The recent run of winning by the Northside Nine has brought along a swell of optimism that could take down some prime Lakefront property. The Cubs reached their low point of the season on June 2nd, nine games under the mediocrity line, a day after the battery batted on each other
and the day that Sweet Lou
left a bitter taste with the umps. There seems to be a growing sentiment
that the weekend of turmoil was the turning point to what looked like to be just another season of discontent. That the outward displays of raw emotion at each other and at the umpires were a culmination of the seething fury over the first two months of lackadasical losing baseball. The team responded, the front office jumped into action and we now have this well-oiled machine of winning that we've all enjoyed over the last few weeks.
Of course the Cubs didn't take off right from that very day, they went from 9 games to 6 games under over the next few weeks but lost a half game in the standings before the next major marker in the season, the Michael Barrett trade
. Was the trade of TCR's (and Z's) favorite scapegoat the real launching point of the team's recent good fortune? Well that remains to be seen, but the similarities to a recent World Champion are worth noting.
The year was 2004 and the Boston Red Sox had suffered yet another heartbreaking playoff defeat the prior year to their arch-nemesis from the Bronx. The offseason began and ended with the acquisition of Curt Schilling (and of course the firing of Grady Little). Hopes were high after a 95-win season though and with another ace on the staff. Throw in relatively new general manager Theo Epstein and a world-class offense and this was going to be the year that the Red Sox finally overcame three lifetime's worth of demons, a tune all too familiar to Cubs fans everywhere.
Things started out slow for the BoSox though, the offense was hitting on almost all cylinders although local hero Nomar Garciaparra had missed a good chunk of the season battling injuries. The focus though on offense had left the defense looking like the Bad News Bears and Nomar's impending free agency was becoming more of a focus than the play on the field. The distractions mounted and a preseason favorite were 56-45
, seven and a half out of first place and a half-game back of the wild card the day before the trade deadline. Things weren't working like they should, changes needed to be made and tough decisions were needed.
Trade rumors had circulated for weeks, but the plug finally had to be pulled
and in a complicated 4-way deal, Nomar Garciaparra landed with the Cubs while the Red Sox rid themselves of a clubhouse distraction while improving what was considered a poor defensive team with the acquisitions of Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. The rest - as they say - is history. The Red Sox finished the year on a 42-18 run, completed the greatest comeback ever and lifted an 86-year old curse. All because of one trade... if they only knew a little sooner.
The $10,000 question though for Cubs fans is whether the Michael Barrett trade will do such similarly wonderful things for the 2007 Cubs? The coincidences are certainly worth noting. Barrett, as was Nomar, was a pending free agent although him remaining with the Cubs did not nearly have the same level of local importance as Nomar's potential departure. Nomar was a Red Sox lifer, the face of the franchise for years and just running the risk of losing him was something a lot of Red Sox fans weren't interested in - much more similar to Carlos Zambrano's current situation that Barrett's. Barret, like Nomar, was a a drag on the defense, his mental mistakes occurring more often and seemingly more costly and his offense was no longer offsetting the woes in his defense. And potentially worst of all, ever since he served as Z's punching bag, the focus had gone from wins and losses and moved to how the pitching staff felt about Barrett and formely harmless dugout banter became tabloid fodder
And similarly to Nomar's case, a deal had to be made, not only because of it's effect on the game itself but to those around the team. Too many questions, too many distractions, too much time not concentrating on the game at hand. Addition by subtraction is the term often bandied about and the Cubs most certainly did not add much of anything. The club has gone through three seasons worth of replacements at the catching position in just over a month, all bringing copious amounts of suck with them. Yet the club pushes forward, 32-38 the day Barrett got traded
, they've gone 19-8 since and moved within 3.5 games of the front-running Brewers and two back of Barrett's new team from securing the wild card.
There's another saying out there though, "correlation does not equal causation". Yes, the Cubs have hit their stride since the trade, they've also hit some real bad basebal teams at the same time (current combined winning percentage of .463). They were also never as bad as the record indicated as proponents of run differential have been advocating for most of the season. The correction was likely to occur at some point during the season and whether the Barrett trade was the cause or just the coincidence, well somehow it'll all end up being blamed on Barrett.