Question of the week:
Which of the following Cubs' statistics is the most startling?
1. Their rank of 13th in the National League in hitting, which includes a .237 mark with runners in scoring position?
2. Their No. 13 rank in the NL in pitching (assuming Saturday's debacle dropped them behind San Diego)?
3. Their worst-in-league bullpen ERA of 5.65 and most-in-majors bullpen walks total of 61?
4. The fact they've been outscored this season 146-145?
5. Or the fact they've got a winning record despite all of the above?
The answer is easy. But that last stat isn't likely to remain on the list much longer if the Cubs don't make some radical changes to that awful bullpen quickly.
Chad Fox, unfortunately for one of the real good guys in the clubhouse, is probably done for good after injuring that elbow again Saturday night.
His bad fortune is going to mean the promotion of a young AAA arm -- maybe Jose Ascanio or Jeff Stevens.
But they need a lot more fixing in that bullpen if they're going to make a serious run at another playoff berth.
And that means pulling the plug on the Rule 5 kid, David Patton (8.03 ERA after another rough night Saturday), and looking long and hard at Neal Cotts (6.75 and 8 walks in 6 2/3 innings), even though he's the only lefty in the pen and is out of options so can't be sent to the minors.
It also might mean revisiting Aaron Heilman's role -- or at least coming up with some alternatives to him when the game's on the line in tough spots.
One thing the Cubs can't afford to do is cannibalize the rotation by, say, moving lefty Sean Marshall to the pen. They're not deep enough in starting pitching.
But Lou plans to keep Randy Wells around when he's done filling in for injured Carlos Zambrano, which is at least a start.
And a few guys in the system could be solutions. But realistically, it might take going outside the organization to make this right.
And that will take raising the payroll -- if the right arms are even available.
Whether they can afford to embark on a search like that, what they clearly cannot afford to do is wait any longer for this bullpen to ``work itself out'' or ``settle into its roles'' or whatever other euphemism club officials like to use for its weak-link area of the team.
Lou already is showing extreme examples of bullpen distrust -- like leaving Dempster in to pitch the seventh Saturday after he'd spent 111 pitches to fight to get a 3-2 game through six. ``We tried to get one more inning out of him,'' Piniella said, stopping his explanation before throwing the pen under the bus en masse.
But maybe that's exactly what the Cubs should do -- or throw the pen in front of a bus. And if it was November, it might be possible.
But it's May, and it's no longer early in the season, and with Aramis Ramirez sidelined two months or more, and the bullpen spitting away games like sunflower shells, its time for an extreme, immediate call to arms.
If there's anybody capable of answering.
Otherwise, it might be a long, long summer on the North Side.