Stick a fork in ’em, they’re done

Another pitiful outing by the Cubs last night. They were held to only four hits and lost their seventh game in a row, including two consecutive sweeps by Milwaukee and St. Louis. I thought after they won two consecutive series against the Dodgers and Cardinals that the Cubs would be able to really get into a groove against Milwaukee.

Instead, the Cubs got swept and the fourth game was rained out. I think that really broke their backs. Baylor’s outburst on Tuesday and Kerry Wood’s tongue-lashing of his team on Monday night apparently weren’t enough to shake the Cubs out of their doldrums.

This seven-game losing streak is especially bad because, on paper, this team has the talent to go on seven-game win streaks. McGriff and Alou continue to fail in the clutch, and the team as a whole is making every opposing pitcher look like an All-Star, as Baylor put it.

And where’s Mark Prior? Still in the minors, where he’s impressing many but not doing much to help the big club. Add to all of this Alex Gonzalez trip to the disabled list, and you’re looking at a club without much reason to look forward to playing every day.

They know they’re playing like crap, their manager knows they’re playing like crap, and yet they continue to play that way. I really don’t think that this awful start is Baylor’s fault, but I wouldn’t mind his getting fired as a result. He certainly deserves it for his astoundingly idiotic handling of pitchers, young players and dumbfounding in-game moves. You know, maybe the offense might respond better if Baylor started the same lineup more than two games in a row.

Particularly frustrating was his decision to start Delino DeShields last night, the day after Bobby Hill went 2-for-4 with a double. Aargh!

I don’t now see reason for optimism. It’s true that individual players have shone at moments, but the team as a whole has not really shown that it can put together the kind of string of victories necessary to contend over the course of a long season. But Cubs’ management feels differently. As Teddy Greenstein reported in the Tribune yesterday:

Cubs officials say Baylor is in no immediate danger of being fired. They cannot promise he’ll remain on the job for the rest of the season, but that remains the most likely scenario.

“We remain supportive,” club President Andy MacPhail said Wednesday. “We know better days are coming.”

How do they know that? Where is the reason to be so confident? OK. Farnsworth, Gordon, Gonzalez and Hundley are injured. The Cubs may be better when they come back, though the bullpen has not had much chance to blow any games since the Cubs rarely have leads that last so long. Gonzalez was doing OK before getting injured, but he wasn’t exactly a sparkplug in the lineup. As for Hundley, he didn’t produce all last year and there’s no reason to believe that he’ll begin to do so now.

So what do you have left? Alou and McGriff. They are the keys. But they are both old. Alou is 37 and McGriff is 39. There is a good possibility that time has finally caught up with them, especially so for McGriff. For Alou, it may just be those nagging injuries that have gotten in the way of a better start. But it doesn’t really matter — either you produce or you don’t. And he hasn’t.

Here’s another story by Greenstein on the Cubs’ poor offense, and it’s a pretty sad state all around. The Cubs are batting .220 with runners in scoring position, and .214 in day games.

Baylor will be kept for the time being, if for no other reason than that there’s no reason to think that a change in management will have an immediate positive impact. MacPhail & Co. think the team will improve once Alou and McGriff start hitting (if they do) and the rest come back. So they’re willing to be patient.

Prior will probably be brought up to pitch one half of the May 22 doubleheader against the Pirates, and will probably be moved into the starting rotation to replace Cruz, who has lost all ability to go past the fourth inning.

The Cubs will win a game sooner or later, one hopes, but there’s not much cause to pay them serious mind unless they run off a string of wins and start hitting. A five- or six-game winning streak and nine or 10 out of 12 is the kind of run they need to get back into things at this point. They are not just fighting against the other teams in the Central Division. They are battling to stop their faith in themselves from fading into nothingness.