Catching up with the Cubs: Bleed Cubbie Blue

To help preview our upcoming series with the Chicago Cubs, I talked with Al Yellon from Bleed Cubbie Blue, one of the top Cubs blogs on the net, to talk about the Cubs season thus far and what the future holds for a franchise in the midst of a transition period.

TNB: Stephen Strasburg goes down again with an injury, possibly ending his season. Is he the second coming of Mark Prior?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Well, based on what I heard late yesterday, it appears Strasburg may be able to pitch after all. I know the Nats have to be very careful with him given his potential and the money they have invested in him. Prior’s injuries may have been caused in part by a couple of freak accidents (a collision with Marcus Giles in 2002, and a line drive off his right elbow by Brad Hawpe in 2005).

I was hoping to see Strasburg against the Cubs this year, but he wasn’t scheduled to pitch in this series anyway. Perhaps in 2011. I wish him well — he’s a tremendous talent.

TNB: Derrek Lee is now with the Atlanta Braves. What was his significance to the Cubs franchise and what does the team plan to do with first base?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Derrek Lee was one of the most popular Cubs of his seven-season tenure with the team; you can see fans wearing his jersey all over Wrigley Field, even during the last series with the Braves. He finishes with the fourth-highest OPS of any Cub with more than 1500 plate appearances and 11th on the all-time Cub HR list. He plays the game with class and dignity and I wish him well.

The Cubs are going to try rookie Tyler Colvin at first base (where he played a bit at Clemson) during the Nats series. It’s not clear whether this is a genuine tryout or just a way to make him more versatile; the Cubs may have to go to free agency or trade to get a full-time 1B for next season.

TNB: Lou Piniella has stepped down, ending a legendary career as a player andmanager. What is his legacy after four years with the Cubs?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Lou brought the Cubs to back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in 100 years. The 97-win season in 2008 was the team’s most wins since 1945; the three consecutive winning seasons from 2007-09 was the first time the Cubs had done so since the 1970’s.

So he’s raised the bar. We expect and demand a winner. His malaprops and statements of “Look, what do you want me to do?” during postgame press conferences became legendary, but Lou’s strength wasn’t speaking. It was winning. The Cubs need that attitude to permeate the organization at every level.

TNB: Will we see Ryne Sandberg back in the Cubs dugout in 2011?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Very possibly. He is a strong candidate for the manager’s job, and my personal choice. In 2006 after Dusty Baker was let go, Sandberg applied for the job and was told he needed experience, since he had none at the time.

So he went and got it — beginning at the lowest level of the organization, riding buses in the Midwest League. His teams have been successful and many of the players he has managed are now with the major league Cubs. They sing his praises and give him nothing but respect.

There’s no doubt that if the Cubs hired him, it would sell a lot of tickets, due to his popularity and his Hall of Fame career. But that’s a bonus, not the reason to do it. He did what he was asked to do and got high marks from many in Cubs management, too. To pass him over now would be a real slap in the face.

TNB: The Cubs bullpen ranks 29th in all of baseball with only the Arizona Diamondbacks behind them. Is this the cause for the teams struggles this season or is there more to the problem?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: It’s a big part of the problem. The Cubs are 15-30 in one-run games, and 2-16 in one-run games on the road — which tells you right away that bullpen failures have been a key part of Cub defeats.

Another major part of the failure, though — and those records reflect this as well — is the Cubs’ offense’s failure to hit with RISP. The Cubs rank fifth in the league in BA, but 12th in runs scored, and hit only .243 with two out and RISP and .236 in “late and close” situations.

TNB: What does the future hold for Carlos Zambrano?

Bleed Cubbie Blue: Z has probably burned his last bridge with Cubs management. His meltdowns — from his fight with Michael Barrett in 2007, to his maniacal argument with umpire Mark Carlson in 2009, to the screaming match with teammates this year on the South Side of Chicago — are well known. The best-case scenario for Big Z is that he pitches well enough in the seven or so starts he has left, that the Cubs can trade him and maybe get some team to pick up half his remaining contract. A possible destination could be the Mets (if Omar Minaya isn’t fired), or even the White Sox (because manager Ozzie Guillen and Zambrano are close friends).