Saturday, March 29, 2008

Five Keys for the 2008 Chicago Cubs

I have never been a "wait-til-next-year" Cub fan and I have never been a "this-is-our-year" Cub fan. I've always managed to remain somewhat realistic. I will admit, that I had huge hopes going into 2004. That season was a disaster and still one of the biggest disappointments of my sports life. So I am certainly cautious coming off of the 2007 playoff appearance. I don't think that "this is our year," but I do think the National League is up for grabs. I don't see that there's a clear favorite. Although I believe with the Arizona lineup maturing and the addition of Dan Haren, they will win the most games in the NL. I think the Cubs will win their division with between 88 and 92 wins. Optimistic? Perhaps.

Preface: They had a brutal year last year and won 85 games. They certainly didn't get any worse on paper since last year. Perhaps the roster doesn't look better, but it is certainly more stable. In 2007 it took Lou Piniella two months to figure out what he had and what he wanted from this roster (and to untangle the Dusty leftovers). Once it was solidified, things got much better. I think that's worth a few wins right there. Piniella has an idea from the get-go this year. And the players have him figured out somewhat as well. The starting pitching isn't scary, but it's certainly deeper. With Lieber and Marshall waiting in the wings, we won't have to depend on a hail mary trade like the Steve Trachsel deal last year. What's more, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Zambrano all had a subpar (for their standards) year in 2007. I bet that doesn't happen again this season. That's worth something, right?


5. Michael Barrett is gone. I hate to even include this, because Barrett was one of my favorite players while he was a Cub. It wasn't until after he left that I realized how valuable he wasn't. After the fight with Zambrano, the end was near. He was dealt to San Diego after he played his final game as a Cub against the Rangers on June 20th. The Cubs promptly went on their longest winning streak of the year (seven games). They turned their entire season around. Want more? Barrett hit .226 with 0 HRs and 12 RBIs after leaving Chicago. The Padres (who were 41-29) immediately lost four of five (and eleven of 19). They missed the playoffs. I think Barrett's still a nice player and an above-average offensive catcher. But not having him and guys like Will Ohman around can only boost employee morale for 2008.

4. Kerry Wood is the closer. But not because Kerry Wood is the closer. It's because Carlos Marmol isn't. Not that Carlos Marmol isn't good enough to close, it's that he's too good to close. I'll explain. Putting Woody in the ninth gives you that imposing figure with filthy stuff. But it also frees up Marmol for your most important moments of the game. There's been an increasing sentiment in recent years--challenging the notion of using your closer solely in the ninth (or at the end of the game). Maybe he should be used to get the biggest outs, wherever they are. Marmol was the best reliever last year. With Wood reserved for the traditional closer role, Marmol can still be as valuable as always. And who knows, maybe that means bailing Woody out in the ninth a time or two...

3. The catcher position. I, for one am not getting caught up in the brilliant year Geovany Soto had at AAA last year. He was the MVP and hit 28 HRs. Then he came up to Chicago and hit .389 in 18 games with the big club. A repeat would be wonderful, but it would be ridiculous to expect that this year. Instead, I'm just glad to know who the catcher is going to be. Geovany Soto really doesn't have to be good. He just has to be there. Last year you were drawing names out of the hat. Koyie Hill? Rob Bowen? Henry Blanco? Jason Kendall? Gag. This is one position that needs stability. And now you have it. In fact, all Soto needs to do is bat .226 with 12 HRs and 66 RBIs to match the combined numbers of the rest of the Cub catching staff from 2008. Pretty sad. I'm not expecting huge offensive numbers. But I hope he stays back there all year long. And it's been said that Soto is the ultimate pitcher's reciever. The guys love to throw to him. He's a universe better defensively than Michael Barrett.

2. Fukudome. No I don't think Kosuke Fukudome will post very flashy offensive numbers this season either. He won't be the next Ichiro. Heck, he won't even be the next Matsui. It seems you can count on cutting these guys' power numbers in half when they come to the States. I'm not expecting anything more than .271, 14, and 68. He's 30, was hurt last year, and never put up astounding power numbers even in Japan (career high 34 HRs in 140 games). The high on-base is nice. The left-handed hitting thing is nice. And the fact that he can (probably) hit the cutoff man is nice. But the Cubs got seemingly nothing from Jacque Jones last year. Replacing him with the reportedly fundamental Fukudome has to be considered an upgrade, no matter how he hits. And one the Cubs absolutely needed. Being able to write him into right field day in and day out is a comforting proposal. Just don't expect him to go put up MVPish numbers.

