|Is Quade the stress-relief drug the Cubs have been looking for?|
The Cubs just concluded their best road trip of 9 games or more in team history. They won in blowout fashion with a lineup in which Sam Fuld was the seasoned veteran, a lineup that consisted exclusively of rookies and minor-league call-ups. The team has gone 17-7 since Quade took over for Lou Piniella, scoring 5.1 runs per game and yielding just 4 per contest over that stretch.
His tenure hasn’t been without adversity. I (among many others) questioned the way he handled the Castro benching. And not that it had anything to do with Quade, but just yesterday the Cubs lost Geovany Soto to surgery and Tyler Colvin to a life-threatening bat shard to the chest (something that would never happen to anyone if MLB cared to fix the problem). But the Quade win train keeps on rolling.
A lot of people attribute the Cubs’ good fortune to the absence of Lou or Quade’s superiority to Lou, which I find preposterous. Lou’s time at the helm ended against a string of five teams with winning records. Quade has had it much easier. The Quade-led Cubs (heretofore known as the Qubs) have faced just two +.500 teams. Qub opponents have a combined season winning percentage of .472, and the six series they have won have been against opponents with a collective .455 win rate. The only good team the Qubs have dominated has been the St. Louis Cardinals, who have had just one day off since August 23 (and won’t have another before season’s end)—they are 10-17 in that stretch. Quade hasn’t exactly been a giant-killer.
But under Lou, the Cubs weren’t anything-killers. Overall, the Cubs have a 41-43 record against sub-500 teams in 2010. So while I don’t think it’s at all fair to compare Quade’s two-dozen games managed to Lou’s 3,548, I am curious to know if Quade has had a relaxing effect on the Qubs. A lot of people are saying they’re thriving in September’s low-pressure environment, but there hasn’t been any realistic pressure on this team since July. And, with the exception of the Cards, none of the teams the Qubs have won series against are feeling much pressure either. So I don’t think we can dismiss the entire positive swing exclusively to low-pressure situations and low-talent opponents.
Maybe the Qubs are feeling less pressure, less stress, and less performance-hampering anxiety because of Mike Quade.
I have often argued that a manager isn’t likely to add or detract much to a team’s ability to play, but I will add that the Cubs’ Achilles heel has often been their penchant for buckling in critical situations. I won’t blame any manager for that. I have, mostly in jest, blamed the fans for that. But Milton Bradley said it. Lou Piniella said it. Ozzie Guillen said it. Derrek Lee said it. All of them agree that there is a negative pressure on the Cubs that requires them to compete against 29 other teams and 100+ years of history. If there is one quality that could put one candidate ahead of the rest in my eyes, it would be the ability to shield the team from that pressure or to use it productively.
I don’t know if Mike Quade really has that skill, but it seems like he very well might. And the simple fact of the matter is that if Quade is the manager in 2011, there will almost certainly be less pressure simply because of the fact that his name carries no expectations with it. I’d be willing to take that low-risk gamble.