The 2009 Cubs were a colossal disappointment. I used the same term when I wrote about Chicago not getting the Olympics, and I think the level of disappointment is about the same.
The Cubs won 97 games and the division a year ago, and much of the same was expected from them this year. Let's take a look at the Cubs' season by the letters.
A is for Aramis Ramirez
Aramis Ramirez has been the Cubs' best RBI guy since 2003, and he's played a pretty good third base, as well. On May 8th, he dove for a ball and dislocated his left shoulder. He had to miss the next two months, and the Cubs really missed his bat in the middle of the lineup. He did hit .317 with 15 homers and 65 driven in on the year, but only played in 82 games. If we project his numbers out for the full year, that gives him 30 HR and 130 RBI, which the Cubs will take every year.
B is for Bullpen
The Cubs bullpen took a hit when they let Kerry Wood walk away (more on that later). Carlos Marmol was lights out in 2008 as the setup guy, and the logical progression would have been to promote him to closer. But they went out and signed Kevin Gregg instead, who led the league in blown saves in 2008. He wasn't much better in 2009, as he gave up 13 HR and blew 7 saves. They eventually relieved Gregg of his relief duties, and made Marmol the closer. Bright spots were Sean Marshall, who split time between the rotation and the 'pen, and Angel Guzman pitched well late in games.
C is for Cubby Occurrences
Lou Piniella coined this term sometime during his time with the Cubs. It refers to anything that happens that's seemingly inexplicable. One example is when Ryan Dempster broke a toe jumping over the dugout rail to celebrate a win. Another was when Derek Lee's neck spasms flared up after Angel Guzman slapped him in the head celebrating a home run.
D is for Derrek Lee
D Lee got back to being the player everyone knows he can be after a disappointing 2008. Lee regained his power stroke, hitting 35 bombs and driving in 111 (career high). Lee would go on streaks where it seemed like everything he hit was either a double or a home run. He was, without a doubt, the Cubs' MVP for 2009.
E is for Errors
The Cubs were one of four NL teams with more that 100 errors, with 105. There were some really mind-boggling errors during the course of the season, and most of them centered around Alfonso Soriano in left field. Can't win if you don't catch the baseball!
F is for Fans
The Cubs, yet again, passed the three million mark in attendance. You could look at this in one of two ways: On one hand, you could say that Cubs fans will support their team regardless of where they are in the standings. On the other hand, you could make a strong case for Wrigley Field keeping its reputation as the biggest beer garden in the world. The Wrigley Faithful came into play a couple of times during the year, whether it was the supposed racial insults thrown at Milton Bradley, or some guy in the bleachers throwing a beer at Shane Victorino.
G is for Geovany Soto
The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year had a terrible year, as he fell victim to the proverbial sophomore slump. Soto played in the World Baseball Classic, and came into Cubs camp out of shape. He never did get it going, and finished the year with a .218 batting average. He also missed nearly a month with a strained oblique, causing backup Koyie Hill to catch 26 games in a row. One of the funnier moments of the year did come at the expense of Soto, however, as it was reported that he tested positive for marijuana during the WBC.
That led to Piniella admitting he tried the stuff once, but in his own words, "It didn't do a damn thing for me".
H is for Hitting
The Cubs' offense was the best in the NL last year. This year, not so much. The Cubs went from first to tenth in runs scored, and hit just .255 as a team, good for 12th. What they were great at was making no-name pitchers look like Cy Young.
I is for Injuries
Now every team faces injuries during a baseball season. It's just not feasible to imagine a season where every key player on a team plays 162 games. Then there's what happened to the Cubs.
Milton Bradley last five games before hurting himself. Ramirez had the shoulder injury. Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden, Ryan Dempster, and Ted Lilly all spent time on the DL. Alfonso Soriano was playing hurt all season. Geovany Soto missed a month (though that probably benefited the Cubs). Some say you could use injuries as an excuse, but the reality is, injuries had a huge effect on the Cubs.
I saw a stat the other day that said the Cubs used their Opening Day lineup just five times this year. That's not what Lou Piniella wanted.
J is for Jake Fox
Jake Fox came up to the big leagues in late May, and all he did was hit .321 through June. He also showed some power, hitting some big home runs and driving in his fair share of runs. His production tailed off, though, as the season went on. Teams discovered his inability to hit anything but a fastball, and he got a steady diet of off-speed pitches. Some think he may be trade bait this offseason.
K is for Koyie Hill
I would argue that Hill was one of the best players on the Cubs this season. You might say that's not saying much, and I can't prove you wrong. But the Cubs backup catcher position was a little bit of a question after the departure of Henry Blanco. But Koyie Hill filled in nicely, catching 26 in a row at one point. They didn't ask him to be the offensive force that Soto was last year, but it seemed to me like he hit better than his .237 average indicated.
L is for Lou Piniella
Piniella came into 2009 after going 2-for-2 in winning the NL Central. After all the injuries started happening, and the Cubs weren't playing up to expectations, people started questioning whether or not Lou really wanted to be there. I could see why they were asking.
Often times he looked disheveled and disinterested during his postgame press conferences. Nevertheless, Piniella insisted he hadn't lost the fire, he still wanted to be there, and he would be returning for 2010. As of right now, Piniella will be back in the Cubs' dugout next year.
