|2008 Chicago Cubs|
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on February 22, 2008
2007 Record: 85-77
Free from Ivy
Entangled in Ivy
The Skinny: As you probably know, one hundred years ago was the last time the Cubs made it to the World Series. They at least reached the NLDS last season, but did not have a chance against a young Arizona team. During the off-season, they addressed one of their weaknesses by shipping light hitting outfielder Jacque Jones to Detroit and replacing him with Japanese free agent Kosuke Fukodome, who has displayed very good on-base-skills during his career in Japan, an area where the Cubs really needed to improve. They are also involved in trade talks with Baltimore about second baseman Brian Roberts, which would move Mark DeRosa to short and push the weak bat of Ryan Theriot to the bench, which would also strenghten the team significantly.
Strength: The Cubs hope that their deep starting pitching can again carry them through the long season into October. 2007 once again proved that it isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish the season. The Brewers stormed out of the gate, while the Cubs stumbled along, but as the season went own, the lack of depth in the rotation caught up with the Brewers and the Cubs overtook them to capture the division by two games. Although Carlos Zambrano falls a bit short compared to other National League aces like Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb or Johan Santana, he is a very capable #1 starter flanked by the reliable Ted Lilly and young gun Rich Hill. Jason Marquis is a good enough pitcher for the back end of the rotation and while the competition for the number five spot is not exactly awe inspiring, there are enough capable arms there that at least someone will get the job done.
Besides the rotation, the Cubs also have a pretty strong heart of the lineup, especially if they decide to put Alfonso Soriano into that very heart instead of letting him and his .337 OBP lead off. Fukodome, Lee, Ramirez and Soriano should give the Cubs a nice combination of Power (Lee, Ramirez, Soriano) and on-base-skills (Fukodome, Lee, Ramirez) to score at good number of runs.
Weaknesses: If the Cubs have Soriano lead off, they obviously have a little on-base weakness at the top of the line-up, but one that could be easily fixed by inserting Mark DeRosa (.371 OBP in 2007) in that spot. They also lack a proven closer right now, although Bob Howry has closed in the (distant) past and Kerry Wood would certainly be able to close if healthy. And there is also Carlos Marmol, who had a 1.43 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in nearly 70 innings after being called up in May. Another small question mark surrounds the catcher spot, which the Cubs are giving to the young Geovany Soto, who hit .279/.359/.426 in his minor league career, which suggests he should at least be able to hold his own. So overall, the Cubs don’t have any glaring weaknesses, although they are by no means a team without flaws.
Keys to success: Given the weak competition in the NL Central, the Cubs just have to do their thing and play with consistency. Reasonable health, especially to Carlos Zambrano and Derek Lee, always helps, but unless one other team really surprises (Milwaukee? Cincinnati???), the Cubs can only beat themselves. Trading for Brian Roberts would instantly make the Cubs the BIG favorites to win the division instead of just “the favorites”.
Prediction: Unless the Brewers, who don’t seem to have improved much, if at all, this off-season, can rekindle the magic that carried them through the first half of last season, the Cubs won’t face too much resistance on their way to repeat as the NL Central champs with about 88 wins. But when the calendar turns to October, it remains to be seen if their solid starting pitching is enough to get them back to the World Series. After all, they might very well not make the play-offs if they were playing in the East or West. Because of the other teams’ strong 1-2 punch, I don’t like the Cubs’ chances against San Diego, New York or Arizona, although they match up well against the Dodgers, for example. Then again, anything is possible in the play-offs, but even if they make it to the Fall Classic, the Cubs (as any NL team) will face a very tough last out against teams like Boston, Detroit or Cleveland, so don’t expect the drought to end at 100 years.