll trade away the under-performing, overpaid veterans again for nothing of consequence and the cycle will continue.
Stop believing these people when they tell you they have a dedication to winning. They do not. Their first priority is to pay down their massive debt. That doesn't mean they don't care if they win or not because I'm sure their lives would be a hell of a lot easier if the team was wiping the floor with teams like the Astros and Pirates instead of having their heads held in the toilet by them.
But to do it right, you have to strip it down. Look at the Blackhawks. They stripped everything down. They changed coaches. They changed the GM. They made commitments to a core of players they felt they could build around. They made some errors in judgement (Huet), but they didn't hold onto old fan favorites just for nostalgia and to sell a few extra tickets. They paid for it by having very sparse crowds for quite awhile. Hell, it took a surprising deep run in the playoffs last year to get the city even kind of interested in the early going this past year.
Now the Blackhawks are probably the hardest ticket in Chicago.
But the Cubs can't do that on the timetable the Ricketts had undoubtedly mapped out when they planned to borrow $450 million to buy the Cubs. You can't pay that kind of debt down by having half the stadium go unsold because the team sucks, or by lowering ticket prices enough so that no one cares how good the baseball is because of all the sun and ivy.
The team absolutely has to be able to sell itself as a contender even if they are not. I don't necessarily blame the Ricketts. They have to do what they have to do to make the most out of their massive investment. But that doesn't mean I have to believe they will actually make the Cubs into a winning franchise in the near future by half-assing it as they try to afford their debt payments and massive repairs and upgrades to Wrigley Field.
They have every right to try and sell me on the fact that Zell and McDonough were the bad guys that forced Hendry into creating the overpaid, untradeable team from hell and that he knows how to correct those errors. They can move Zambrano to a team far, far away and make him a scapegoat. They can wish Lou a happy retirement and basically call him a part of the past problems as they turn the hype machine on full blast after they hire Unknown Managerial Candidate X as soon as he can get here from Iowa.
They can and they will, but I don't have to buy it. For crying out loud, they can't even beat the Astros or Pirates.