100 years and counting. For Cubs fans, the almost cliché phrase “wait ‘til next year” is getting old fast. How, we wonder, does a team that had the best record in the N.L. going into the postseason get swept in the first round?
Furthermore, how (and why) have the Cubs been swept in two consecutive postseasons and gone 0-9 in the playoffs since the infamous “Bartman game?”
In recent years, the Cubs' postseason woes have boiled down to the lack of offensive production in postseason games. This year, the Cubs averaged two runs per game in the postseason, as opposed to 5.6 in the regular season. Additionally, only three Cubs (Lee, DeRosa, and Theriot) collected more than two hits during the playoffs, and leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano went an abysmal 1-for-14. The result: an embarrassing early playoff exit for the North Siders.
It wasn’t just hitting that went awry, however. Fielding hadn’t been a problem all year, but in Game Two the entire infield, including three-time Gold Glover Derrek Lee, committed four errors, including back-to-back errors in the second inning that ultimately gave the Dodgers an insurmountable lead.
Pitching struggled, too, as go-to pitchers Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden failed to keep their team in the ballgame.
Coming off of back-to-back seasons in which the Cubs have been swept in the first round, Chicago will need to reevaluate their personnel during the offseason. Pitching-wise, the Cubs look great. The starting rotation could use another middle-tier pitcher to add depth, but overall is one of the best in the game.
The bullpen is phenomenal, with lights-out set-up men Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Marmol leading the way for closer Kerry “Kid K” Wood in the ninth.
Defensively, the Cubs were solid all year (minus game two of the postseason). Kosuke Fukudome, Jim Edmonds, and Reed Johnson were all reliable outfielders throughout the year, and the infield was better than previous years, though not spectacular.
The Cubs’ struggles ultimately come down to hitting. First and foremost, Alfonso Soriano is not a leadoff hitter, no matter how many times he insists that he is. His 1-for-14 playoff statistics combined with a regular season .344 OBP indicate that Soriano is in no way fit for the leadoff role.
In fact, his OBP was the lowest among starters on the team. How can a team expect to be successful in the long run if its leadoff hitter gets on base less frequently than every other hitter in the lineup? Soriano has been a major and consistent problem, from dropping routine popouts to swinging at every pitch within seven feet of the strike zone.
The Cubs need to address this situation immediately. Either move Soriano to the back of the lineup or ship him out. Having said this, Chicago also needs to acquire a legitimate leadoff hitter to bolster their lineup. In 2008, the bottom half of the Cubs' order actually knocked in more runs than the top half.
While Soriano is the main problem, he is not by any means the only problem. Fukudome showed in the second half of the year that he clearly can’t hit big-league pitching right now and is better suited on the bench than in right field.
Mike Fontenot, who was a backup all season, ended up with more RBI, doubles, home runs, and a higher OBP than everyday shortstop Ryan Theriot, despite playing in 30 less games and starting in even fewer of those games. He has shown that he is ready for big-league ball and can play as an everyday player.
Here’s my solution:
Bring in another solid starting pitcher, whether it’s Rich Hill or someone from outside the organization. Either ship Soriano out or move him lower in the order and acquire a legitimate leadoff hitter. Start DeRosa in right field and start Fontenot as the everyday second baseman, at least until they find a better long-term solution (perhaps resurrect the Brian Roberts deal?).
And finally, if necessary, ship out fan-favorite Derrek Lee. Yes, as much as I love D-Lee, it would be good to acquire a solid player (perhaps leadoff hitter?) for him while his trade value is still relatively high.
Lee’s career is in its declining stages and with up-and-coming slugger Micah Hoffpauir knocking at the door, it would appear that Lee’s days as a Cub are numbered. Therefore, even if the Cubs don't move Lee (which I guarantee you they won't), the team should at least think seriously about giving Hoffpauir more reps at first during the regular season in '09. If the Cubs make these minor adjustments and continue to build on the impressive foundation they already have, we should see an improved and more mature Cubs lineup in the 2009 season.
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