Ask Paul returns to discuss the Lilly-Renteria Incident, Barrett's future in pinstripes, Big Z's contract and whether the umps have it out for the Cubs.
Paul, have the Cubs considered really clearing house and starting over? I mean, a lot of these fans have such a bad attitude that I don't think there's any way to salvage the relationship. -- Dave Bohnsack, Lansing, Mich.
Clearing house after spending $300 million on free agents? Not sure if that's feasible, and since they play in a weak division, it doesn't make sense to clear house even if they could. The bad attitude will change if they make it to the postseason, even if it's barely above .500. The relationship is very salvageable, because Cubs fans are basically masochists.
Hi Paul, I always enjoy reading your column, especially when it doesn't include questions about those two guys we don't talk about anymore. Michael Barrett is a good hitter, seems to love Chicago, plays with emotion, and recent troubles aside, appears to be a good clubhouse guy. However, it's always been clear from comments from Cubs managers and starting pitchers that he doesn't handle the pitching staff well, leading to past seasons where Prior, Maddux, and Zambrano preferred the team's No. 2 catcher and of course the recent blow-ups with Big Z and Rich Hill. So why don't the Cubs have the pitching coach call pitches? That's how pitchers are handled in high school and often in college, so why don't the Cubs do it with Barrett if his biggest deficiency is calling a game?! -- Danny, Omaha
I'm not sure if that's really Barrett's biggest deficiency, but Lou Piniella said in spring training that he rarely calls pitches from the dugout, so it's up to the catcher to know his staff, know the opposition and know what's working that day. I don't see why the pitching coach or manager should have to call pitches. The catcher should have enough knowledge to do it himself, and that's why so many become managers.
Dear Paul, didn't Ryne Sandberg write a poem about Carlos Zambrano that went something like "Stormy, husky, brawling, Pitcher of the Big Shoulders"? I can't seem to find it. -- Stan, Madison, Wis.
No, you're thinking of Joyce Kilmer's poem about Lou Piniella, "Ivory."
Paul, will the Cubs sign Carlos Zambrano to a new long-term contract prior to the end of the season and thus avoid losing him to free agency? -- John Lesko, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Not likely. He can still re-sign after the season, as Konerko did with the White Sox. But the Mets are likely to throw the kitchen sink at Zambrano, with a new stadium on tap in 2008. It's a perfect atmosphere for Big Z, who enjoys being on stage more than any player I've ever covered, with the possible exception of Sammy Sosa. Hopefully he'll stick around and play for the Cubs for years, because you can't find a more entertaining headache, I mean, athlete.
During you last column you mentioned the Cubs players hacking at the first or second pitch in situations with runners in scoring positions and said "sometimes they don't think about their approach" before they get to the plate. I agree with this, but this has been bugging me. Isn't that what a team has a manager and third-base coach for? Isn't somebody supposed to give the take sign once in a while? Or, is the player just told, "Good luck Cesar, try hard, get a hit?" -- Darryl Delott, Greenville, S.C.
Yes, somebody is supposed to do that, though you'd hope they'd be smart enough to know what the situation calls for without having to depend on the coach and the manager every time.
Hey Paul, I know the first couple months of the season Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis were the Cubs best pitchers if not the early MVPs of the team. But as I watch their last few starts they seem to be showing signs of struggling. Do you think they were just overachieving and are coming back down a little bit or is this just a little slump the two are in and can pitch their way out of it? Neither one have great career numbers and their last few starts have been very subpar. Is it too early to be concerned? -- Neil Logsdon, Brownsburg, Ind.
It's never too early to be concerned, especially with Marquis' track record and last summer's meltdown in the second half in St. Louis, and Lilly serving up six home runs in a span of two starts. But the two have generally pitched well, and deserve the benefit of the doubt as long as they don't start walking people all the time and giving up home runs by the dozens. Then it's time to start worrying.
Couldn't the Cubs have protested the Sunday night game against Atlanta right after Lilly was ejected for hitting Renteria? I realize that umpires' decisions cannot be protested, but aren't these limited to clear-cut ball/strike and safe/out kinds of decisions? This was more like mind-reading. -- Mel Kanninen, San Antonio
You cannot protest a game for an umpire deciding to eject a player, whether it was fair or not. Protesting games is a meaningless exercise anyway, unless it's something truly crazy, like the pine tar game with George Brett. But you're right about the mind-reading. I think the umpire, Wolf, was doing his impression of Karnac the Magnificent. He probably rehearsed his answer all morning long in his hotel bathroom, knowing he'd be wearing a mike for ESPN and knowing Lilly was going to plunk someone in the first inning, as we all did.
Hello Paul, I wish you or someone at one of the Chicago papers would write an article about how bad some of these umpires are. Not about balls and strikes but situations like last night with Jim Wolf and what also happened at second base with our second baseman getting smacked in his face right in front of Jim Reynolds. I think a lot of the umpires have it in for the Cubs for whatever reason. Bring back Doug Harvey. -- Rob Kinder, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Maybe the dirt-kicking episode is having a lingering effect on umpires' perception of the Cubs. Recall that the very next day, Alfonso Soriano hit a home run, only to have it ruled a double by Bruce Froemming, who had ranted about Piniella's dirt-kicking the day before. The call was later reversed when the other umpires convinced Froemming that his eyes were deceiving him. The Lilly-Renteria-Fontenot game was a slap in the face to the Cubs, or maybe en elbow in the face. Baseball should be embarrassed by the lack of accountability by some of the umpires.
