Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?

Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?
April 17, 2011, 10:53 pm
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Sunday, April 17, 2011
Posted: 5:57 p.m. Updated: 6:37 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Maybe you havent been paying attention. Youd rather watch the Bulls and Blackhawks. Youre left wondering: Are these Cubs any good?

To get fans into Wrigley Field and fill those empty green seats, the Cubs can keep coming up with new ticket plans. But winning is always the best marketing strategy.

The Cubs boarded a charter flight home on Sunday at the end of the road trip they promised would show us what theyre made of. It was quiet in the room after a 9-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies, no music, only the sound of clubhouse attendants scraping dirt off cleats and zipping up bags.

In front of 42,212 fans, the Cubs finally snapped in the eighth inning of a 5-5 game. Marcos Mateo gave up an infield single and then watched as Kosuke Fukudome misplayed a ball in right field, allowing Jose Lopez to slide in for a double.

Mateo struck out the next two batters before Dexter Fowler lined a two-run double into center and it was game over from there.

Manager Mike Quade likes to break the season into 15-game blocks. At this point, you cant be overexcited or make any harsh judgments about a group that went 4-5 on this three-city trip through Milwaukee, Houston and Denver.

We hang around, Quade said. Weve been good and bad. Weve havent put it together by any means, but its a good sign when youre hanging around and still looking to jell as a group and get things going on all cylinders and all the other clichs that they use.

The Cubs (7-8) are hoping for good news on Monday, when Randy Wells (forearm strain) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff strain) will be re-evaluated by the medical staff and possibly begin to think about throwing programs.

That the Cubs are down two starting pitchers and only two games out of first place is remarkable. Theyve done it without Carlos Zambrano (2-0, 6.11) and Matt Garza (0-2, 6.27) performing up to expectations.

But in all probability the Cubs will hover around or below .500 if they dont get a bounce from their frontline starters.

The Rockies (12-3) roughed up Ryan Dempster for four runs in the first inning. Dempster settled down and ultimately gave up five runs in five innings, but with a series on the line didnt necessarily outpitch Alan Johnson, a 27-year-old right-hander making his major-league debut.

Afterward the typically upbeat Dempster (6.84 ERA) showed a side of himself he rarely reveals to the public.

Im sick and tired of this, he said. Im better than that. Its getting really old.

The Cubs arent panicking about Dempster. And at the end of the weekend, Darwin Barney could look over the hottest team in baseball and honestly say: We can play with those guys.

Offensively, the Cubs are in a strange place where Zambrano (one) has more home runs than Carlos Pena (zero). Yet Starlin Castro and Barney have given them an entirely new dimension at the top of the order, and Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano have looked locked in at the plate.

We have to be objective, Pena said. You look at our record no, were not where we want to be, but we may look at it the wrong way. (If) we get caught up in the emotion, (then) we go out there and we have baggage on our backs.

That might describe this organizations history, but with almost 91 percent of the schedule remaining, you cant print playoff tickets, or write the Cubs off yet. Theyre a team still finding its identity.

Were going to have to play better baseball if were going to make an impact, thats for sure, Quade said. But weve shown signs of doing that. We just need to be more consistent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.