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Cubs have lots of fresh faces, but product remains stale

Lou Montanez  | AP

Lou Montanez | AP

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Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM



Men in Cubs uniforms are walking on the grass at Wrigley Field before Wednesday’s game. I have no earthly idea who some of them are. They could be ballplayers, coaches, self-medicated fans who have wandered onto the diamond or members of a new Ronnie “Woo Woo’’ Wickers cult.

I ask my source about it, and he says they most certainly are ­players. He has never been wrong on this sort of thing. Last year, he was the first to identify ­second baseman Darwin Barney as ­someone other than a Galapagos Islands tour guide.

The new faces belong to Brad Snyder, DJ LeMahieu, Lou Montanez and Tony Campana. These are the players a club calls up in September, not June. But these are the Cubs, a kind of baseball team.

Someone asks team chairman Tom Ricketts if he has heard of any of these players.

“Yeah, of course,’’ he says. “I’ve been to all the minor-league ­facilities.’’

Manager Mike Quade doesn’t seem overly familiar with ­LeMahieu.

“LSU kid, right?’’ he says. “I can’t spell his name, but I have lots of company there. No, I did know how to spell his name. I thought he was a Louisiana kid, but he’s not. Just a good, hard-nosed player.’’

The scariest thing of all? It’s that these new players, these great unknowns, aren’t the problem for the Cubs. If they were, the club would have a convenient excuse. But the reason the Cubs are on their way to a 23-31 record on this day and the reason there will be so many empty seats on a picture-perfect afternoon is that the starting pitching and the defense have been huge disappointments.

The Cubs are last in the National League in ERA and in fielding.

Ryan Dempster has an ERA of 6.00. Matt Garza has been inconsistent. Carlos Zambrano, aside from the occasional snapped bat over his thigh, has been a calming presence for the Cubs. After that, the drop-off in the rotation is like a sinkhole.

If only the Cubs could blame this whole thing on newcomer Rodrigo Lopez.

Ricketts is making small talk among a group of media members. This seems like the perfect time to ask the obvious question.

Injury upon injury

“What’s wrong with your team?’’ I say.

“We’ve got a lot of injuries,’’ he says. “We’ll be fine.’’

I’d ask a follow question if not for the fact that Ricketts is scurrying away as if his ride has finally showed up. One writer immediately refers to me as a “rally killer.’’ I’m OK with that.

Besides having first-to-third speed, Ricketts is right to an extent. The Cubs do have injuries. Garza, Marlon Byrd, Andrew Cashner, Alfonso Soriano, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker are on the disabled list. Adding injury to injury, third baseman Aramis Ramirez will take a grounder to the lip in the seventh inning Wednesday and have to leave the game for stitches.

None of it explains what has happened on the mound or in the field this season.

To make matters worse, the bullpen is struggling of late.

On Tuesday, closer Carlos Marmol gave up six runs in the ninth ­inning in a 7-3 loss to the Astros. Sean Marshall’s first pitch in the seventh inning Wednesday would lead to two runs and the ballgame.

You know what? It’s time to embrace the new kids, whoever they are.

So I approach some of the players. I ask them to tell me something about themselves that most people don’t know. OK, besides their names.

“I lettered in five sports in high school,’’ says Campana, an outfielder. “Golf, baseball, wrestling, track and football.’’

Rock and wrestling

Not bad. He gets points for versatility and for ignoring coaches who believe a high school athlete should concentrate on one sport. He’s listed as 5-8, 165 pounds, and if you think that’s small, know that he wrestled at 119 pounds as a senior. So if there’s a brawl on the baseball field?

“I was 30-5 as a wrestler,’’ he says knowingly.

See? This is a much more pleasant conversation piece than the 11 home runs Dempster has given up in 12 starts.

Snyder plays the outfield. He also plays guitar. He likes heavy-metal stuff. If you hand him a three-chord song, he can play it. Solos? No.

He’ll have to lower the volume on his amp when he gets home.

“I became a dad the 30th of May,’’ he says. “A boy. Gavin. That’s the newest and freshest thing in my life right now.’’

That’s new and fresh enough.

LeMahieu’s initials stand for David John.

When he went to LSU, he was listed as DJ, no periods, instead of D.J., and it stuck. He says it wasn’t worth arguing.

When Ramirez gets hurt in the seventh inning, LeMahieu replaces him and goes 0-for-1.

Snyder strikes out on three pitches in the ninth in his first at-bat of the season.

The Cubs lose 3-1, meaning they have lost five of their last six games and have been swept by the lowly Astros.

That’s not new and fresh. That’s old. Very old.

Let’s talk about rookie Scott Maine. I’m told he pitches.



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