The Chicago Cubs will win the 2009 World Series. That is my prediction of the Cubbies for this upcoming season. Although it pains me to say that, being that I am the biggest White Sox fan you could ever meet, I believe it to be more than possible. It is actually probable.
The Cubs have the combination of an outstanding offense, above average defense, and dominating pitching in the rotation and bullpen. They have let Cubbie Blue Nation down before, but this, like every year, is a new year, a clean slate to prove everyone they finally have what it takes to go all the way.
In order for me to make this prediction lets take a look at their lineup from top to bottom. This will allow me to rate each player and explain in more detail why I think this is the year of the Cubs.
Left Field: Alfonso Soriano (33) Alfonso Soriano is the most talented member of the Cubs offense. He may be coming off of a down year by his standards, but he still hit 29 Home Runs, and had 75 RBIs in only 109 regular season games.
Soriano may be a complete defensive disaster, but not bad enough to cost his team any games. He is the most complete offensive player in baseball. He may strike out a lot, but he will get on base and steal bases. He is clutch performer who can park a ball anytime.
Center Field: Kosuke Fukudome (31)/Reed Johnson (32) This will be an interesting battle. Kosuke Fukudome is the biggest question mark in baseball right now. Is he the thunder hitting power and speed guy he was advertised as before last season, or is he the .257 hitting, 10 home run guy of last year who was benched in favor of other options at different points in the season?
Reed Johnson played very well last year as a platoon guy. He hit over .300 with 50 RBIs, and had the most spectacular catch of the past few years. Fukudome will probably get the nod with the major investment the Cubs put into him, but Reed Johnson will still get playing time. If Kosuke falters, Johnson will be ready to take over.
Right Field: Milton Bradley (30) Milton Bradley comes over as a free agent after having a career year in Texas where he hit .321 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs. If he continues to stay healthy, calm, and productive like last year, he is a dangerous man to face, especially because he is a switch hitter. He may be the guy the Cubs were looking for as a left-handed bat.
He needs to overcome the thought that his great last year is a fluke, and just be productive. We'll have to see what happens once he hits the huge market north siders and the media that follows them. He will either be a bleacher fan favorite, or another Jacque Jones. He also has one of the coolest names in baseball along with Coco Crisp and teammate Kosuke Fukudome.
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez (30) Sometimes it seems like Aramis Ramirez has been in the league for 15 years, even though he is only 30. He is the equivalent to how long Mario Manningham stayed at Michigan. My dad and I used to joke that when he left to graduate, he would be called Oldmanningham.
Sorry for the brief vacation... back to A-Ram. He is a very consistent and talented player. He hit 27 big flies and had 111 RBI last year, while hitting a smooth .289. He has also stepped up his defensive game in a big way, so there can be no more jokes about Aramis Ramirez is Spanish for can't play defense. The biggest obstacle for him is his lackluster playoff performances.
During the regular season, he is captain clutch for the north siders. He hit a memorable walk-off against the White Sox early in the year which seemed to bring on a huge momentum for the rest of the series. He has literally carried this team on his back during parts of the season. You know he will have another great year for the bleacher bums.
Shortstop: Ryan Theriot (29) Ryan "my nickname is my last name split in two" Theriot. He is a fan favorite for the females and a hero for every little guy baseball fan. He is the type of player Lou Piniella loves. He plays good defense, hit .307, and rarely struck out. He is a very pesky at the plate and works pitchers deep into counts by fouling off a lot of pitches. He is a tough out, a tough player, and part of the reason the Cubs are so talented.
Second Base: Mike Fontenot (28)/Aaron Miles (32) Being a huge fan of Ryne Sandberg growing up, this is a big position for me. Even me, a staunch Sox fan, Mike Fontenot is my favorite cub. He is just like Theriot—a scrappy, young, small, and hard working ball player. He was the steal of the trade that sent Sammy Sosa to Baltimore.
The biggest difference between him and Theriot is, that Mikey Fontenot packs power. He can hit the long ball. He will have the edge in this battle, and is another Piniella and fan favorite.
Aaron Miles is a player I am very familiar with. A former White Sox prospect, Miles is another short and scrappy middle infielder. He also hits for a good average, hitting .317 last season for St. Louis, and does not strike out very often. Lou and Jim Hendry have done a great job putting together a good defensive and contact hitting middle infield.
