With the 2011 Chicago Cubs season officially over now, the time has come to move on and look forward. Unfortunately, you can not move forward until you look back to see how you got to where you are. That is what I am going to do today, and then we can put this whole mess behind us and prepare ourselves for what has to be a brighter future.
There are many villains that played a role in the demise of the 2011 season, but Cub fans like to focus all their energy and hatred on two people. Both former General Manager Jim Hendry and Manager Mike Quade have been in the crosshairs of the fans since day one, in fact Hendry has been in their sites since the 2008 collapse. That is where the blame should lie, with the former General Manager and not so much the Manager. He can only work with what he is given, and there is not one manager who could have made this incompetent team into a team who was ready to go toe to toe with the best teams in baseball.
You heard me right, I do not care who the manager was this year, no one would have been able to win with this crap fest. Not Quade, not Charlie Manual, not even the great Ryne Sandberg. This was a hot steaming pile of garbage that Hendry gave Quade to compete with. Could a more qualified manager have gotten a couple more wins? Sure, a competent manager is worth a handfull of wins every year, but for the most part the players are the ones who win the games; not the manager. Besides, do you really care if you are a slightly better version of suck? Cubs still would have finished under the .500 mark.
Do not mistake what I am saying, Quade is not a great manager, in fact he may not even be a very good manager, but that is not the point. Managers do not play the game, they only set the lineup that they feel gives them the best chance to win based on the players they are given. Fans got pissed at Quade because he did not play the kids over the players who were over paid and underperforming, that is understandable as long as the players the fans want to play actually perform when given the chance. If the kids do not show anything when they get their opportunities then what would make the manager want to play them? His job is to win games, and if you have a guy hitting near .100 for the majority of the season (Tyler Colvin) getting consistent playing time is not going to be easy, even if you are competing with a completely inept defensive player hitting around .250 (Alfonso Soriano). While both are statistically in baseball hell, you want to go with the guy who has a track record of carrying a team when they are hot.
That is where this season died, not with having an inexperienced Major League manager at the helm, but having under performing players taking the field. Yes, Quade made some very inexcusable baseball decisions, as he was learning on the job. Yes, he left pitchers in too long at times, he took them out too early at others, and he started Koyie Hill far too many times, but the reason the season failed was not the main reason why this team failed as miserably as they did. The main reason they failed, would fall squarely on the shoulders of the players.
Say what you will about the great season by soon to be free agent Aramis Ramirez, his absence in April and May had more to do with the Cubs failures than having Quade in the dugout. Fans will chime in about his stat line and say how valuable he is to this franchise, but how valuable is he really? Yes, he put up impressive stats this year. They are even more impressive when you take note of them being produced in four months, but his absence in April and May led to a lot of losses which helped to dig the Cubs into a hole they just could not climb out of.
There will always be some fans that say something like “I don’t care when he puts up the stats, he is a super star”. That is the problem with the standard back of the baseball card thinking. The end of the year stats look great, but when they are produced is much more important than how much. The games in April and May are worth just as much as the games in August and September, some would say they are more valuable early on, because as the old saying goes, “You can not win a pennant in April, but you can lose one”.
The same goes for Carlos Pena, who also had an impressive stat line at the end of the year. But where was he in April? He, along with Ramirez, fell asleep in the starting gate and did not get started until the season was put on life support. That, too, had much more to do with the failure of the 2011 season than Quade sitting in the dugout.
Add in all the injuries the Cubs faced throughout the season, and you have a formula for failure and not success. I do not care who you are, losing two starting pitchers in the first week of the season is a great way to put yourself behind the eight ball before the season begins. Even if they were the number four and five starters, the drop off in talent level will hurt you. Maybe not if you only need them for a game or two, but if you need replacements for three or four months? That is no way to field a contender. Whether or not you think that the pitchers actually have the talent to compete in the majors is up to you, but there is a big difference between your four and five starters and your sixth and seventh starters.
Sure, the St. Louis Cardinals lost their ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the whole season and won the wild card, but they still had another pitchers on their team who could qualify as an ace of just about any pitching staff. Everyone moves up a peg, and your long reliever becomes your fifth starter. With the Cubs though, they had to bring up a few pitchers to fill those voids. How is that the managers fault? Is he able to prevent injuries? Again, that falls on Hendry for not providing enough depth.
On top of everything else, there was the whole situation surrounding Carlos Zambrano. While his blowup took place long after realistic contending had long since past, that was still a big part of the season. I will not write much about this as I covered the incident in a blog when everything took place, but when a player walks out on your team, that is a good way to take out whatever chemistry there was with the team.
Overall, the team this year was a complete three ring circus. There was the dimwitted ring bearer, the first time lion tamer who gets his head bitten off because he is learning on the job in front of a live crowd, and you had a car full of clowns who tried to keep you entertained. Is Quade the reason this team fell apart and died a slow painful death? No, he is not why the team lost, but he should not escape blame. That falls on everyone from the General Manager on down to the 25th man.