Paul Sullivan returns from an extended separation from his Tribune e-mail box in a special, Soriano-free edition of Ask Paul.
I'm excited to witness that the team has developed, step by step, without a lot of us noticing, a killer instinct they didn't have in the past. When was the last time you saw a Cubs team with this type of instinct and mental toughness? Is this something that TV is enhancing? Or getting into the clubhouse, can you can feel this too? -- Alfonso, Mexico
Yes, Alfonso, they do seem to have a killer instinct that was lacking in previous years, particularly in 2004. The Marmol-Wood combo is one reason, and the offense obviously has comeback ability, as evidenced by beating Colorado after trailing by eight runs. Also, the starters are seemingly able to get in and out of jams with regularity. You're right, some things are so subtle it's hard to notice. But this is a team that seems to have built up some mental toughness, and we'll see whether it helps them down the stretch.
Much has been made of Troy Percival's clubhouse leadership in Tampa. Who are the Cubs' clubhouse leaders? The guys who would step up and call a meeting, be a spokesperson for the team, have the respect to call somebody out for an indiscretion and not look bad doing it? -- Ross, Redlands, Calif.
Derrek Lee called the meeting last year, though I suspect Kerry Wood or Ryan Dempster would do it if they thought one was necessary. Seems like a really long time since that was the case, and I don't foresee any clubhouse meetings in the immediate future.
Sully -- The Cubs seem to consistently manage at least one error per game, and if it weren't for generous scoring, they'd probably average even more. So far it hasn't cost them many runs; do you think it will start showing up in the win/loss column? -- Ian, Silver Spring, Md.
True, the Cubs are in the bottom half of the league standings in fielding percentage, and they are not particularly strong up the middle now that Pie is gone and Theriot has slumped defensively at short. It hasn't really hurt them much yet, aside from you-know-who's dropped fly in Pittsburgh, but it would certainly be a postseason concern if things don't improve. Assuming they'll make the postseason, of course.
Sully, Have the Cubs brass soured on Felix Pie -- and if so, would they be willing to move him for some starting pitching as we move closer to the non-waiver trading deadline? -- Jim Selinger, Shorewood
I'm not sure how much Pie would bring back at this point. Lou certainly has seen enough of his swing to have soured on Pie, but I have to admit, I do miss Pie's defense in center, especially when Jim Edmonds is attempting one of his Willie Mays-style basket catches.
Mark DeRosa seemed to be known for his astute ability to make contact at the plate, yet he has struck out many times so far in 2008. Good contact hitters typically remain that way from one season to the next. Is this just an anomaly for Mark or has he changed something about his swing? -- Derek Fromson, Los Angeles
Yes, DeRosa already has 50 strikeouts, and was 1-for-13 in Toronto. But he's still hitting .299 with 13 doubles, and we know he's a streak hitter. I haven't noticed DeRosa changing his swing, but his road and home numbers are certainly interesting. He's hitting .371 at Wrigley and .222 on the road.
Paul, after watching the Cubs win their 22 games at home, it dawned on me that I have never seen any player/manager sing Steve Goodman's "Go Cubs Go," as the crowd of 40,000 dances and sings in the aisles. I'm wondering, is there a team rule that they are not allowed to sing, as it would look like we are showing up the other team, or is there some locker room rule that they'll owe money in the kitty if they are caught? -- Russ Stubenrauch, Mt. Prospect
I've heard guys sing 'Go, Cubs, Go' as they enter the tunnel from the dugout to the clubhouse, but that could also be Otis the clubhouse guy or Ed the security guard. And I have never heard Lou sing 'Go, Cubs, Go,' which he memorably referred to as 'Go, Cubs, Win' last year.
Ronny Cedeno had a .405 average in April and has only three fewer extra base hits than Theriot despite having less than half as many at-bats. Cedeno was rewarded with six starts in May. Is he ever going to get playing time? -- Ron, Chicago
Doesn't look like it. Cedeno does deserve more playing time, at the very least on double switches with Theriot late in games.
Out of the core players on the roster, I wonder who will retire a Cub. I would love to see our core, indispensable veteran players stay until retirement, such as Lee, Zambrano, Fukudome (I know he's technically a rookie), Ramirez, Soriano, and Wood. Who do you think will retire a Cub (assuming no major injuries and good performance)? -- Nathan K, Indiana
Lee. Zambrano. Wood. Ramirez. Soto.
Paul, have the Cubs given any thought to switching Wood and Marmol's roles? I have to think that if Marmol were the closer, he would not have four (maybe more by the time this gets to you) blown saves by now. -- Tom, Mount Prospect
Obviously not. Marmol and Wood have both performed very well in their respective roles, though Marmol is starting off 2-0 on almost every hitter he faces these days, so he may need either more work to stay sharper or less work to stay fresher. Which one? I'm not sure. Tough call on that one for Lou and Larry Rothschild.
Paul, sorry if this has already been asked and answered on your column, but I wanted to know at this point in the season, is Kosuke Fukudome living up to the expectations of you (representing the fan), Hendry, and Piniella? How do his statistics (AVG, OBP, OPS) look compared to his seasonal averages while in the Japanese big leagues? In general I think he's a very smart, patient hitter with above-average defense, but he seems to be lacking power that you would typically want from the right field position. -- Christian, Torrance, Calif.
