A Fly in the Ointment

The Iowa Cubs stranded 10 on base and out-hit their opponents 11-6 in a 6-5 loss to Nashville in the Music City Friday night. The recent influx of runners left on base and subsequent lack of clutch hits have become quite the fly in manager Mike Quade's ointment.

The Cubs' Triple-A team is batting .253 with men on base this season and .241 with runners in scoring position. With runners in scoring position and two out, that average expectedly drops to .227.

Currently in his fourth year as Iowa skipper, Quade describes the conundrum only as "frustrating." He points to his team's recent series with Sacramento last week to illustrate his point about the club needing more timely hits.

In that series, Iowa dropped three of four to the River Cats despite out-hitting the A's affiliate 46-32. All told, the Cubs stranded 44 on base in the series.

In their 11-inning loss Friday, the team was 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

"Sure, it's frustrating," Quade said. "It's damn frustrating. The proceeding three weeks, we were getting five and six hits a night and finding ways to win. Now you're upset because you're putting double-digit hits on the board, but are having trouble driving them in. The question is: do you look at the glass half-empty, or half-full?"

Of course, no one understands the frustrations associated with the failure to execute clutch hits better than Cub fans this year. The major league team entered Friday batting .237 with runners in scoring position in 52 games. Moreover, the Cubs were dead last in all of baseball with RISP/2 out, having put together a .157 average in that department.

Despite beating St. Louis, 5-4, in 14 innings at Busch Stadium Friday, Cub hitters stranded 13 on base as a unit. The Cubs also used eight pitchers in the marathon, which totaled 5 hours and 4 minutes. They surrendered 19 hits as Cardinal hitters themselves stranded 17 on base.

For Quade's team, it's all about staying positive.

"You have to be positive about creating more RBI situations and getting more hits," he said. "When you leave 44 guys on base in one series, you're not very happy. But we've got a very young club here and this group of kids is very interesting."

From "Fly" to "Pie" ...

One of most visible differences in the Cubs' lineup the past four nights has been the addition of INF Ryan Theriot in the leadoff spot. Most obvious, though, is the move of top outfield prospect Felix Pie further down in the lineup.

Forever a leadoff hitter, Pie had been struggling atop the order after batting .230 in May. He's picked up more starts in the bottom third of the order recently, and Quade admits that the highly touted prospect is frustrated, too.

"He's going through some serious growing pains right now," Quade said of Pie. "He's probably never gone through anything like this before because of all the success he's had in the system."

Quade also cautions folks to be patient with Pie in spite of the big league club's struggles. With the Cubs now 21-32 and just two games ahead of Pittsburgh for last place in the NL Central, many are wondering if a Pie call-up to Chicago before September is only a matter of time.

"But guess what?" Quade asks rhetorically. "He only had half a year at Double-A. You'd love to have these guys spend a year and a half in the minor leagues and then wind up in Chicago, but he's finding out some very hard lessons right now. Pitchers are throwing him a lot of breaking balls and off-speed stuff.

"He loves to hit the fastball, but this league will teach you a lot about discipline and hitting off-speed pitches. While they certainly throw breaking balls in A-ball, it's a different deal up here. To this point, he's battling and fighting through it.

"We're excited about him, but he's just going through a rough time. Even Hall of Fame players have gone through it. He's finding out that this game can be very tough and very humbling."

Pie was hitless in four at-bats Friday to lower his season average to .265 in 53 games. In spite of his recent struggles, he leads the team with 31 RBIs.

"He's a 21-year-old kid trying to make adjustments at Triple-A. He'll be fine," Quade added. "Unfortunately, the people that are looking for a time table [of a major league debut] of next week, that's not going to be the case. He's a great kid and right now, he's a frustrated kid. He said the other day, ‘I can't believe this is happening to me.'

"But there are a whole army of millionaire ballplayers that have gone through this and we can only hope Pie will eventually be one of them. Again, he's finding out what it's all about. In the long run, I think he'll be that much better for it. He's got plenty of time."

Jae-Kuk Ryu allowed five runs and as many hits in six innings en route to a no-decision in the team's loss Friday. He walked four and struck out two. Iowa is currently 23-30 overall following a stretch of eight straight games against the first-place Sounds that was divided up equally between the two team's home parks. The series was split four games apiece.

Iowa opens a four-game series at Oklahoma beginning Saturday.

"I know many of our players had a lot of success coming up through the system, but this is a very challenging level," Quade said. "I think we're making progress."

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