M is for Milton Bradley
Ah yes, Milton Bradley. Where do I start with Milton Bradley? We'll go through his season one sentence at a time. He didn't get a hit until the fourth game of the year, and had four hits in all of April. Hurt himself in the sixth game of the year. He got his first suspension on April 18th. Hit .224 through May. Hurt himself again on June 2nd. Threw the ball into the stands after catching a fly ball for the second out of the inning. Threw a tempertantrum at US Cellular Field on June 25th and was sent home by Piniella. Claimed he would hit for the rest of the year at the All-Star Break. Went 0-for-5 in the first game after the break. He accused Cubs fans of racism, and said he didn't feel comfortable in Chicago in late August. Took himself out of the lineup on September 20th, then didn't reveal much to the media about his injury.
Said "You can understand why they haven't won in 100 years here" a day later, and ended up being suspended for the rest of the season. What a year.
N is for NL Central
The Cubs were the favorites in the division, and many people thought the race wouldn't even be close. As it turned out, the Cubs were in first place for probably not even a dozen days all year. The books will show that the Cubs finished second in the division, but really, if they played that badly and finished second, not much can be said about the rest of the division. The Cardinals got great pitching all year, and the mid-season acquisitions of Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday propelled them to the division title.
O is for Offseason
The offseason before the 2009 season was one of the most perplexing in recent memory. GM Jim Hendry was in a bit of a bind. Lou Piniella wanted a left-handed power bat to work with, but because of the impending ownership situation, didn't have a ton of money to spend. So he traded Mark DeRosa and let Kerry Wood walk.
In their place, he signed Aaron Miles to a two-year, $4.9 million contract, and Kevin Gregg to a one year deal. Both deals worked out miserably. Now that the ownership situation is finally resolved, we'll see what kind of flexibility Hendry will have.
P is for Pitching
Starting pitching, that is. The Cubs' rotation was most definitely not the reason they sucked so bad. Even though only two pitchers reached 12 wins (Lilly and Wells), and only one reached 200 IP (Dempster), the starters kept the Cubs in a ton of games. It was the lack of offense and the bullpen that lost a ton of games. Only Rich Harden had an ERA above 4.00. The Cubs should have a good rotation again next year.
Q is for Quiet Clubhouse
Even after a win, the clubhouse wouldn't be like you'd think it would. The only difference from after a loss would be music playing after a win. That all changed apparently after Milton Bradley was sent home. The clubhouse was reportedly much looser, and the elephant in the room was finally gone. You can say that clubhouse chemistry has nothing to do with on-field performance, but the Cubs won six of their last 15. Hmmmm....
R is for Randy Wells
Randy Wells came up from AAA on May 10th, and pitched like no rookie should. He didn't get his first win until June 21st, but it was no fault of his own. Wells finished the year tied for the team lead in wins with 12, and had an ERA just over 3.00.
S is for Soriano
As in Alfonso Soriano. Soriano led off the season with a home run, whacking the second pitch he saw from Roy Oswalt into the left field seats at Minute Maid Park. The normally slow-starting Soriano hit .284 through April, with seven bombs and 14 driven in. Soriano's knee and his defense, along with his propensity for swinging at sliders 10 feet out of the strike zone were the theme of the rest of his season though.
He went through a ridiculously long slump in the middle of the year before Lou finally grew a pair and moved him down in the lineup. In one of the most memorable moments of the year, Soriano hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the 13th, a game I was at. He finally shut it down for the year on September 11th after not playing since September 3rd.
T is for Ted Lilly
Lilly was the Cubs' only All Star one year after they had eight. Lilly tied for the team lead with 12 wins, and was the Cubs' best pitcher in 2009. He did spend some time on the DL with a knee injury, but it shouldn't be a concern going forward.
U is for Underperforming
This one is self explanatory. Bradley, Soriano, Soto, Zambrano, Harden, Dempster, Fukudome, Miles, Gregg, Marmol. All of those guys underperformed this year, and I'm sure I'm forgetting one or two.
V is for Von Joshua
Von Joshua was promoted to the Cubs' hitting coach after Gerald Perry was fired on June 15th. It was thought that since Joshua had worked with a lot of the younger Cubs, that things would improve. They didn't improve very much, and Joshua was sent down to AAA immediately after the season.
X is for X-Factor
Last year, the Cubs had the swagger, the attitude, the X-factor. It seemed like any time they got down by a couple of runs, even in the late innings, they were going to come back. This year, that X-factor just wasn't there.
Y is for Young Un's
So many young Cubs made their impact felt on the 2009 season. Randy Wells, Jake Fox, Bobby Scales isn't exactly young, but he made his major league debut in May, Angel Guzman, Sam Fuld, Andres Blanco, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theroiot, and Sean Marshall.
Z is for Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano was supposed to be the Cubs' ace for the millionth year in a row. He didn't even win 10 games! Zambrano's temper and injuries kept him from being the pitcher he can be. He showed flashes of being great during the season; he just needs to harness his ability and do it consistently.
So there you have it. The 2009 Cubs by the letters. Can't wait 'til February!
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