The Cubs are no strangers to curses, having dealt with the wrath of an exiled billygoat for the past six decades. But now it looks like they have found another ballclub to share in the misery, if not take the burden off their shoulders altogether.
The transfer of the curse -- if you believe in such silly notions -- took place on June 20, when Chicago traded catcher Michael Barrett, who had spent the better part of the past two seasons auditioning for the All-Ruffian team, to the San Diego Padres for backup catcher Rob Bowen and outfield prospect Kyler Burke.
These were the records of both teams after games played on June 19, Barrett's last full day with the Cubs:
Records on June 19
Chicago Cubs: 32-37
San Diego Padres: 41-29
Here is the Cubs' record since the deal and the Padres' mark since Barrett made his debut for them:
Chicago Cubs: 25-12
San Diego Padres: 15-21
Such drastic turnarounds for two teams can't possibly be due completely to one player, can it? Barrett is no superstar, far from it. Prior to his sudden penchant for fisticuffs (see: tiffs with A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Zambrano), Barrett was mostly known as a guy you wanted for your fantasy team because he was a backstop who wouldn't kill you in batting average, an "offensive catcher" whose so-so defensive skills could be overlooked because of his bat. But he's not this bad, is he? Is anybody?
Though it's easy to shrug off the reversals of fortunes of these two clubs as mostly coincidence, the evidence stacks up quite dammingly against Barrett.
Exhibit A is the performance of Cubs ace Zambrano, whose troubles with his batterymate boiled over on June 1 when they got into a brawl during a loss to the Braves. Freed from having to pitch to Barrett, Zambrano has been the key to Chicago's revival, going 7-1 with a 1.53 ERA in eight starts. Zambrano and Barrett started seven games together this season, with Big Z winning only twice and posting a 7.52 ERA. In his 16 starts working with catchers not named Barrett, Zambrano is 12-3 with a 1.97 ERA.
Meanwhile, Padres ace Jake Peavy, saddled with the woeful Barrett as his receiver, hasn't been nearly as fortunate. He has won one game since the trade, with Barrett catching four of Peavy's six starts since joining the club. Peavy's two best starts in that span came with Josh Bard behind the plate.
San Diego's other ace, Chris Young, seems unaffected, going 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA since the trade, even with Barrett catching four of his games. In Young's last start, though, he had to leave after two innings with an oblique injury -- while Barrett was catching! (Cue the Twilight Zone music.)
Padres right-hander Justin Germano has won only one start out of seven in the Barrett Era, and that lone victory came with Bard as his batterymate. Barrett has caught five of Germano's starts, all losses for the Padres.
Barrett's indifference toward catching wasn't news to at least one longtime observer of the Cubs, Chicago Daily Herald columnist Barry Rozner, who wrote this after the trade went down: "As long ago as 2004, there were pitchers on the North Side who knew Barrett had no feel for calling a game and wasn't going to help much when forced to block a ball in the dirt or throw out a runner." The numbers bear that out: Barrett's catcher ERA so far with San Diego is 4.54; platoon partner Bard's catcher ERA is 3.07. Barrett's career caught-stealing rate is only 23 percent (18 percent this season).
Also, consider the hit the Cubs took on offense when they got rid of Barrett. Though he was having a poor offensive season by his standards, batting .256 with nine home runs (an OPS+ of 88) before the trade, he is still a far better option at the plate than the guys who replaced him: Koyie Hill (.163 batting average) and Jason Kendall (.229). The fact that the Cubs are winning at this rate -- 25 out of their past 35 -- despite carrying this brutal platoon in their lineup is remarkable. (You know things are bad when you can't wait for Henry Blanco to get healthy.)
There are some mitigating circumstances for Barrett. For one, the Cubs have feasted on an easy schedule lately. Since beating the Brewers in a rubber match on July 1, they have played only two teams with winning records (D'backs and Phillies). Meanwhile, the Padres were playing the likes of the Dodgers, Braves, D'backs, Mets, Phillies and Rockies.
Also, to what extent can you pin the blame on Barrett for the decreased production from San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.665 OPS since July 1) or the disintegration of The Bros. Giles (Marcus is slugging .320 and Brian has hit two homers all year)?
In a rational sense, you can't blame Barrett for any of that. But who ever said curses were rational?