I have a question for you, Cubs fans.
Monday night, I had the pleasure of making a guest appearance on Bill Ivie’s I-70 Baseball Radio podcast on blogtalkradio.com. It is a great compilation of Cardinals and Royals fan bloggers and always a fun listen. This particular episode, they gathered up bloggers representing every team in the NL Central. I took part in the panel discussion and made my case for the Chicago Cubs winning the Central in 2011. Some of you may have already heard it as it was their highest rated episode since launching in July of last year. (For a more in detail description of what I expect out of the Cubs in 2011, check out the post below this one).
“We shocked the world“.
Those words are uttered in only two cases. Absolute disasters, or sports miracles. It’s kind of bizarre, but in no other situation do you ever hear of anyone saying that the world was shocked. Ever. Even with Obama’s election, perhaps some of the world was surprised but no one stated that he had shocked the world, or that our country had shocked the world given our election’s result…and that was a historical Presidential election.
Many would consider the Cubs winning the World Series to be an absolute sports miracle. If the Cubs were to in fact win the World Series, become the champions of the world in the world of baseball…you can bet a LOT of money that someone will use that phrase. Someone will flat out state that the Cubs’ victory over the Boston Red Sox (yeah, that’s right, the Boston Red Sox) surprised the entire world, our entire planet, so much that it is in shock. Chicago? Certainly. Boston? Yes. Canada? Um, ok. Bangladesh? Paris? Sydney? Helsinki??? Intrigued? Perhaps? Shocked? No.
If the Cubs were to win the World Series then yes, someone will say they shocked the world. In reality? They would have made millions of Cubs fans VERY happy and many baseball fans or people who have a heart would happily give them a pleasant smile, perhaps a teary eye and a ‘that’s cool’ sentiment considering the over a century long drought the team has suffered through and well, to not feel something towards a group of people who suffered for so long…yes, you’d have to be heartless to not. However, I feel shocked is a bit of a stretch.
The streak itself lends itself as the only evidence you truly need to NOT be shocked by the Cubs winning the World Series. Over ONE HUNDRED years without a championship. Others have done it much more quickly. The Mets. The Marlins. In fact, every single team that has won a championship has done it within a shorter waiting period of time than the Cubs would have with the current streak at 102 years and counting. Give me a break ‘shocked’. The Cubs are DUE.
You know what I think would be shocking? If the Royals win the World Series in 2011. If the Pirates win the World Series in 2011. If the Orioles win the World Series in 2011. And yes, even if the Phillies win the World Series in 2011 I’d be shocked because how often do you actually meet expectations and nothing goes wrong for your team to stop you from what should have been an easily accomplished, obvious to predict feat? In each of those scenarios, I would be SHOCKED.
If the Cubs win it? Not so much. Surprised? Elated? Thrilled? Speechless? Relieved? Absolutely. But after 102 years and with the roster that we have (that’s right, the roster that we have) I believe in one of the other age-old sayings in sports when it comes to predicting how a season will turn out. And that is: Why not us?
And really, why not us?
As far as I’m concerned, great teams need five key things to win it all and I believe the Cubs have the potential to meet every single criteria. Pitching, youth, veteran leadership, wise management, luck. Some are MUCH harder to come by, but I see no reason why the Cubs can’t land the money ball in every single category.
PITCHING: Our starters were great when it came to quality starts in 2010. Dempster is about as reliable as it gets and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. He’s the rock of the rotation for 2011 now that Lilly is gone and there is no reason to think he can’t be the leader in the starting five. Zambrano is equal parts talent and equal parts imbalance. That’s what many believe, I don’t buy it. Zambrano is extremely talented and capable of doing great things, proven in his overall Cub record, leading the team in the past five Opening Day starts, throwing a no-hitter, being a dominant figure on the mound and the way he finished the second half of last season. If he can start the way he did last year and finish the way he did last year, then Zambrano might just be capable of handling just about anything. And what are the odds that he will go from Opening Day starter, to bullpen, back to rotation with head issues in between mixed with being the center of a lot of team drama? Chances are that’s not going to happen again. I like Z’s chances of having a real quality 2011. Wells is working on showing people that his first year is the real Wells, not the sophomore slump guy we watched in 2010. I like that he can admit that he grew too big for his britches last year. Talent is great but mixed with maturity, it can go a long way.
Silva/Russell/Cashner are practically interchangeable. No matter who ends up staying with the club, they will be the Cubs’ fifth starter and usually .500 seasons out of your number five guy is about all anyone hopes for. I know they are all capable of giving us that if not greater ALTHOUGH, if it’s not Russell, all we’re looking at are righties in the starting rotation. (That can’t be good).