1. Rich Hill. Go ahead and pencil in Zambrano for a winless April. He will make a late run at the Cy Young but end up with a middling ERA, right? Probably. Some say Zambrano will be much better without the distraction of ongoing contract discussions this year. But it says here he still struggles in April. Ted Lilly probably pitched a little over his head last year. But if Rich Hill can take the next step, it will take a ton of pressure off of numbers one and two. He's tall (6'5), a lefty, and has the biggest curve ball in the majors. He has the potential to be one of the best southpaws in the National League. When that is going to happen is the question. 2008 will only be his second full season in a major league uniform. I think he's the single most important piece to the puzzle this year. I'm ready for huge things from him. He's technically the number three starter, but will pitch fourth in the rotation. Imagine having a 14 to 16 game winner as your fourth starter. I think it can happen this year. If Rich Hill has a good season, the Cubs will make the playoffs.

(And while I'm at it, here's my dream lineup for the Cubs...[assuming they don't get Brian Roberts])

1. Derrek Lee (1B)
2. Kosuke Fukudome (RF)
3. Alfonso Soriano (LF)
4. Aramis Ramirez (3B)
5. Geovany Soto (C)
6. Mark DeRosa (2B)
7. Ryan Theriot (SS)
8. Pitcher
9. Felix Pie (CF)

I promise you that lineup would win 100 games.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Braves: Here's to Texiera and Francouer tearing up the East.
Mets: Can't pick them first. I say Glavine beats them late in the year.
Phillies: Back half of the rotation needs to be huge.
Marlins: That rotation looks some kind of awful on paper.
Nationals: You'd like to think Austin Kearns would be good one of these years.

Cubs: Had a horrible year in '07 and won 85. Roster stability should increase that #.
Reds: Still not sold on Cordero, but the rest of division jmight be just that bad.
Brewers: Here's to another Ned Yost choke job down the stretch.
Astros: A middling team if I ever saw one.
Pirates: Snell-Duke-Maholm-Morris > Lohse-Looper-Wellelmeyer for the last place battle.
Cardinals: No Rolen, Edmonds, Eckstein, Taguchi, Wilson, Carpenter, Mulder...

Diamondbacks: Young lineup a year better and Haren makes the rotation unfair.
Dodgers: Will probably flip-flop with the Rockies all year long.
Rockies: Would likely win the NL Central or AL West.
Padres: Hard to put a team with this much pitching fourth.
Giants: Last place by default.

Manager of the Year: Bobby Cox
Cy Young Award: Carlos Zambrano
Rookie of the Year: Cameron Maybin
MVP: Mark Texiera

NLDS: Diamondbacks over Dodgers
NLDS: Cubs over Braves
NLCS: Cubs over Diamondbacks

Red Sox: Bartolo could play a role after all.
Yankees: We predict Posada's numbers: .256/11/52.
Blue Jays: It's been five years since Halladay won 20.
Rays: Here's hoping that Shields/Kazmir/Garza continue to improve.
Orioles: They're not even trying now.

Tigers: Granderson, Pudge, Cabrera, Polanco, Renteria, Ordonez...
White Sox: Decent lineup solidified by Swisher and Cabrebra.
Indians: Can JoBo do it again?
Royals: Put Alex Gordon on your fantasy team.
Twins: Meche-Bannister-Greinke > Livan-Boof-Baker fpr last place battle.

Mariners: JJ Putz rides the great season all the way to the Cy Young.
Angels: Bear in mind I made this pick before the Escobar injury.
A's: Would pick them second if I possibly could. Put Harden on your fantasy team.
Rangers: Kevin Millwood's still the ace. Padilla's still the #2 starter. Enough said.

Manager of the Year: John McLaren
Cy Young Award: J.J. Putz
Rookie of the Year: Clay Buchholz
MVP: Miguel Cabrera

ALDS: Red Sox over Mariners
ALDS: Tigers over Yankees
ALCS: Tigers over Red Sox
WORLD SERIES: Tigers over Cubs

Saturday, March 15, 2008



I have been a Cub fan since 1986. Here is a year-by-year list of my favorite Cub player, as well as my new choice for 2008 (given the departure of Mark Prior).

Note - Two players reappear on the list. This has to do with reacquisitions, and unretirings, etc.

(Pre-birth Ron Santo)
1986 - 1994 Ryne Sandberg
1995 Rick Wilkins
1996 -1997 Ryne Sandberg
1998 - 1999 Mark Grace
2000 - 2001 Kyle Farnsworth
2002 Mark Bellhorn
2003 Mark Prior
2004 - 2005 Greg Maddux
2006 - 2007 Mark Prior
2008 Rich Hill

Rich Hill. You have to love homegrown pitching. Especially a 6’5 lefty. Especially one who has the biggest curve ball in the majors. I think he’s going to be one to watch in 2008...