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2006 Chicago Cubs

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[edit] 2006 Chicago Cubs / Franchise: Chicago Cubs / BR Team Page

Record: 66-96, Finished 6th in NL Central Division (2006 NL)

Managed by Dusty Baker

Ballpark: Wrigley Field

[edit] 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 28, they dropped 23 of their next 28 games, often in embarressing 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 for a 3-year, $16 million contract, got doubled off second base three times on routine flyballs. As their play went in the toilet, emotions boiled over. Catcher Michael Barrett got ejected from a game in San Fransisco, and shortly thereafter initially a brawl against the 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 NL in almost every single 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 the third most double plays hit into by the end of this stretch despite their incredibly rare 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 lenghty stretch.

The finale came when the team lost 13-12 to Atlanta on Sunday, May 28. They entered the ninth 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 to him, only to have it comically bounce off his head. The runner got on base and scored the winning run. The Atlanta 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 18, the Cubs tied their team record by allowing the Detroit Tigers to hit 8 homers off them in a 12-3 loss in Wrigley. The game marked the season's first outing by Mark Prior, and the loss put them on a pace to lose 100 games.

This period called for 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 couldn't be blamed on him due to injuries. Others criticized Hendry for his apparent blind loyalty to his underling, and more damningly because he'd spent a large sum of money on a team that was one of the most inept in all MLB.

After their May 28 near-comeback, the team started playing better, and it appeared they'd turned a corner from horrific play to perhaps blandly bad. That uptick only last two week, and in late June they dropped 10 out of 12. Perhaps the near nadir came on June 25. Derrek Lee made his return to the Cubs that day, but 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've gotten it, but they both forgot you're supposed to move toward the ball while on defense. A pop fly in shallow left dropped between two Cubs. Neifi Perez muffed a routine ground ball. The team lost 9-1, and their sole run came with two out in the ninth inning. That loss completed the eighth series that year where the Cubs had been swept. They 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 game. 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 3 games before their break (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 be on for the rest of the season, and if the team could turn around their horrendous performance over 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 Baker's job was in jeopardy and how sick they were hearing about the situation.

Their first games after the break did not give fans much hope. On July 15 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 16 in a game against the Mets, the Cubs allowed 11 runs in one inning when the Mets became the first team of the millenium to hit two grandslams in one inning. The inning went on for 41 minutes, partially because of two separate errors by second basemen Todd Walker. The 11-run outburst by the Mets against the Cubs equalled the Cubs total offensive scoring over a period of 93 innings from the sixth inning on 4/28/06 to the sixth inning on 5/8/06. Appropriately then, the Mets big inning was the sixth.

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 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 four game series in Pittsburgh, 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 their best effort. Baker also made several especially bizarre decisions at this time. For example, right after the sweep in Pitt, 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 their embaressment in the Steel City, the Pirates came to Chicago for a three game set. Last place in the NL was on the line as the Cubs now held only a game and a half lead. 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 second 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 in the ninth with a tied score. With two out 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'd blown a save to the Pirates in about a week. The Cubs thus fell into last place in appropriately embarassing 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. They had a payroll of $94 million and the worst record in the NL.

[edit] Awards and Honors

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