*From Protect the Plate
No National League team has won more games than the Cubs since the start of 2007, but Chicago has gone winless (0-6) in the postseason. Manager Lou Piniella has improved his club's regular season record from 66-96 the year before he showed up to 85-77 in '07 and 97-64 in '08.
Despite the turnaround, "Sweet Lou" is on the hot seat due to the lack of postseason success.
Overshadowed by the success of another pitcher traded to the NL Central midseason, CC Sabathia, Rich Harden managed to stay healthy and post unreal numbers in 12 starts with the Cubs. The oft-injured former Oakland Athletic was 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched. He ranked in the top 20 in strikeouts (181), averaging 11 Ks per nine innings.
DEMPSTER, SOTO SURPRISE
Chicago's Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto were two of the surprise players of 2008. After failing as a starter, Dempster revitalized his career in the Cubs bullpen, saving 85 games from 2005-07. The Cubs gave him another shot in the rotation last season, and Dempster shocked the baseball world, going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA.
The only NL pitcher with both more wins and a lower ERA last season was Cy Young Tim Lincecum. A year after winning the Pacific Coast League MVP, Soto became the first rookie catcher to start on the NL All-Star team, and was named the NL Rookie of the Year.
He ranked in the top five amongst catchers in virtually every offensive category and has tied with Brian McCann for the most homers with 23.
NEW ROLE FOR MARMOL
Dominant setup man Carlos Marmol is expected to close out games for the first time this season. He has 210 strikeouts in just 156 2/3 innings and a .150 batting average against as a reliever.
The 26-year-old will take over for the departed Kerry Wood, who took over for Ryan Dempster. New acquisition Kevin Gregg, who saved 29 games for the Florida Marlins in '08, will compete for the job, but will likely be the setup man.
ON THE DECLINE
After slugging 46 home runs in his first season in Chicago, Derrek Lee has hit just 50 homers in the three seasons since. Alfonso Soriano has had a similar drop off in stolen bases over the past two years.
After swiping 41 bases in 2006, Soriano has just 38 steals in the two years since. While both players are still major contributors, they haven't been the same since turning 30. Pitcher Carlos Zambrano has also seen a decline in his strikeout totals from 210 to 177 to 130 while his Ks/9 has fallen from 8.8 to 7.3 to 6.2.
After an amazing start to his first season in Major League Baseball, Kosuke Fukudome was voted into the All-Star Game. As the year went on, however, Fukudome regressed. His averaged dropped every month, closing out the season by hitting .193 and .178 in August and September, respectively.
He finished the year with a 1-for-10 performance in the postseason. Despite the collapse, Fukudome be back in the starting lineup in 2009.
New addition Milton Bradley had a breakout season last year in Texas, posting a .321 average and .999 OPS...Ted Lilly has been a consistent presence in the Cubs' rotation the past two years, going 15-8 with a 3.83 ERA in '07 and 17-9 with a 4.09 ERA last year...
Shortstop Ryan Theriot had 15 more walks (73) than strikeouts (58) while hitting .307 ...Aramis Ramirez hit a career-high 44 doubles and drove in 100 runs for the sixth time in eight seasons...Pitcher Carlos Zambrano hit .337 last year.