And of course, the Cubs’ new toy for 2011…the new piece on the showroom floor: Matt Garza. I was disappointed when I heard we were bringing in another guy this off-season but his name wasn’t Carlos. I really want to lead the league in Carloses (Carlosi? Carli?). I’m kidding….Matt Garza is possibly the missing link the Cubs have been looking for. 15 wins last season, an ALCS MVP and an all-around solid pitcher. Coming from an environment and culture similar to the Cubs where no one expected much, he knows what it is to help get a team from the basement to the penthouse of an incredibly competitive division. I like the Garza signing. I don’t think we gave up too much for him and I’m excited to have him as a key part of the Cubs starting rotation in 2011.
Marshall/Wood/Marmol. Is there a better bullpen trio in the league? Maybe only the Yankees and that’s only because they landed Soriano to match with Rivera. Rivera is a legend, but he’s also another year older. Even if they make the Cubs #2 in the league, I’d take it because in the grand scheme of things, being number two in the league regarding your top three bullpen guys is pretty damn good and nothing to complain about. I love the talent and potential we have to close games out now, starting with a lead going into the seventh and holding it throughout the rest of the game. 2010 was horrible for the Cubs when it came to one-run decisions. This next season? Not so much.
The Cards are strong with their 1-2 punch in Wainwright and Carpenter. The Reds are impressive with their young staff coming off a division title. The Brewers always seem to compete and will do so with Greinke in 2011. It’s not going to be easy, but pitching wins championships and I feel comfortable putting the Cubs staff up against any one else in the Central.
THE ROSTER: Our starting line-up, while somewhat premature considering it’s only January 14th and pitchers and catchers don’t even report until a month from now, is pretty much figured out for the most part. Not in any particular batting order, just a simple run-down of Cubs starters by position:
C – Geovany Soto – Talented young catcher, one of the best in the National League. Coming off an off-year last year but recently signed an extension with additional money/increased salary. He’ll be looking to show the Ricketts and the fans that the Cubs didn’t make a mistake in signing him and avoiding arbitration, or for counting on him even after shoulder surgery (probably the key reason he was only signed to a one-year deal…again, man, this is the year of the one-year deal, isn’t it?). Also, all we have behind him is Koyie Hill really, so Soto, you have no choice. You need to be awesome…no relying on Koyie. Thanks.
1B – Carlos Pena – Our latest Carlos addition to the Cubs. Pena batted under .200 for the season in 2010. He was one of many one-year contracts that were doled out in the off-season (do that many people think they have a shot at Pujols?) and he is expected to bring the power bat necessary to replace Lee’s spot in the order. His glove is supposed to be reliable and his power numbers shouldn’t suffer at Wrigley. I like the signing, I think it has a lot of potential to work out and I believe his BA will rebound. God, help us if it doesn’t. I’m tired of anyone thinking Colvin is a good option at first and Lee’s already been exiled to Baltimore. This has a lot of potential to work and if he stays healthy, I believe it will.
2B – Blake Dewitt – I don’t expect much out of DeWitt and I believe Baker may even replace him come June or July. However, with the other guys in this line up, second base is a place that we really just need the flash and reliability of the glove on defense, not necessarily a whole lot of RBI. Just get on base and set the table for the guys we’re paying to knock in the runs Dewitt and we’ll all be happy.
SS – Starlin Castro – The club already has ads sporting Castro against Jeter, so yeah, the organization is high on Castro. All of the Cubs Con materials feature the youthful stars of the team and Castro, after finishing in the top 10 for the NL in hitting his rookie campaign is among the top of them. No sophomore on the team is expected to do more than Castro is, I believe the expectations on him are even higher than Soto’s were. Hopefully he lives up to them and continues to learn under Quade’s leadership.
3B – Aramis Ramirez – If Ramirez stays healthy (and I understand it’s a big IF) then he will be fine. He is playing at the end of his current contract and if he truly wants to stay in Chicago as a Cub, then 2011 is the time to prove the Cubs should pick up the 2012 option. He picked up his own option for 2011. The team has the call in 2012. Rami can put up big numbers healthy. I’ll be rooting for the trainers once again this year to see that it happens.
OF – Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome – No, I don’t think we’re playing softball. I simply believe left to right we’ll start Sori, Byrd and Colvin and Fuke will sub in where needed. I believe we’ll be seeing Reed Johnson at Wrigley a bunch this year as well. Chances that five outfielders stay healthy and produce are very slim, however, I like our chances with the guys we’ve got. They all bring something different to the table and they are a talented bunch at that. Hopefully Byrd can repeat his All-Star caliber performance of 2010 in 2011 (it wouldn’t hurt for Sori to make a return to the All-Star stage as well. Just saying).
