There have been some rather large events this off-season, signings that really jump off the screen at you, no?
Cliff Lee’s signing with the Phillies has significantly changed the landscape of the National League. I don’t care how many heavy hitters you have in your line-up. If they can’t drive through the ball on the sweet spot of the bat, or at least make contact and muscle one out of the stadium or deep to the wall for extra base hits, it doesn’t really matter. Pitching wins championships and now with that rotation in place, Philadelphia has positioned themselves as the team to beat. In not only the NL East, but in the National League as a whole.
In the year of the one-year contract, the Cubs managed to land Carlos Pena to man first base. He’ll be expected to perform significantly better in the average department (.196 in 2010) and at the very least find a way to also stay on par in the power numbers department (28 HR, 84 RBI in 2010). In his time with the Cubs, Derrek Lee not only led by example in the clubhouse and delivered game changing presence at the plate, but his glove saved many errors from occurring over the years and in effect cancelled out a lot of would be runs. The Cubs are going to need Pena to step up and play that same role. A match of his .196 AVG in 2011 isn’t going to cut it. The fans will have patience with the newest Cub but I can’t imagine the leeway lasting more than the first few weeks of the season. If Pena follows ‘The Lee Way’ however, he will get off to a very slow start. If we were able to give Lee time to get his season in gear year in and year out, we should at least afford Pena the month of April to do the same.
Think about how many one-run ballgames we lost last year. Give us enough of those games back and we would have been playing meaningful games in a role other than spoiler, well past the middle of August. Injuries and our record in one-run games in 2010 were two keys to the Cubs not living up to hopes/expectations. Hopefully a new line-up featuring more Colvin in right with Fukudome as the fourth outfielder, a repeat All-Star performance by Byrd, a return to form by Soriano, sophomore success by Castro, a healthy Ramirez, another year full of quality starts by the rotation and an overall positive effect by inserting Pena into the lineup to help generate another run or two per game and we may be back, looking at the top of the standings in 2011. I don’t expect Cincinnati go away, the Cards are always tough and Milwaukee is shoring up it’s pitching staff so it might take every single one of those things listed above happening in order for the Cubs to land on top next season in the Central.
Of course, this post was kicked off by talking about pitching making the difference. We can add another couple runs per game (which would be great since we scored more than 80 runs less than our opponents did last year) however, if we can’t hold onto that lead late in the game, it won’t even matter.
And that…is where Kerry Wood comes in…by coming back.
The return of Wood is the biggest headline of the Cubs off-season dealings and he’s going to be welcome with open arms, expected to carry the load late in the game. Wood may just be the bridge we need to fill the gap from Marshall to Marmol. Wood absolutely helps the Cubs form a powerful 7-8-9 inning tandem in Marshall, Wood and Marmol. It will make the Cubs a scarier opponent going beyond the fifth inning with a lead. Definitely, a lot scarier than the team was last year when we pitched so many youngsters in late inning, hold situations.
Wood’s return showcases the portion of heart that was lost on the team when Wood went to the Yankees. He represents what could have been and now what could still possibly be. Kerry Wood isn’t the answer to all the Cubs’ problems. I mean, just look at the list I put together three paragraphs back. However, with two disappointing seasons behind them, the loss of their voice in Santo (whose funeral provided the opportunity for Wood and his wife to meet up with Hendry and kick off the dominoes it took to make this deal happen – and wouldn’t that be cool if while Santo can’t see the Cubs win the Series during his lifetime, his passing may be the thing that helps make the deal happen that pushes the Cubs over the hump to victory in 2011? – What a story that would be) and the great unknown ahead in what Quade can accomplish with a whole season, it will be nice to have a familiar face on the team again. The face of a guy that never should have left in the first place, in my opinion.
The thing about Wood’s return is I can’t think of another pitcher that once served as a full-time starter, set-up man and closer for the same organization. Can you? Wood won Rookie of the Year and nearly led the Cubs to the World Series as a starter and tallied 34 saves in his one year as the Cubs’ closer, the same number he’ll wear back with the team as a set-up man.
Philadelphia may have landed Lee. The second best pitcher dealt out there, Grienke, may have landed with the division rival Brewers. However, when it comes to the Cubs making a difference with a pitching signing, it wasn’t about the big name or the big bucks. The Cubs have a competitive, quality start-churning out five in Z, Demp, Wells, Gorzy and Silva if in fact those are the guys we go with come April. So, it’s more so about a great pitcher with a lot left in the tank in short relieft, coming back to his home team, his home field, his home organization to carry the load, this time as the set-up man.
Hopefully this stint with the team will result in him setting up the team for ultimate success instead of let down. Either way, it will be good to have him back and Chicago will be thrilled to once again be rooting for one of their own. Go Cubs Go!