As we begin the unofficial second half of the Cubs' season, a little historical perspective is necessary. Or at least it can be fun.
The Cubs resume the season Thursday night at home against the Florida Marlins with a record of 37-55. The last time they were this bad at the all-star break was 2006, when they were 34-54.
The fans were getting restless, and they would let Cubs management know how they felt by staying away from Wrigley Field in then-alarming numbers.
General manager Jim Hendry had just made a list of possible replacements for manager Dusty Baker, who would be shown the door in October along with team president Andy MacPhail.
After an unprecedented spending spree the following winter, Hendry proclaimed at the Cubs convention that, "We're going to get good, and we're going to stay good."
The Cubs got good for a couple of years but they've since backslid to 2006 levels. Fans have stayed away already this year, and they're as restless and as unhappy as they were in '06.
Hendry is still there, but who knows for how long. Ditto for field manager Mike Quade.
With history as our guide, let's take a look at a few things to watch for beginning today.
The firing line:
There's no way around it. Talk has already turned to whether Hendry and Quade will be retained at season's end.
Owner Tom Ricketts gave both a vote of confidence a few weeks ago, but if the Cubs careen toward 100 losses (they're on pace for 97 now), all bets might be off, and rightfully so.
That also should go for team president Crane Kenney. No reason he shouldn't get the same treatment he gave MacPhail if there is a housecleaning.
The Dempster fallout:
Pitcher Ryan Dempster did neither himself nor Quade any favors by challenging the manager in the dugout last weekend in Pittsburgh.
Can you imagine if that had been Carlos Zambrano?
The whole incident could blow over, but if Quade has in any way "lost" the clubhouse, it could be a long and ugly second half.
There's no way around this one, either. Hendry has said more than once he won't conduct a "fire sale," but that doesn't mean players won't be moved.
Problem is, the players Hendry would like to move have too much money attached to their names or have no-trade clauses or 10-5 rights.
Other teams want the players Hendry says he won't trade.
The Cubs could trade first baseman Carlos Pena, whom they may or may not want to re-sign for next year. Center fielder Marlon Byrd and catcher Geovany Soto also are marketable, especially with prospects Brett Jackson and Welington Castillo one step away in the minor leagues.
The one thing worth watching in the first half was the shortstop-second base combo of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney.
All-star Castro is only getting better. If some veterans quit in the second half, the Cubs have to hope Castro doesn't follow their example.
Barney finished the first half with a flourish. It will be interesting to see if he can keep his batting average above .300 and if both players can learn to take a few walks.
The Cubs this week promoted center-field prospect Brett Jackson and infielder Ryan Flaherty from Class AA Tennessee to Class AAA Iowa.
Castillo, who inexplicably didn't play for the Cubs earlier this year when Soto was hurt, had an all-star first half at Iowa.
Jackson, the Cubs' first-round draft pick in 2009, is their center fielder of the future. If they trade Byrd, that future could start soon. Flaherty figures to be a versatile player along with infielder DJ LeMahieu, who got a look-see in the first half. They will share time at second and third bases at Iowa to start the second half.
You could see both in September.
If Hendry and Quade are to save their jobs, much might depend on the top three in the starting rotation: Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza.
All are presumably healthy, and if they pitch like a "big three," they might help the Cubs attain something they haven't been able to attain all year: a three-game winning streak.
No. 4 man Randy Wells has been a major disappointment coming off a forearm injury. The Cubs hope to get No. 5 starter Andrew Cashner (rotator-cuff strain) off the disabled list sometime next month.
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