Baker believes in himself and his team
Manager knows wins are the only thing that will quell rumors
HOUSTON -- Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee understands why manager Dusty Baker is on the hot seat.
"It's easier to put it on one guy than 25 guys," Lee said Wednesday.
After Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Astros, Baker and the Cubs are 22 games under .500 at 31-53. The Cubs are on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1966. Baker's job status has been questioned, and Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said he'll evaluate the team at the All-Star break. Asked if he had a timetable regarding Baker, Hendry said on Wednesday: "I'll evaluate at my own pace."
Does Baker expect to be managing the team after the All-Star break?
"Yeah, I expect to be here," he said. "Why not? I'm not walking Death Row."
Baker did meet with Hendry before the game.
"I feel comfortable," Baker said. "I haven't lost any confidence in what I can do. If anything, it's more of a thing that tests your faith. It tests your outlook on things. You learn about people, you learn about yourself. You've go to take something out of every situation. You take it, and you learn from it."
After Tuesday's game, a 7-2 loss to the Astros, third baseman Aramis Ramirez said it wasn't fair to blame the team's struggles on the hitters. Ramirez is right. The Cubs rank 15th in ERA, and lead the National League in home runs and walks allowed. They're also 16th in runs and RBIs, and next to last in home runs.
"He was frustrated," Baker said of Ramirez's comments. "He didn't have a very good game either. We're all frustrated. Like he said, it's all our faults. We're not passing the blame on anybody. We're not tearing it up in any department, offensively or pitching wise. We're not getting timely hits and we're walking too many people and we're giving up too many home runs."
It's not a pleasant situation to be asked about his job nearly every day. Baker experienced it a little while managing in San Francisco, but it wasn't a daily thing.
"If you win, nobody says anything, and if you lose, it comes back up again," Baker said. "We are where we are for whatever reason."
There are many reasons. The Cubs have used rookie pitchers for 31 starts, counting Wednesday's game by Sean Marshall. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have struggled with shoulder injuries. Lee missed two months because of a fractured right wrist. Juan Pierre didn't provide the spark at the top of the order as expected. They're not getting clutch hits. And there have been enough mental mistakes to fill a blooper video.
"I've always been a believer that it's the players," Lee said. "The manager gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when they lose."
But Baker and his staff also have to answer to situations beyond this year. Corey Patterson struggled last season with the Cubs and was traded to Baltimore in January. He's now batting .283 with 31 stolen bases. Last season for the Cubs, he hit .215 and stole 15 bases.
"I'd be willing to bet that some of the things Corey is understanding now he was told before," Baker said. "There were things Hank Aaron told me that I didn't understand until three, four years down the line.
"I'm sure Corey felt a lot more pressure in Chicago than Baltimore -- the need to win, the amount of people we have in the stands every day," Baker said. "There's more pressure probably here than anywhere in baseball, like New York and Boston. Their pressure is to continue to win and our pressure is to win initially. I knew Corey would be a good ballplayer. He's already a good ballplayer. Is it the instruction he's getting now or is it Corey understanding and applying it?"
The Cubs have a four-game series remaining against the Milwaukee Brewers before the All-Star break. Would winning end the rumors?
"I don't know. I know it would make me feel better," Baker said. "I didn't go from being a winner to being some loser. We are losing, but I ain't no loser. I don't know if winning will cure everything but it will sure make me feel a lot better.
"I come out every day and do my job," he said. "I do the best I can every day. We need to win, that's no secret. Nobody wants to win more than me. It's as simple as that."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.