Wait Til...This Year?: Cubs on a Roll
In the immortal words of Harry Caray... "It Might Be, It Could Be..."
From year to year, the Chicago Cubs typically exist on a level between comical and irrelevant.
Even die-hard fans, the kind who plan their weekends around getting a sunburn and hangover in the Wrigley Field bleachers, took notice of the annual ineptitude back in 2006, when a team so atrocious took the field that fans actually stayed away from Wrigley.
Since that summer, however, the front office and players have taken notice, and are serving notice that...wait for it:
The Chicago Cubs may be the best team in the National League.
Perhaps the most important acquisition made by general manager Jim Hendry involved not a player, but the manager. Lou Piniella has brought a sense of stability and a calming demeanor to the Cubs dugout, a sharp contrast from the roller-coaster ride that was the Dusty Baker era.
He also has a flair for the dramatic, such as last season's ejection following the Carlos Zambrano-Michael Barrett slugfest, which sparked the Cubs' second-half surge to the National League Central crown.
In fairness, a manager is only as good as his players. Hendry's appeal here is not only in the veterans he's acquired, but the players he's let get away.
Sammy Sosa was the first to go. In the wake of the ever-present steroid scandal rocking baseball, Hendry's decision to let the iconic slugger depart proved to be a stroke of genius.
More recently, Mark Prior left town, and took with him all the unfulfilled promise he left sitting on the table for four years after his magical 2003 run. He may resurface in San Diego, but for now the Cubs are thankful they no longer have to deal with his injuries and complaints.
Instead, Hendry brought in gamers who are not necessarily as talented as others, but proven commodities nonetheless.
Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark DeRosa, and Kosuke Fukudome all have proven track records, and while their individual performances may vary, they can all be counted to be in the lineup when called upon.
One exception to the "grinder" rule has been Alfonso Soriano, a player who has arguably sparked more debate among Cubs fans than any in recent memory. Should he hit first, second, or fifth? Is he too injury-prone? Is he worth the contract?
While there are probably answers to all those questions, give credit to Hendry for recognizing the fact that the Cubs needed to make a splash after the dismal 2006 season.
Hendry recognized that overpaying for talent was going to be necessary to convince anyone to play for such a lousy team. In choosing Soriano, he gained a player who possesses a combination of speed, power, and defense like few other in the game.
Add all the recent acquisitions to an established nucleus, including Derrek Lee (finally emerging after a string of injuries and terrible luck), Carlos Zambrano (maturing into a Cy Young award?), Kerry Wood (in his natural position now), and Aramis Ramirez (a game changer when hot).
And the Cubs are suddenly as deep and talented as any team in the National League.
True, it is still early. But after last year's second half surge, the lessons learned in the playoffs, and the hot start to this season, it certainly is tempting to put away the jokes, forget about the past collapses and failures, and start thinking:
Why wait 'til next year?
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