New manager: Mike Quade – Quade took a team playing for absolutely nothing and had them playing basically .600 ball. He proved to be a great leader in teaching the young stars on the team and the vets respect his long journey and knowledge he’s gathered throughout his life in the game. As of Opening Day, the entire team will be behind the idea of having him as their manager. Some more than others as some of them even went as far as publicly backing his selection before it was announced. Quade is going to get a chance to do something he’s always wanted to do and the players believe he can get them what they’ve always wanted to get. The same thing the city has always wanted to see. A title. A championship. A ring.
Given all the unknowns that happen to every single team throughout a baseball season, luck becomes a great factor, indeed. However, luck is out of our control as it is every other team in baseball so as for things we can control, I think the ingredients and potential are there. Let’s hope the execution and results show up as well.
Respect to the rest of the Central, the National League and the Red Sox (that’s right, the Red Sox…I don’t even think the Yankees are making the playoffs in 2011). I think it’s going to be a tough road to get there, but after 102 years…come on…we don’t expect it to be easy…and we’re due. Why not us? A Cubs fan predicting the Cubs will win the NL Central and then go on to win the World Series.
I know. Shocking.
Projected order of finish in the NL Central (rest of the league to follow in a post much closer to Opening Day):
1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Ok, now seriously, calendar…get moving! Looking forward to hearing from any one that might have any news or pics from Cubs Con and of course, pitchers and catchers in a month!
Go Cubs Go!
When it comes to Chicago Cubs baseball, if recent events have taught us anything, it’s never say always. One of my favorite things to say here at Prose and Ivy is, “We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh”. Given our performance in the past against the lowly Pirates, it always appeared on the year’s schedule as a gift-wrapped blessing. A small three day break if you will where wonderful things happen like Cubs home runs flying out of the park, pitchers dominating on the mound, Cubs ending up on the right end of a blow out and W flags are hooked to the flag pole rope at the top of the first for it’s inevitable rising after the top of the ninth. Plan to head home early folks because the Pirates are coming to town. There won’t be any Cubs batting in the bottow of the ninth because there won’t be one. These games are given. The Pirates can’t handle the talent and the skill level the Cubs bring to their games. Regardless of how the Cubs were going, if you see Pittsburgh coming up on the schedule, get ready for at least a three game turnaround and find your brooms. The Cubs were about to seem the Pirates and all will feel right again in Wrigleyville.
That was then. This…is now.
All of a sudden, the Cubs can’t be counted on to beat one of the worst teams in all of baseball and the cellar dweller or the NL Central. See that .342 winning percentage and the 17 games that they currently sit behind the division leading Reds? Don’t let that fool you! When the Pirates have had the all-of-a-sudden priviledge of playing the Cubs, they are a surreal .800 ballclub! In ten games against the Cubs this year, they’ve won 8 and lost 2. What?!? WHAT!?! There are certain things that this blog feels it can count on: baseball magazines and websites and blogs will have the Cubs listed as contenders in the Central, talk whether this is the year and then the Cubs will let you down come October (some seasons even earlier); Dempster will predict the Cubs will win it all; Carlos Marmol will be responsible for at least six heart attacks across the midwest throughout the course of a season; Sox fans will hate on Cubs fans and vice versa; and if nothing else is going our way, hey hey…at least ‘We’ll Always Have Pittsburgh’. Well, that last one apparently no longer applies. And it just may be a blessing in disguise.
Think about how this season is going. The Reds lead the NL Central and the Cubs currently sit in fourth place looking up at the unfortunate view of Brewers behinds, hardly even keeping the Cardinals in sight, while the Reds are a ******** 10 games out in front of them. The offense thinks it’s still the off-season. Carlos Zambrano is seeing a shrink. Piniella seems to be snoozing through the first half of the season. All of our ‘all-stars’ suddenly look too old, too injured, or too apathetic. Castro started out hot and then cooled off to an average pace. Wells can’t seem to find the form that kept him one of the club’s most dominant pitchers in ’09. And for some reason, we CAN’T beat the Pirates. Fine. If that’s the way it is…if that’s the way it’s going to be, then perhaps the rest of the things we’ve come to expect can start to make a change as well.
Perhaps the head shrink can get Zambrano under control and he can perform out of the bullpen upon possibly returning after the All-Star break. Perhaps Wells can find his form and start to lead this club through a charge to possibly make up 10 games to the top of the division. Our crosstown rivals just made a huge push to put themselves in the club of relevant baseball teams for this year, and if they can do it I KNOW we can do it. Perhaps we will find a way to win one run ballgames in the 2nd half of the season. Those eighteen losses in one run games might just be the single most frustrating aspect of 2010. Perhaps since what has become the norm against Pittsburgh has been turned on it’s head, maybe all of these other things we’ve come to expect from this team this year can take a change of course as well. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.
