I think I wrote this story several years ago. Why is it with the Cubs that every year seems like the movie Groundhog Day, where the same scenario keeps repeating itself year in and year out?
Of course, their favorite saying is, "Wait until next year."
But what if this really is next year?
They have to win the World Series sometime. What if in 2010, that time has come?
I'm not going to compare them to their division rivals or the other National League teams they have to beat out to make it to the World Series.
I'm not going to mention the opponent they could face if they make it as the NL representative.
This article is only about what has to happen for the Cubs to get there.
Going around the horn, Aramis Ramirez has to stay healthy, and that's a big if. He's the Cubs' best hitter. When he's out of the lineup, there is a big hole with no adequate replacement.
Ryan Theriot at short is a competent fielder, certainly nothing special, but what he has to do is be the igniter in the leadoff spot.
If he could match his .387 OBP in 2008 and steal bases like he did in '07, when he stole 28 in 32 attempts, their prayers will be answered for a leadoff hitter.
Mike Fontenot won the second base job, and he's a left-handed bat, which the Cubs covet so much. But who is the real Mike Fontenot: the guy who was given the job last year and fell on his face, or the player who performed so well in 2008?
If he could recreate the guy from 2008, the Cubs are okay here. If not, look for Theriot to switch over to second when Starlin Castro makes his major league debut at short.
After calls for Micah Hoffpauir to replace Derrek Lee last year after a slow start by Lee, he had one of his best seasons. He appeared to recover the power that was missing since his wrist injury during the 2006 season.
If Lee has one more big year left in his bat in a walk year, it will be a key component to help the team reach the unreachable.
In left field, the Cubs are looking at Alfonso Soriano to rebound from a terrible year and be the player they thought they were getting when they signed him for 136 million smackeroos.
Soriano still seems to be favoring his left knee and hasn't been at 100 percent since he had arthroscopic surgery on it last year. He's been tentative running on it this spring, like he's afraid to let go. It's kind of like when he gets near a wall and his radar makes him back off.
If he could be the player the Cubs thought they were getting in 2007, that will go a long way to helping them make the playoffs.
That's an if that's not going to happen.
In center, the Cubs felt the results were so good the year before when they signed an outfielder from Texas in a walk year with the initials MB, they thought they would try it again.
Marlon Byrd had a career year just like Milton Bradley did in that renowned hitter's park in Texas, but that's where the similarities end.
Unlike Bradley, Byrd has a smile etched on his face instead of a scowl. Like Bradley, I'm not expecting a lot out of him.
If he proves me wrong, the Cubs could go somewhere.
In right, we have the Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome. He's performed as well as a Toyota has recently.
While he's a good fielder in right, he offers nothing at the plate other than a good OBP. He has the power of a 1991 Toyota Tercel, which isn't saying much.
If he could be the player that he was in Japan, the Cub lineup suddenly looks a helluva lot better.
But we've seen him for two years and know what he is, so other than him likely having a good April, expectations are not too high.
Geovany Soto had a bad sophomore season after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008.
The thought was that the World Baseball Classic held him back, along with being out of shape. That's not the case this year. He's lost 40 pounds and looks like a new man.
I like Soto as a hitter and handling the pitching staff, and I think he's going to have a bounce-back year. The only question is if a loss of weight means a loss of power. Maybe a couple of donuts will help.
If he's the 2008 version, things are looking up.
Looking at the bench, Koyie Hill is a decent backup for Soto, but they're in trouble if he has to be the man.
Jim Hendry must have thought he was fired by new owner Tom Ricketts and hired as a GM in the American League when he signed Xavier Nady. I think he thought he could be the designated hitter.
I like Nady, but since the NL doesn't have a DH, it's going to be difficult for him to play the field since he really can't throw yet after "Tommy John surgery."
Once he's able to play the field, I look for him to take Fukudome's place and hit in the five hole.
If Lou Piniella figures it out and puts him there, the Cub lineup will look a lot more fearsome.
Rookie Tyler Colvin made the club after a great spring training, because we all know how important that is. Even more important, he bats left-handed.
That's what Uncle Lou thought was missing in 2008. It wasn't. What was missing were players that could hit in the clutch.
Look for Colvin to be back in the minors sooner rather than later. Think of Gary Scott back in 1991, when he was going to be the Cubs' next great third baseman after a terrific spring.
You never heard of Scott? Don't worry. Years from now you won't remember Colvin either.
Jeff Baker was a godsend last year coming over in a trade from Colorado. He was supposed to compete with Fontenot this spring for the job at 2B. He didn't.
He played over his head last year, and expectations were way too high for him. If he could have another year like that, the Cub bench will be that much stronger, but I'm not counting on it.