First Base: Derrek Lee (33) Derrek Lee is the heart and soul of Cub Nation. He is the most consistent player, defensively and offensively, a clubhouse leader, and a fan favorite. Since coming over from the Marlins, he has been the Cubs go to guy, and leader.
Last season was a down year for the big guy, but this year he should bounce back. He still managed to hit .291 with 20 dingers and 90 ribbies. This season, he should finally get over that broken wrist that he suffered a couple of years ago. He may be one of the best defensive first basemen in the game.
Catcher: Geovany Soto (26) The Rookie of the Year last year. Soto burst upon the scene in the 2007 postseason, having a great series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He then rode that momentum into 2008 hitting .285 with 23 Home Runs and 86 RBIs. He also caught Carlos Zambrano's historical no hitter in Miller Park against the Astros. (No that is not a typo, the Astros were forced to play home games there due to a hurricane.)
He will come up big again this year for the cubs. He may be the next Mike Piazza, minus the hair dye and sweet mustache.
Starting Rotation: Carlos Zambrano (27)/Ted Lilly (33)/Ryan Dempster (31)/Rich Harden (27)/ Sean Marshall (26) Carlos Zambrano needs no introduction. He is the most talented pitcher in baseball, and if you don't believe me, you have not watched a single game he has pitched in. He is the most dominating pitcher of this era of baseball.
The only person that can stop Big Z is himself. He constantly hurts himself mentally, which leads to a physical collapse. He should have won two Cy Youngs by now, and will probably have a Cy Young type year this year.
Each year, he gets a little more mature. Maybe this year he will finally be focused on winning. Did I mention he also hits Home Runs?
Ted Lilly is a pitcher that is always going to be above average. He won't hurt your team, but you also cannot rely on him to carry your team. He has pitched well since becoming a Cub, and he shows moments of greatness, but his moments of collapse also stick out. Most of the time though, he is a consistent solid middle rotation guy.
Ryan Dempster turned it on last season. With minor mechanics changes made with him and Larry Rothschild, he had an outstanding appearance that landed him an All Star spot. The quirky right hander pitched very well. I expect a slight regression this season, but he will be a lock to win at least 12 games for the Cubbies. His biggest sore spot is pitching away from Wrigley. Let's hope he can turn that around.
Rich Harden has the talent to be the ace on most teams. Not this team though, with Zambrano perched in that slot. Harden has the stuff and the arm to be a top pitcher in the league. Injuries have slowed him down immensely from reaching his potential as a ballplayer. This year, he can hopefully get over that hump in his career and shine the way that he is supposed to.
Sean Marshall is an interesting pick for the fifth starting spot in the rotation. He has talent, and is a solid fifth starter candidate. He has his weaknesses and his strengths, but you know what you are going to get out of him every time he walks out on to that mound.
If Marshall fails, the Cubs don't even have to make a deal. They can simply switch Marshall to the bullpen and use former Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija as the fifth starter. Either way this should be a win-win situation.
Bullpen: This bullpen is stacked. Samardzija is the long reliever who has electric stuff and showed last year he can handle a lot of innings.
With Kerry Wood departing for Cleveland, closing out games is now the responsibility of the young phenom Carlos Marmol, who has an incredible slider to go with his hot fastball. He has to keep himself together to avoid a meltdown like he had last year after giving up a grand slam to lose a game to Tampa. If he can keep it together, don't expect many blown saves from him.
Kevin Gregg was a great acquisition for the Cubs. Although they may have given up a lot for him, he is a lock as the set up man, and may even be even the closer if Marmol loses it.
Neal Cotts is a solid lefty who can pitch middle and long relief if you need him to. Aaron Heilman can also step in as a middle and or long reliever. The rest of the rock solid bullpen is rounded out by righties Angel Guzman and Chad Gaudin, who are both good right handed arms out of the pen.
Jim Hendry did a great job of putting this team together. There doesn't seem to be another team that can compete with the Cubs within the division, with most teams taking a step back, except for maybe Houston. The Cubs are the most complete team in that division with contact and power hitting equaling out a deadly line up, a powerful rotation and bullpen, and electric quick defense. Having all three makes a successful ball club.
Also, most big moves were made by American League teams, meaning the Cubs can get themselves to the series and win. If the cream really does rise to the top, the Cubs, with elite pitching, stellar defense, and and immovable force for an offense, will not be stopped.