Of course, if it does happen there is a very good chance that we may have a few different guys wearing that same disguise as there are rumors that everyone from Zambrano to Marmol to Fukudome to Lilly are on the trading block. I’m not sure how far behind we need to be for Ricketts to consider himself a seller as opposed to a buyer. He’s a good business man it seems, but he’s also a fan. I wonder how hard it must be for him to make rationale decisions when analyzing at point this particular team is no longer going to make the push it needs to contend. I wonder if Ricketts thinks Pittsburgh is just another symptom of an extremely frustrating and disappointing Cubs season. I wonder if he can find a way out of this mess and find the blessings in all of this turmoil. So many fans on-line if you read around the Cubsblogosphere have already said ‘please, no more’ or are very close to taking that flag and throwing it in like a towel. I don’t like our odds against the rest of the league if we can’t even handle Pittsburgh. However, I didn’t expect Pittsburgh to put the beating on us the way they have. Hopefully an unexpected 180 on this season’s trajectory is around the corner as well. If not Pittsburgh, we’ll always have fool’s hope, right?
(Any thoughts you’d like to share can be done in the comments section, or if you’d like, you can call into tonight’s Baseball Bloggers Alliance podcast. I’m guest hosting tonight at 11pm EST and you can find the show’s site and information here! And since I’m hosting with WebSoulSurfer who runs a Padres blog, I’ve included a clip of the Derrek Lee/Chris Young fight. Why not? Enjoy. Go Cubs Go!)
Below is the podcast recording of my guest appearance on the United Cardinal Bloggers Hour Wednesday night. The hosts were real welcoming, knowledgable and great to have a conversation with regarding Cubs and Cardinals baseball. With the series coming up this weekend it was a great opportunity to pick each other’s brains about the respective opponent. They said they’d keep things civil in enemy territory more or less and they did. I had a blast and would look forward to appearing on the show again if invited back in the future. Some of the highlighted topics of the conversation, among others:
- AC000000 – please explain for Cards fans what that’s all about
- The DeRosa trade
- Expectations of the 2009 Cubs
- ’07-’08 Playoffs
- Injuries and other Potential challenges to the Cubs in 2009
- (and from Tom @ CardinalsGM.com) What’s your perception of how Cubs fans feel about D-Lee? Are they ready to sit him and bring in Hoffpauir to start at first?
What an unbelievable season so far. I honestly think my computer was even so shocked at how well the season is going, it put its self on the DL. Back up and running now though…good times.
First place in the Central up for grabs tonight! Looking forward to watching the game and blogging about it later tonight!
Later that evening: Unbelievable. (not my average length of blog but I think that pretty much says it all)
GO CUBS GO!
Great weekend! Went back to my alma mater to do some comedy and had a great show! Saw some friends and family I hadn’t seen a while…good times.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Cubs got their first series win of the season and some of our guys are looking great so far! Fukudome has taken over Chicago. They may call Matsui “Godzilla”, but even he couldn’t take over a city the way Fukudome has taken over Chicago. He’s basically done exactly what I expected…brought a complete playoff atmosphere/excitement to every home game at Wrigley. Some players just do that (like I’ve said in an earlier blog ie, Lebron James, etc) and Fukudome is definitely one of them. How exciting it must be for him to be making such an impact in a new league, in front of new fans. Making the decision to make such a move with his career and family couldn’t have been easy and I’m happy to see its working out for him so far.
The Cubs are in a place now where no matter who they’re playing, I feel like they’re going to win. And not in that love-is-blind kind of way either. No homer predictions day in and day out here…I genuinely feel like they are going to win every game they play (not literally, but you know what I mean). They are .500 after six games, against two division rivals. As of now the Brewers and Cardinals are 5-1 leading the NL Central up 2 games over the Cubs in the standings. Good luck with that. That 2 game lead is about to evaporate very quickly. I believe the team is still coming together and shaking off some winter rust. Lee came through huge today with his third home run of the season and even Soriano hit one out! Fukudome looks great, Zambrano has had two strong starts and Wood looks like he’s coming into his own in the closer role. Dempster and Marquis showed they deserve those last two spots in the rotation in the Spring and now that they’ve completed their first starts of the season and shook any nerves off about it, I’m hoping they’re ready to move forward and raise some ‘W’ flags in the process.
It’s a long season but there is just something about this team. I believe .500 is going to be long in the rear-view mirror come the end of the season…and in a good way. Milwaukee spoiled our opener in an exciting fashion and tomorrow we roll into the Pirates home opener. Here’s hoping the Cubs pull off the same thing with the Pirates that the Brewers did to us. The schedule organizers do a great job with all the division games right up front. This division is probably going to be tight all the way down to the wire this year, just like last year (I realize this, it’s just fun to talk a little trash every now and then). Having these divisional games up front is an exciting way to start the season…you always want to get out of the gates quickly…but especially against teams in your own division. Let’s keep winning these series. Zambrano looked awesome today…must’ve had a whole bunch of bananas laid out for him in the locker room before this one! (Hey, whatever it takes…)