Piniella Has Raised Level of Expectations

In two years, Lou Piniella has done something that no other Cubs manager has done in a full century, leading the club to postseason appearances in consecutive seasons. This past season, Piniella guided the Cubs to 97 victories (the franchises most in a single season since 1945) and a run-away finish atop the National League Central Division standings.

The fruits of Piniella's labor were recognized by the Baseball Writers Association of America, who on Wednesday named the 65-year-old Piniella the 2008 National League Manager of the Year.

Piniella received 15 first-place votes, eight second-place votes and four third-place votes for a total of 107 points. Charlie Manuel, who guided the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series title, placed second in NL Manager of the Year voting. It was Piniella's third Manager of the Year award in 21 seasons as a big league manager. He previously won the award with the Seattle Mariners in 1995 and 2001.

Piniella is the first Cubs skipper to win Manager of the Year honors since Don Zimmer in 1989. Previously, Jim Frey won the award in 1984. Both Zimmer and Frey led the Cubs to post-season appearances in those years.

To sweeten the pot, Piniella received a $100,000 contract bonus, which he will donate to Cubs Care, a charitable partner of the Chicago Cubs.

Speaking to reporters on a teleconference Wednesday, Piniella cited the fact that the Cubs have reached the postseason in back-to-back years under his watch as the accomplishment he takes the most amount of pride in having achieved in two seasons as the team's manager.

He acknowledged that the level of expectations has been raised.

"The fact that we went to the postseason two years in a row … it hadn't been done in Chicago in a long time and now the expectations are up," Piniella said. "People expect us to be good and they're disappointed when we don't win in postseason. I think we've raised the level."

"(The fans) expect the Cubs to be good and we are going to be good."

Asked what the award means to him on a personal level, Piniella said: "Managing is so much tougher than playing. You're responsible for so many things. When you're a player, you're a team guy, but at the same time you've got to do well yourself individually.

"With the manager, he's depending on a whole lot of people: the players, the coaches, our farm people that develop these players. I'm fortunate that I have a really good group to work with."

On that note, Piniella was pleased to announce that his entire coaching staff had been retained for 2009. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild (eighth season) will return next year, as will hitting coach Gerald Perry (third season), bench coach Alan Trammell (third season), first base coach Matt Sinatro (third season), third base coach Mike Quade (third season), bullpen coach Les Strode (third season) and special assistant to the manager Ivan DeJesus (third season).

"They're a very integral part of my success," Piniella said.

Piniella was asked what the future holds for his team via roster additions in the weeks and months ahead. He gave no mention of specific players that either he or General Manager Jim Hendry are targeting, but said that the two had talked at length during recent organizational meetings in Arizona.

"Since then, Jim has gone on to the GM's meetings and had talks with different teams and different agents," Piniella said. "We're in total agreement on things that we'd like to do and on some of our needs. This is Jim's area and he's really good at it, and I let him do his job."

One likely target of the club will be left-handed hitting, Piniella acknowledged.

"We need some left-handed hitting," he surmised. "I don't know how you get it unless you have to take a few steps a little bit out of the ordinary to get it done. We're set in a lot of places and there are very few places we can do that. We can add a little bit to our bench, but on the field, that probably looks like something that would work for us. It's not set in stone. I don't even know who's out there available, but at the same time it's something that can be considered."

Piniella noted that the Cubs, as they stand now, are a "good baseball team" and not one in rebuilding mode. He acknowledged that the club has gotten cold at the wrong time two years in a row come playoff time (particularly on offense), but added that the team still maintained a good nucleus.

He offered no answer for why the club continues to struggle in the postseason, except to say the team "probably pushed a little too hard this (past) year."

"We've got no excuses," said Piniella. "We just got beat. We didn't score runs. The disappointment for me … we scored 12 runs. That's not going to get it done. You've got to score runs. You watch all the games in the (playoffs) and even the World Series, and the teams that didn't score runs didn't win."

That has to leave a bad taste in Piniella's mouth, but he said he's trying to keep his off-season fires (as one reporter termed it) at bay until after the holidays.

"Our season ended abruptly," Piniella said. "I was really, really, really disappointed. I talked to a few of our players immediately after (the playoffs) and the next day, and everybody felt the same way. It felt like we got run over by a semi-truck.

"You want to get started, but let's get through the holidays first and enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas and soon after that, we'll get started again. Right now I'm enjoying a little golfing and a little fishing. We've got plenty of time starting after the first of the year to get started baseball-wise."

One area that is likely to be discussed is the leadoff spot. Alfonso Soriano led the club with 29 home runs and batted .280 in 109 games atop the order in the regular season, but for the second straight postseason finished with as many RBIs as Frank Caliendo and his many commercial impressions (zero).

Piniella again refused to pin the blame squarely on Soriano's lack of production.

"We relied all year on total team contributions and we got it," Piniella said. "You look at the production and we probably got the best production in the National League in the sixth, seventh and eighth (spots). When Alfonso is hot, he's electric, he carries you. He gets cold, he's such a free-swinger, and he struggles.

"But I don't like to look at just one position or two positions or one starter or one reliever. It's a team, including me as a manager.

"We won 97 ballgames and you look at our record when Alfonso led off and it was darn good. So I don't know what's going to happen over the winter. I don't know what we're going to be able to do or not do, but I do know that we do need a little more left-handed hitting. Outside of that, we'll see what happens come Spring Training."

Information from the Cubs Media Relations Office was used in this report.

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