2006 Chicago Cubs
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 2006 Chicago Cubs / Franchise: Chicago Cubs / BR Team Page
Managed by Dusty Baker
 History, Comments, Contributions
The 2006 Chicago Cubs got off to a strong start, only to fall apart in late April, and almost all of May. After a 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on April 28th, they dropped 23 of their next 28 games, often in embarrassing fashion. They set a club record for futility by scoring 6 runs over 8 games, and 13 runs over 11 games. The Florida Marlins, who in the off-season had jettisoned most of the quality players on their team, mauled them in a sweep, outscoring the Cubs 23-8 over the three games. In a stretch of 25 games, they lost 13 by at least 5 runs. One game ended when Neifi Perez unsuccessfully tried to bunt for a single with the tying run aboard. New free agent Jacque Jones, who signed a three-year, $16 million contract, got doubled off second base three times on routine fly balls. As their play went in the toilet, emotions boiled over. Catcher Michael Barrett got ejected from a game against the San Francisco Giants, and shortly thereafter initiated a brawl against the Chicago White Sox when an opposing baserunner bowled him over while he blocked the plate. By the end of the stretch, the Cubs ranked last in the National League in almost every offensive category: runs, RBIs, hits, at bats, doubles, home runs, batting average, HBP, slugging average, on base percentage, OPS, pinch hits, batting with runners in scoring position, and many more. Incredibly, they still had grounded into the third most double plays by the end of this stretch, despite having so few baserunners. The team was outscored 167-78 in these games.
The Cubs' official explanation for this collapse was that the unexpected injury to star slugger Derrek Lee caused it. Critics countered that while that might explain a modest downturn for the club, one injury did not explain why a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball played the worst baseball of any team in the league for such a lengthy stretch.
The final straw came when the team lost 13-12 to the Atlanta Braves on May 28th. They entered the 9th inning losing, 12-8, only to surprisingly tie the game with four runs. In extra innings, third baseman Aramis Ramirez drifted under an easy pop fly hit to him, only to have it comically bounce off his head. The runner got on base and scored the winning run. The Braves set a team record for their 131-year-old franchise that day by hitting 8 homers. The Cubs hit none. Less than a month later, on June 18th, the Cubs tied that team record by allowing the Detroit Tigers to hit 8 homers off them in a 12-3 loss in Wrigley Field. The game marked the season's first outing by Mark Prior, and the loss put the Cubs on a pace to lose 100 games.
This period resulted in increasingly loud and strident calls from the fans for the Cubs to fire manager Dusty Baker. Team GM Jim Hendry strongly supported Baker, saying that the team's play could not be blamed on him due to injuries. Others criticized Hendry for his apparent blind loyalty to his underling, and more damning, because he'd spent a large sum of money on a team that was one of the most inept in all of Major League Baseball.
After their May 28th near-comeback, the team started playing better, and it appeared they had turned a corner from horrific play to perhaps blandly bad. That uptick only lasted two weeks, as in late June they dropped 10 out of 12. Perhaps the nadir came on June 25th. Derrek Lee made his return to the Cubs that day, but it seemed as if no one else showed up. The Cubs made three physical errors, and multiple mental miscues. Among the lowlights: Todd Walker and Phil Nevin watching a grounder go between them; either of them could have picked up the ball, but they both forgot they were supposed to move toward the ball while on defense. A pop fly in shallow left dropped between two Cubs players. Neifi Perez muffed a routine ground ball. The team lost, 9-1, and their sole run came with two out in the 9th inning. That loss completed the eighth series that year in which the Cubs had been swept. They had only swept a team once at that point.
Showing that same "Never-Say-Try" attitude, the next day the Cubs lost 6-0 to the Brewers, giving them three runs over their previous four games. It was the ninth time they had been shut out in the previous 53 games.
Shortly before the All-Star break, GM Jim Hendry, bowing to popular sentiment, announced that he was going to take time to "evaluate" the situation with Baker, the coaching staff, and "everything" involving the team. Many thought this meant he was going to fire Baker, however Hendry soon backtracked. He said he merely was going to evaluate things. The Cubs won their final three games before the break (incidentally tying their longest winning streak of the season), and Hendry insisted that he never intended to fire Baker at that moment. He also said he was still "evaluating" the situation, and had no timetable for when the evaluation would end. This frustrated many Cubs fans as they didn't see what the point of an open-ended evaluation was if it had no guidelines, and would not apparently lead to action. Many thought this meant Baker would remain for the rest of the season, and if the team could turn around their horrendous performance of the previous 2+ months Baker might even be extended at the end of the season. Several players gave some irate quotes about how unhappy they were that Baker's job was in jeopardy and how sick they were hearing about the situation.
The first games after the break did not give fans much hope. On July 15th Jacque Jones got in an argument with two hecklers above the Cubs' dugout in Wrigley Field until the fans in question were removed by security to the delight of the other fans in the section. On July 16th, in a game against the New York Mets, the Cubs allowed 11 runs in one inning when the Mets became the first team of the millenium to hit two grand slams in one inning. The inning went on for 41 minutes, partially because of two separate errors by second baseman Todd Walker. The 11-run outburst by the Mets equaled the Cubs' total offensive scoring over a period of 93 innings from the 6th inning on April 28th to the 6th inning on May 8th! Appropriately then, the Mets' big inning was the 6th.
The team did rally in July and August, and appeared to put to rest any thoughts of a 100-loss season. They even threatened the Washington Nationals for the distinction of 14th-best record in the NL. In late August, however, they entered into yet another tailspin as they dropped ten of their last eleven games in that month. Just before Labor Day they were swept in a three-game series on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates, opening up the possibility that they could end up with the league's worst record, and even possibly lose 100 games after all. Manager Dusty Baker at this time gave a series of quotes that some in the media interpreted as showing he wanted out of Chicago. Certainly his team didn't appear to be putting forth its best effort. Baker also made several especially bizarre decisions at this time. For example, right after the sweep in Pittsburgh, he had pitcher Glendon Rusch bat with two out and none on, and then had a relief pitcher come in to start the next inning.
A week after embarrassing the Cubs in the Steel City, the Pirates came to Chicago for a four-game set. Last place in the NL was on the line as the Cubs now held only a game and a half lead over the Bucs. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who had thrown over 100 pitches in every game that season for the Cubs, had to be taken out of the game in the 2nd inning with back problems. They lost that game. The loser of the second game would fall into last place outright. The Cubs fell down early, 5-1, but they rallied to tie it. Showing how much the game meant, manager Dusty Baker used his closer, Ryan Dempster, in the 9th with a tied score. With two outs and runners on first and second, he threw a wild pitch that put the key run 90 feet away. After a bases-loading walk, he tossed his second wild pitch of the inning. It was the third time he had blown a save to the Pirates in a little over a week. The Cubs thus fell into last place in appropriately embarrassing fashion. It was their fourteenth loss in sixteen games. A record of 7-17 the rest of the way would give them 100 losses on the year, a feat which seemed extremely plausible given their recent lethargic play, but they fell just shy of the infamous mark, finishing in last place with 96 losses.
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