The Cubs actually do have a guy who could play third this year unlike last season in Chad Tracy, so I lied earlier when I said they didn't have an adequate replacement for Ramirez. (You notice I didn't say good replacement.)
They decided to keep him over clubhouse favorite Kevin Millar, the curse buster from the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
I guess they decided they needed someone who could actually play the position when Ramirez goes down, which he will. Tracy was a starter a few years back and not a bad player. He could be a valuable replacement, but if any team needs a curse buster, it's this one.
Carlos Zambrano is supposed to be the ace of the staff, but he didn't look like it last year with only nine wins. But wins aren't always the pitcher's fault, so look for a good year out of "Big Z."
It doesn't hurt having Greg Maddux around with the team. If he can impart some wisdom to the pitching staff, something Larry Rothschild is incapable of, maybe Zambrano can finally contend for his Cy Young award.
Ted Lilly has been the Cubs' best pitcher since he's been with the team, but he's coming back from shoulder surgery. He's due back mid-April according to the latest estimates.
If you remember Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, you know those numbers are often off—sometimes way off.
If the Cubs can hold up without him, and he can be the pitcher he's been, the Cubs are shaping up much better.
Ryan Dempster had a great year in 2008 and an average one last year. Last year is probably the real Dempster.
If he could rekindle the 2008 season, not counting the playoff game he started, things are looking up.
Randy Wells came out of nowhere last year and won 12 games and probably should have had at least 15 or 16 victories. He also should have been in the running for Rookie of the Year, but he was ignored by the voters.
He's a late bloomer, and if he can match last year, the Cub starting staff is suddenly looking pretty decent. I'm not sure if last year was a fluke or not, but he does seem to know how to pitch.
I won't make any predictions on him.
The fifth starter will likely be either Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva, though they're both in the rotation until Lilly comes back.
If it stays that way, the Cubs are in trouble. Gorzelanny couldn't even make the staff of the perennial last-place Pirates last season before coming over to the Cubs in the John Grabow trade.
Silva might have been the worst starter in baseball the past two seasons. He's looked better this spring, but I already said what I thought about spring training performances.
If he could be the pitcher he was with Minnesota, the Cubs rotation is looking stellar. But that if is as big as Silva's waistline.
Closing games for the Cubs is the electric Carlos Marmol. He's as tough to hit as anyone in baseball, though he's just as likely to hit the batter.
I'll take my chances with Marmol. I think he's going to have a good year.
The big "if" in the bullpen is who is going to get the ball to him.
Hendry rewarded Grabow with a big contract after he came over in a trade last year, but Hendry hasn't had a stellar record with veteran relief pitchers.
The thought here is he overpaid, and he might not get the performance out of him that he's looking for. When have we heard that before?
Sean Marshall is solid in the bullpen. He's there out of necessity because he probably pitched well enough this spring to start.
In my opinion, he's better in the pen and can get a lefty out, something Grabow, though left-handed, doesn't do as well.
Hard-throwing Jeff Samardzija was also relegated to the bullpen, which is the right place for him. He has only one pitch and is another of Hendry's overpaid contracts.
If he could duplicate the pitcher he was when he first came up in 2008, the Cubs might have an eighth inning guy.
That leaves us with the rookie trio of Justin Berg, James Russell, and Esmailin Caridad, and that's not a good thing for a team with hopes of winning a championship.
Can you name me the last team that won the World Series with three rookies in the bullpen?
Caridad looked good late in the season and has been compared by some to Marmol. I don't think he's that good, but hopefully he could pitch as well as he did last year after he came up.
Berg also pitched well in a brief trial, while this is the first exposure for Russell, who was not expected to compete for a job this spring.
Does his making the team say more about how he pitched or how weak the Cub bullpen appears to be?
That's the Cub team right now unless they make a trade or bring up a minor league prospect.
The question is if this team is good enough to win the World Series this year.
On paper, is this the best Cub team since 1908?
No, it's not even close, The best team doesn't always win, but you have to have the pieces in place to win, and I don't think this Cub team has that.
If you do, then you can get lucky like the White Sox did in 2005, where everything went their way. That happens sometimes, but if they didn't have players capable of taking advantage of the breaks they received, they wouldn't have won it.
Then you have Lou Piniella, who is in the final year of his contract as the manager.
"Sweet Lou" had no answers last year when he repeatedly said when questioned by the media, "What am I supposed to do? I don't know what to do."
The question is if he's going to have any answers this year or if he would rather sit back and sip some piña coladas.
I have a feeling by August, those piña coladas are going to be looking real good to him.
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