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Cubs in flux as up and down season continues to turn

by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.

The Cubs continue to start and stop as they have throughout the entire season, never being much over or under the .500 mark. Nor have then really been out of an extremely underwhelming division, with no one really being able to pull away from the mediocre pack. The Cubs sit where they seemingly have all season. Near or at .500, 3 games out and with many more questions than answers.

The biggest of which may be this; Is this season the schizophrenic means to the ultimate end of a championship, or are the Cubs destined to be also-rans, a team much like 2004, complete with all the teases, injuries, unlikability and disappointment?

No team may ever be as unlikeable as the 2004 Cubs, but with the recent grumblings of Soriano and his playing time coupled with the overall babyish style in which these Cubs took out their frustrations on a Gatorade machine, the comparisons are hard to avoid.

This team is very flawed at the halfway mark, and that 41-40 record is a perfect summary of what the season has been thus far. Consider that the Cubs have been at the .500 mark well over a dozen times, that they have played badly on the road, but manage to win at home and the offense has a tendency to dissapear at times, and the easy conclusion is .500 ball.

The questions the Cubs will have to answer are all about situational baseball. Their offense is just not good enough to avoid one-run strategies anymore, and the old and perhaps senile Lou Piniella will have to really manage for the first time in his Chicago tenure.

Blessed in the past with a push button offense, the newer, gentler Lou is going to have to actually push the right buttons to find some sort of offensive consistency, something the Cubs have lacked all year. It seems to be that the players are taking turns going into slumps.

That's better than the alternative of everyone in a slump at the same time, but it won't be good enough to win the division. Any team that has Albert Pujols has a pretty good chance at winning the whole thing, and the Cards have been blessed by starting pitching on par or perhaps better than that of the Chicago Cubs.

In fact, starting pitching is the saving grace of this ball club, but how many times will the Cubs be able to get lucky on an old minor leaguer? How many times will they be able to reach into the well and pull out a Randy Wells? A Jake Fox? You can only go to it so many times before it runs dry, and with the recent injury to Dempster, it just might be more a desert than a well at this point.

There is a lot of pressure on this team, on this manager and on this organization as a whole. There is no future with this club, every starter will be on the wrong side of 30 next year, and there is nothing scarier to GM's and managers than the dreaded age 33 season where everything can go into a free-fall. The Cubs will have to answer the multitude of questions quickly. They can ill afford to be in a fight with the Cards heading into September, because that's when Albert puts up a .341/.440/.613 line.

The Cubs, on the surface, are in a spot where many franchises have been before. The main difference is that this team has failed to win anything of value for 101 years now, and that clock continues to tick. After 2003 the average Cub fan wanted more. That hunger only grew with the hated White Sox winning one in 2005.

The pressure is on this team, and unfortunately, you have to bet against them in crunch time. As much as I think the Cubs are the best team in this division, I don't see them running away with anything because of the inconsistency in the batting order.

This will be a dog fight to the end, and unless Lou finds out how to manage again, I don't like the Cubs' chances.

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