After two consecutive seasons of disappointment, the 2011 Chicago Cubs have a different look going into Opening Day.
Derrek Lee is no longer starting at first base; his position now belongs to Carlos Pena. Ted Lilly is no longer in the rotation; he has been replaced by Matt Garza. Sweet Lou is no longer managing the Northsiders; Mike Quade is now the skipper.
These three changes are all going to play important roles in the Cubbies' new season, but the key player to watch this season is the long-serving Cubs' third baseman, Aramis Ramirez.
Aramis Ramirez joined the Cubs in the middle of the 2003 season. For the majority of his career in the Windy City, Aramis Ramirez threw the ball across the the diamond to first baseman Derrek Lee. While Lee was in Chicago, the question of who was the team's leader was never asked. Derrek Lee was that man. Now that Derrek Lee is going to finish his long career elsewhere, Aramis Ramirez must become the team leader.
The only player on the Cubs roster that has more seniority in Chicago is Carlos Zambrano. As one of the longest-serving players on the team, Ramirez must become the type of leader that will carry this team back to the postseason. He needs to welcome in the new players immediately and make them as comfortable as possible with their new team.
Aramis Ramirez has the potential to be the same, or even a better leader as Derrek Lee was. The two-time All-Star has made it clear that he does not want to play anywhere else. Ramirez has stated before that he wants to finish his career in Chicago. With the type of win-now attitude that he has and the dedication he has of playing with the Cubs, Aramis Ramirez is the perfect player to lead the 2011 team.
Aramis Ramirez is going to be the key player for the Cubs this season, if he stays healthy. In the last two seasons, he has missed 118 games. Besides the occasional off days, these games missed were due to injury. Last season, Ramirez sat out because of a thumb injury. In 2009, he missed 80 games, mostly due to dislocating his left shoulder in early May.
Although injury is unpredictable, signs of Ramirez staying healthy this season are looking very good. Aramis Ramirez arrived in Mesa, Arizona with seven more pounds of muscle. He explained that he is much healthier and stronger than last season and excited to get the 2011 campaign underway.
If Ramirez stays healthy, he has the potential to not only be the best offensive player on the team, but one of the best offensive players in the league. Having a player like that in the lineup will be a huge key for the team's success. From 2004 to 2008, Ramirez was one of the most consistent hitters in the league.
Over that five season span, he averaged 32 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .302 batting average. He was voted into the All-Star Game in 2005 and 2008, and he received MVP votes in three of those five seasons. Although his 2009 and 2010 stats were nowhere near to his numbers from 04-08, look for the stronger and healthier Ramirez to get back on track and play at his potential.
Matt Garza is the new pitcher everyone is excited about, and people cannot wait to see how Carlos Pena will hit at the friendly confines. Cubs fans all over are anxious to see what Mike Quade will do in his first full season as the Cubs manager. However, the key player to the Cubs new season is the Dominican third baseman, No. 16, Aramis Ramirez.