Paul, why on earth is Soriano hitting leadoff? I know it's been debated before, but every time he hits a solo HR, it makes me scream! -- Michelle L., Hopkinsville, Ky.
Why doesn't Lou switch Soriano and Pie in the batting order? After all, Pie is a more prototypical leadoff hitter and Soriano is much more of a home run threat. In other words, Soriano is more likely to score Pie with a home run than the other way around, so why not make the switch as they're both at the top of the order? Almost all of Soriano's home runs have been solo and he's proven that he can accommodate Pie already by switching from center to left. -- Cassiano Silva, Garland, Texas
Lou pointed out that Soriano's worst spot, statistically-speaking, is second. Leave Soriano alone. I hope I don't have to spend the next 7½ years answering questions about whether Soriano should be leading off.
Do you have any idea what trade options exist for the Cubs in terms of improving their bullpen? It seems obvious that they have a surplus of outfielders - any chance they could trade one of these guys for a quality reliever? Or are they waiting for you know who to finish his rehab in AZ.? --Steve DeM, Chicago
I believe they are waiting for you know who, and counting on kids like Marmol and Gallagher and Rapada to fill the gap until you know who is ready, sometime after the All-Star break.
What is the correct pronunciation of Jason Marquis' last name? "Mar-kee"; "Mar-kwiss"; or "Mar-kiss"? I've heard all three ways. -- Berton J. Barr, Alameda, Calif.
He answers to Mar-kee. Sorry for this irrelevant question.
Why don't the Cubs just stick with a middle infield of Theriot/DeRosa? Defensively they're not exactly Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg, but if they play every day, those two will put up some decent numbers. Plus it spares us from having to watch Cesar Izturis ground out to third with runners on second and third with nobody out and the pitcher on deck! I learned by age 10 to hit to the right side in that situation! -- Anthony Buonomo, North Riverside
What about the middle infield of Theriot/Fontenot? I think DeRosa's best position is at third. Maybe Aramis can catch.
Dear Paul, last week Phil Rogers wrote that the Cubs should trade Michael Barrett because of the dugout brawl. Do you agree with that and do you think Geovany Soto is ready to take the next step from Triple A to the big leagues so soon? -- Robert Schroeder, Ithaca, N.Y.
I don't think Barrett's trade value is real high right now, so I'd keep him. He's probably getting too much of the blame for the Cubs mediocrity, despite his poor season, but that's life in Wrigleyville. If Soto was ready, the Cubs would've called him up. They seem satisfied that Koyie Hill can handle the pitchers, hit .250 and not make any game-changing mistakes, either physically or mentally.
Paul, the Cubs' hitters are again near the bottom of the NL in walks. Why does this seem to be the case every year? Have you heard anything about Lou or anyone else trying to teach patience? Or is the team worried about dampening hitters' aggressiveness at the plate? -- Jack K., Winnetka, Ill.
The Cubs ranked 13th in walks before today's game, so there isn't much change from the last regime. The only ones who will work the count consistently are Derrek Lee, Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot. But the Cubs are also second in the league in hitting, so if they are getting on base more, that's not a bad thing. They need to improve their clutch hitting. They're at .167 with the bases loaded and less than two outs, as opposed to Seattle's .469 average in that category.
What kind of presence does Soriano have in the Cubs' clubhouse? I've loved reading how he and Pie have a brotherly relationship. It seems to me that even though he's had some struggles, he's brought the kind of presence that a high priced guy is expected to bring, unlike some other high dollars guys the Cubs have had in the past. --Tim, Payson, Ariz.
Soriano is a good guy to have in the clubhouse, especially for younger players like Pie. I think Cubs fans will learn to love this guy, despite the fact he has a contract so outrageous that no one can possibly live up to it. It's not his fault. He took advantage of the system, the American way.
On June 7, you said, "If Aramis Ramirez had hustled from the batters box on his grounder to shortstop J.J. Hardy on Wednesday, he might not have had to turn up the speed and hit first base so hard with his foot that he re-injured his left knee. This is the first Cub injury I know of that can be directly attributed to a lack of hustle. Cubs management should be very upset if Ramirez has to be put on the DL for it." I thought the exact same thing on watching the replay, but I would hope management would be upset even if this injury doesn't result in a trip to the DL. Ramirez seems to only hustle on groundballs when there's an RBI in it for him, and I can't believe he's still getting away with it. He's getting paid too much dough to dog it out of the box. Do you know if Lou has gotten on him about it, or will it just continue as business as usual? -- Beth S., Chicago
I think Lou has taken a similar tack as Dusty: Tell him not to do it but continue to play him after he does it. Ramirez is too good to let himself get categorized as someone who dogs it. Hardy had already booted his grounder in the first inning for an error, so he should've run harder out of the box, knowing it was quite possible Hardy could boot one again. It's really inexcusable.
Hi Paul! I am 17 years old and my dream would be to become a sports analyst/journalist. I would love to become a beat writer for a team such as the Cubs. Is there any advice you could give me that could be beneficial to me in the future? -- Shaun Canady, Victorville, Calif.
Keep your distance from Big Z, and if your editor wants you to write an "Ask Shaun" column for the Internet, ask for a raise.
Wow, you get a LOT of dumb questions. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I have always suspected there were a lot of people who didn't understand the game. It's unfortunate, but I just wanted to say I have a new respect for what you must put up with on a regular basis. -- Jim Hilburger, Chicago
Not to mention getting constantly harassed by Big Z.
Thanks for all the relevant questions, and for not bringing up you know who.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times