Fukudome doesn't look like a No. 5 hitter, but otherwise he's been a great addition to the team. His power numbers are lower than I expected, but his defense in right makes up for it and he has enough good hitters around him. Whether he's a $12 million a year player or not is another question altogether.
Paul, are Cubs fans harder on the team's closers than fans of other teams are on theirs, or am I imagining things? I thought you might have more of a sense of perspective on this than I do, since you visit so many more ballparks. I can't tell you how many times this year I've heard fellow fans say, "The Cubs are doing all right, but they need to get rid of Kerry Wood!" It's not fun when he blows a game, of course, but I think we should give him a chance to adjust to the job, which must be one of the toughest in baseball. -- Amy B., Chicago
Closers are like field goal kickers in Chicago. You can go forever with a hot streak, but one blown save or field goal, and you're toast again. That's just the nature of the beast in sports, which Wood knows well. The pressure jobs are the ones where there is no room for error. That's why the best closers get big money, and why Wood is expected to cash in next November, especially in light of the Eric Gagne ($10 million) deal in Milwaukee.
Dear Paul, a quick one: What are the odds of Hendry working some magic for C.C.? And does he even have that kind of magic in his hat? What are your professional thoughts on who the Cubs could reasonably target to fill the hole(s) in the rotation? Please do not pretend that they have much chance without adding a proven starting pitcher. -- John, Missoula, Mont.
Too soon to talk trades. I'll be answering wacky trade questions in our annual Wacky Trade edition of Ask Paul, coming next month near the trade deadline.
Paul, I'd like to ask you a couple of gardening questions. I really haven't heard much about how the players like the new infield. There has been lots of commentary on how well it drains, but are the balls bouncing truer and quicker than before? Also it seems to me that the vines are longer than usual. Almost every ball that hops into the vines sticks in there. Is that my imagination or are the Cubs letting the vines grow a little longer? -- Tom Ingham, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
Always happy to answer gardening questions. Wrigley Field looks as good as I've ever seen it, thanks to the new grass, the leveled field and the lush ivy. The field obviously plays better. I can't remember a bad hop single yet. And the heavy rains have made the ivy look greener than ever. Maybe the vines seem longer because the Cubs are winning? Who knows. Anyways, I'm in the minority on this, but I hope they decide to move the Blackhawks- Red Wings game next winter to Soldier Field rather than ruining the Wrigley grass by plopping a hockey rink on top of the field.
When an intentional ball four is needed, why doesn't the pitcher just touch his mouth, rather than risk a bad throw? -- Steve Baratta, Murphysboro
It's not very macho, and fans would be confused. I saw Detroit catcher Pudge Rodriguez try to get one of his relievers to do that in a game against the Angels earlier this season. The kid was so nervous he couldn't throw an intentional ball anywhere near Pudge, so he kept motioning towards his mouth, but the kid didn't do it. Maybe more pitchers should do this, but, let's face it, how many balls go to the backstop on intentional walks?
With all the tedious talk of the 99-year championship drought, isn't the lack of playing in the WS since '45 actually a more improbable occurrence, statistically speaking? If you could have your personal statistician run the numbers, I think people would be surprised. -- Dan Foote, Cranford, N.J.
My personal statistician is currently working his second job as back-up sax player at the Green Mill, so I can't answer that question. I'd hate to think we're neglecting the more statistically improbable drought, but we can only focus on one drought at a time.
Is the "June swoon" a catchy rhyme or based in history? I can think of 1985 and 1999 where June swoons did occur, but are there more in June, and more frequently than say July or August fades? -- Mike Madsen, Reisterstown, MD.
I'm not sure why you're asking about a June swoon since the Cubs record this June is 10-4, but I'll let you in on a little secret: The Cubs do not have the patent on the expression "June swoon." Giants fans also refer to their own history of early summer fadeouts as June swoons, and Padres fans call theirs the "June gloom." Truth is, there really is nothing that rhymes well with 'July' or 'August.'
Paul, in the past it seemed as if Lou's visits to the mound were limited solely for pitching changes. Larry Rothschild made visits to talk strategy or give advice. Lately though, Lou seems to make more frequent visits to do the things Rothschild used to do. Do you agree and if so why do you think is happening? -- Rich Holcomb, Alexandria, Va.
Actually, I think Lou is trying to lose a little weight, and he likes to get out and walk once in a while. Of course, if Lou walks any slower to the mound than he did in Toronto the other day, he will probably set the all-time Cubs record for slow-walking, currently held by closer Lee Smith, who acted like he was walking on hot coals on his trips to the mound.
Paul, why do you refuse to use the term "Cubbies" when referring to the Cubs? Due to the fact that so many fans, players and former players (including Ron Santo), use that appellation. ... don't you think it's time you accept it and move on? I mean even Harry Caray used the term! -- Adam, ChicagoI have nothing against people who use the term Cubbies. I just refuse to answer questions that use the term, which suggests a cuddly image that's been gone for years. I don't think of this as a cuddly bunch. A good, solid group, but not a bunch of Cuddly Duddlys (Kids: feel free to Google 'Ray Rayner' for explanation of that term).Thanks for all the relevant questions, and for being so patient while I studiously avoided reading my e-mails.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times