Where have we gone wrong?
(and by "we" I mean "The Cubs." And by "The Cubs", I mean "The Cubs Suck")
As the goatrider known as Bob points out below, the Cubs are experiencing a pretty tough time right now (cursed, you might say). This hasn't been the best week for the Cubs. In some regards it has been nice, because since they have managed to work out so many different methods of losing, they have an excellent shot at landing a book deal on the art of losing (or "No Talent Ass-Clowns Finish Last"). But I can already hear you asking: Famine, what is really wrong with the Cubs right now?
Answer: Damn near everything.
Looking at the last 7 days (because that is how ESPN lets me sort stats) we see the following line:
Yowza. The Cubs are doing a tremendous job at failing in all aspects of the game recently. The really bad number is the .307 On Base Percentage. They are making an out in 69.3 percent of their at bats. That is some kind of icky. Actually, the easiest way to explain how bad they are doing is to point out that they are essentially running pre-Cub Neifi! out there at every position (although Neifi! was a bit worse than this at getting on base). Speaking of All-Star candidate Neifi "The Great One" Perez, how is he doing these past seven days? Well, I'll tell you. He's sporting a pretty slick line of .105 .190 .105 for an OPS of .296! But it isn't all bad, he does have one more walk than Ramirez in these past 7 days. Go Neifi!
In all the doom and gloom surround the lineup, the performance of the pitching staff shouldn't be overlooked. During these last seven days, the Cubs pitching staff has sputtered out to a 5.72 ERA, and as I showed above, they are getting smacked around with wreckless abandon. The strikeouts are still excellent at over 10 per nine innings, but the walks are up over 5/9 innings and pretty much every time the opponents do get wood on the ball, it lands for a safety. It's not a good time to be a Cub pitcher (or fan, but that goes without saying).
Is there any hope or should we all become Yankee fans? (oops, wrong year for that. Try Oriole fans.) Well, there is some hope. First off, if the Cubs are striking out over a batter an inning, there is really no reason they should be giving up so many hits. The opponents have had 137 at bats where they put the ball in play and have landed 57 hits. Doing a quick calculation, that is a .416 BA on balls in play. Previously, Cub pitchers had only allowed a BABIP of .336 (I don't know if this is the official calculation of BABIP, but the relative values should be consistent). Various studies have shown that a pitcher only has a limited impact on whether the ball falls for a hit once contact is made. So it seems logical that this upswing in BA is just a statistical fluctuation and should fluctuate itself back down...eventually.
Second, both Patterson and Neifichiro! are in truly horrible slumps. Not even Neifi! is this bad, and they should return to being passable players. Only Burnitz and Lee are playing well right now (and Barrett to a lesser degree), with the rest of the lineup playing below their career lines. This should all change. Burnitz and Lee will both come back to earth and everyone else will drift back towards their true ability. This is just the way of baseball.
So, while things are hardly going well for the Cubs, this can't last forever. They are not this bad a team and, at least in theory, they should start to show their true colors soon. I hope. Long term, though, the walks given up by the pitching staff have to go down, and the walks taken by the offense have to go up. But most of the other factors leading to the Cubs turn for the worse are products of being in a funk, and despite what George Clinton would have you believe, the funk can't last forever. It will get better and the Cubs will be back to glorious .500 before you know it.
(Adding on one more reason to not give up yet)
The Cubs are probably not as bad as they seem, and the Cardinals are not as good as they seem. The Cubs have a Pythagorean record of 14-13 and the Cardinals are tied with the Brewers for a Pythag. record of 16-11 (Pythagorean record being a Bill James tools that calculates your expected record from runs scored and runs allowed. source: Rob Neyer ESPN Page). So, given normal luck, one would expect the Cubs to only be two games back in the standings. As Tom on A Season with the Cubs has pointed out on his site, the one run losses are killing the Cubs. And the same thing happened last year. Nobody has ever really determined what is the source for a poor 1-run game record. Theories include bad managers and bad bullpens. While blaming Dusty is certainly the preferred choice (Fire Dusty), it seems to me (going from memory as google has proven fruitless) that Baker has had several seasons with the Giants where he finished with a good 1-run record (Fire him anyway). My guess would be the bullpen. And the fact that it sucks. If this is the case, then JoBo needs to get back as quickly as possible. But then again, it might just be luck. And the luck needs to turn around.
None of this makes the current losing streak feel any better, but hopefully gives some hope for the future.