Baker: Cubs are not out of it yet

Baker: Cubs are not out of it yet

MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs are playing better, but it has nothing to do with the pressure being off and them conceding the season. There may be 11 teams ahead of them in the National League Wild Card race -- they're 9 1/2 games back -- but manager Dusty Baker insists the Cubs aren't out of it.

"It's hard to play when you think you're out of the race," Baker said Wednesday. "It's hard to play without a purpose or a cause. Until you're mathematically eliminated, you're not out of the race. I check the scoreboard and standings every day. We're a ways behind, but who says we're out of the race?"

The Cubs dealt Greg Maddux, Todd Walker and Scott Williamson at the trading deadline. Doesn't that send a signal that the season is over?

"Not to me," Baker said. "It signals to me that it was time for somebody else to play. It was up to Greg, too. He didn't want to leave, but if somebody else wants you -- who says Greg isn't coming back? I always feel I have a chance. That's how it is, that's how I am."

The odds are against the Cubs overtaking 11 teams and winning the Wild Card.

"What do you want me to say -- it's over?" Baker said. "I can't say that, because I don't believe that. I can only say what I believe. Even if you don't, you still have to play. You finish as high as you can finish. That's what playing baseball is all about. If nothing else, you have something to build on next year.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I know my chances are slim, but do you know? Does anybody know?"

The Cubs have the makings of a strong infield with the addition of Cesar Izturis and the move of Ronny Cedeno to second. Put Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee at the corners, Michael Barrett behind the plate, and there aren't many changes for next year.

"It's too early to talk about that," Baker said. "Let's talk about that at the end of the year. Right now, we have too many games to play. You talk about, 'You need this, you need that, how do you think the guys will feel who are there?' Right now, we have 50 games left. It's too early to talk about what we need for next year. Let's keep winning now, and we'll worry about next year later."

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry ended talk of Baker being fired when he announced that the manager would finish the season. Does he feel good about his chances of returning?

"I don't think about it," Baker said. "Jim says he's going to wait until the end, and it is what it is. You go out and play and manage and try to win as many games as you can and try to have some fun while you're doing it.

"Basically, we have the same team, but we have some guys who have gotten hot and are performing," Baker said. "We've got some kids who are getting better through experience. Half the guys here hadn't had a Major League start yet. Time brings about change, hopefully a positive change. It brings a learning curve. That's our job to teach them. A lot of these guys have had to learn on the job.

"I know what I can do," he said. "I just manage the best I can."

Baker's job status was brought up after reporters questioned Marlins manager Joe Girardi about the possibility of rejoining the Cubs. There were rumors that Girardi had an out clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for Chicago. Girardi has denied that he is considering a return to Wrigley Field.

"Was it Girardi or somebody else [who said he was going to Chicago]?" Baker said. "You can't control what other people say. All I know is it seems like all of a sudden a lot of people have gotten smarter and more knowledgeable than me in a short period of time -- to others. Know what I mean?"

This year is the last of a four-year contract with the Cubs. Would Baker accept a one-year deal?

"I don't know," he said. "We'll worry about that later. That's my attitude. I'll worry about that when it gets here. You can't control stuff that's not even here yet.

"I've got a choice, too, you know," he said. "Both sides have a choice."

It's been assumed that Baker's choice is to stay with the Cubs.

"Right," he said. "But I still have a choice."

The choice would most likely involve the length of a new deal.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.