Ask Paul returns to discuss the Lilly-Renteria Incident, Barrett's future in pinstripes, Big Z's contract and whether the umps have it out for the Cubs.

Paul, have the Cubs considered really clearing house and starting over? I mean, a lot of these fans have such a bad attitude that I don't think there's any way to salvage the relationship. -- Dave Bohnsack, Lansing, Mich.

Clearing house after spending $300 million on free agents? Not sure if that's feasible, and since they play in a weak division, it doesn't make sense to clear house even if they could. The bad attitude will change if they make it to the postseason, even if it's barely above .500. The relationship is very salvageable, because Cubs fans are basically masochists.

Hi Paul, I always enjoy reading your column, especially when it doesn't include questions about those two guys we don't talk about anymore. Michael Barrett is a good hitter, seems to love Chicago, plays with emotion, and recent troubles aside, appears to be a good clubhouse guy. However, it's always been clear from comments from Cubs managers and starting pitchers that he doesn't handle the pitching staff well, leading to past seasons where Prior, Maddux, and Zambrano preferred the team's No. 2 catcher and of course the recent blow-ups with Big Z and Rich Hill. So why don't the Cubs have the pitching coach call pitches? That's how pitchers are handled in high school and often in college, so why don't the Cubs do it with Barrett if his biggest deficiency is calling a game?! -- Danny, Omaha

I'm not sure if that's really Barrett's biggest deficiency, but Lou Piniella said in spring training that he rarely calls pitches from the dugout, so it's up to the catcher to know his staff, know the opposition and know what's working that day. I don't see why the pitching coach or manager should have to call pitches. The catcher should have enough knowledge to do it himself, and that's why so many become managers.

Dear Paul, didn't Ryne Sandberg write a poem about Carlos Zambrano that went something like "Stormy, husky, brawling, Pitcher of the Big Shoulders"? I can't seem to find it. -- Stan, Madison, Wis.

No, you're thinking of Joyce Kilmer's poem about Lou Piniella, "Ivory."

Paul, will the Cubs sign Carlos Zambrano to a new long-term contract prior to the end of the season and thus avoid losing him to free agency? -- John Lesko, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Not likely. He can still re-sign after the season, as Konerko did with the White Sox. But the Mets are likely to throw the kitchen sink at Zambrano, with a new stadium on tap in 2008. It's a perfect atmosphere for Big Z, who enjoys being on stage more than any player I've ever covered, with the possible exception of Sammy Sosa. Hopefully he'll stick around and play for the Cubs for years, because you can't find a more entertaining headache, I mean, athlete.

During you last column you mentioned the Cubs players hacking at the first or second pitch in situations with runners in scoring positions and said "sometimes they don't think about their approach" before they get to the plate. I agree with this, but this has been bugging me. Isn't that what a team has a manager and third-base coach for? Isn't somebody supposed to give the take sign once in a while? Or, is the player just told, "Good luck Cesar, try hard, get a hit?" -- Darryl Delott, Greenville, S.C.

Yes, somebody is supposed to do that, though you'd hope they'd be smart enough to know what the situation calls for without having to depend on the coach and the manager every time.

Hey Paul, I know the first couple months of the season Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis were the Cubs best pitchers if not the early MVPs of the team. But as I watch their last few starts they seem to be showing signs of struggling. Do you think they were just overachieving and are coming back down a little bit or is this just a little slump the two are in and can pitch their way out of it? Neither one have great career numbers and their last few starts have been very subpar. Is it too early to be concerned? -- Neil Logsdon, Brownsburg, Ind.

It's never too early to be concerned, especially with Marquis' track record and last summer's meltdown in the second half in St. Louis, and Lilly serving up six home runs in a span of two starts. But the two have generally pitched well, and deserve the benefit of the doubt as long as they don't start walking people all the time and giving up home runs by the dozens. Then it's time to start worrying.

Couldn't the Cubs have protested the Sunday night game against Atlanta right after Lilly was ejected for hitting Renteria? I realize that umpires' decisions cannot be protested, but aren't these limited to clear-cut ball/strike and safe/out kinds of decisions? This was more like mind-reading. -- Mel Kanninen, San Antonio

You cannot protest a game for an umpire deciding to eject a player, whether it was fair or not. Protesting games is a meaningless exercise anyway, unless it's something truly crazy, like the pine tar game with George Brett. But you're right about the mind-reading. I think the umpire, Wolf, was doing his impression of Karnac the Magnificent. He probably rehearsed his answer all morning long in his hotel bathroom, knowing he'd be wearing a mike for ESPN and knowing Lilly was going to plunk someone in the first inning, as we all did.

Hello Paul, I wish you or someone at one of the Chicago papers would write an article about how bad some of these umpires are. Not about balls and strikes but situations like last night with Jim Wolf and what also happened at second base with our second baseman getting smacked in his face right in front of Jim Reynolds. I think a lot of the umpires have it in for the Cubs for whatever reason. Bring back Doug Harvey. -- Rob Kinder, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Maybe the dirt-kicking episode is having a lingering effect on umpires' perception of the Cubs. Recall that the very next day, Alfonso Soriano hit a home run, only to have it ruled a double by Bruce Froemming, who had ranted about Piniella's dirt-kicking the day before. The call was later reversed when the other umpires convinced Froemming that his eyes were deceiving him. The Lilly-Renteria-Fontenot game was a slap in the face to the Cubs, or maybe en elbow in the face. Baseball should be embarrassed by the lack of accountability by some of the umpires.

Paul, why on earth is Soriano hitting leadoff? I know it's been debated before, but every time he hits a solo HR, it makes me scream! -- Michelle L., Hopkinsville, Ky.

Try yoga.