For 100 years and counting...
For the past century, baseball communities and beyond have wondered when the Chicago Cubs will again be crowned “World Champions.”
The back-to-back NL Central Champs, come into the 2009 season once again as the favorites to win their division; yet, questions still remain about the team going into the season.
The sale of the Cubs is pending approval and rumors have surfaced about whether this will be manager Lou Piniella’s last season.
The Cubs won 85 games in 2007 and 97 games in 2008.
Seven players are left from the 2007 roster—Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Ryan Theriot.
With pitchers and catchers reporting in just a few days, Lou Piniella’s squad will be looking for much more than just a division title.
I mention “Lou’s Squad” as many changes were made to fit his style of club—speedy, athletic, versatile, and plate disciplined.
Here is a preview into what will be the Cubs 2009 season.
No question Derrek Lee is the guy here. In 2008, Lee batted .291, 20 HRs, and 90 RBI. His stats were solid; yet, nowhere near the numbers he produced in 2005, batting .335, 46 HRs, and 107 RBI.
The real question for Lou is, how much does he use backup first baseman Micah Hoffpauir? A spot on the 25-man roster opened up for him with the departure of Daryle Ward. Hoffpauir has showed that he can hit, batting .335 in 33 games last season. But, can he do it consistently and in the clutch when called upon?
I say yes. Not only will Hoffpauir hit well and produce in key situations; but also, he will be that little birdie on Lee’s shoulder saying, “Be that guy you were in 2005.”
When the Cubs traded Mark DeRosa in the offseason to Cleveland for three young pitchers, a void at second base was created. The obvious choice to fill that hole is Mike Fontenot. He started 49 games last season and has received the green light to be the No. 1 guy at second base.
Although Aaron Miles can play at second, Fontenot should not worry.
Miles was brought in to fulfill the Mr. Everything role.
The role previously held by Mark DeRosa.
In addition to second, Miles could serve as a backup to shortstop, third base, outfield, or even pitcher, throwing a couple of strikes off the mound.
So welcome Mr. Miles, you are the new Mr. Versatility.
Ryan Theroit had a stellar 2008. He led the NL in singles (154), finished sixth in batting average (.307), and had 58 multi-hit games (fourth in the majors). With Fontenot starting at second base, Theriot will be throwing to a familiar foe in the 6-4-3 double-play. They played together at LSU.
No change here, Theroit is the starter. But the real question is, who will be the backup?
Aramis Ramirez is a staple at third base. As for his hitting, when he is on he is on. In 2008, his batting average was .289, with 27 HRs, and 111 RBI. When he is off he is off, and I mean really off.
The main thing for him to do this season is to avoid the rollercoaster hitting.
Another question that arises is the same one that pertains to Theriot, who will backup Ramirez?
Ah the outfield of the Cubs, what an interesting scenario we have here.
The possibilities are endless Soriano, Bradley, Gathright, Johnson, Fukedome, and the list goes on.
Here’s how it shakes out.
Soriano will start in LF, Fukedome in CF, and Bradley in RF.
Reed Johnson will come in when, and I do mean when, Fukedome goes into a fielding error hitting slump, and solidifies himself as the starter come the All-Star break. Fukedome will then come in situational hitting as he did late last season and flounder once. Gathright will come in as need be and provide a spark from off the bench. He could ever be the leadoff should Soriano go down again with an injury. Hoffpauir is also a LF option should Soriano go down.
That leaves us with aforementioned Soriano. Rumors abound whether he should be the leadoff guy. I say keep him there. He just needs to stay healthy, period.
Bradley will be a beast grabbing everything in the outfield and establish a presence in RF.
Where, oh where, would the Cubs be without Geovany Soto? The NL Rookie of the Year will only build on his 2008 breakout performance (.285, 23 HRs, and 86 RBI). The only loss here for the Cubs was veteran C Henry Blanco. The mentor of Soto will be missed; however, the left-handed bat of Paul Bako should fill in nicely.
The Cubs pitching was formidable in 2008 and ranked third in the NL with a team ERA of 3.87.
The five-man rotation begins with No. 1 Carlos Zambrano. It starts and ends with the “Big Z” who threw a no-hitter last season (Sept. 14 against division rival Houston). Zambrano’s tenacity is complimented by No. 2 Ted Lilly.
Last season, Lilly went 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA, and over 200 innings pitched. Now in his third year with the Cubs, Lilly will pick up where he left off and be a 20 game winner in 2009.
From starting pitcher to closer to starting pitcher again, the Ryan Dempster project succeeded. Dempster also won 17 games last season and looks to add that win total in 2009.
No. 4 Rich Harden. Harden was a key midseason pick up that propelled the Cubs to their second consecutive division title. Harden was 5-1 in 12 starts with the Cubs and had an ERA of 1.77. The concern for Harden is, can he stay healthy? When the Cubs needed him most, he was unable to perform due to an injured shoulder—an injury that will keep him off Team Canada’s final roster at this year’s World Baseball Classic.
No. 5 ?????
Early reports have suggested that Sean Marshall is the front-runner; however, don’t be too surprised if the newly acquired Aaron Heilman gets the nod. Cubs’ scouts note that if he gets that changeup going again, he just may end up being the No. 5 guy.
The Cubs’ bullpen comes down to the question, who will be the No. 5 in the starting rotation? Gaudin and Samardzija could be in the running; however, I believe Marshall wins the spot outright. That leaves the bullpen looking like this: Heilman, Gaudin, Samardzija, Cotts, and Vizcaino.
With the departure of Kerry Wood to Cleveland, Carlos Marmol looked to have the closer role all to himself. Not so fast as Kelly Gregg was acquired from the Florida. Gregg notched 61 saves for the Marlins over the past two years and will be given the opportunity to compete for the closer role.
Injury (if a starting pitcher goes down, season a loss)
Lack of consistent offensive (all season and not just April to September)
Cubs win the division with 93 wins. No significant free agent acquisitions by the others in the division.
Aaron Miles will be an exceptional utility player: (2B – SS – 3B)
The Cubs lose in the NLCS to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
NO Jake PEAVY deal!