Chicago Cubs Last Year: 97-64 1st in NL Central, Lost in NLDS This Year: 1st in NL Central
It seemed that the cards were falling into place last year. The team had a great regular season in the 100th year anniversary of their last World Series title and then they imploded in October for the second straight year. The question about this team is not whether they can make the playoffs. The question is if they will ever do anything once they get to the playoffs.
Opening Day Lineup w/Projections LF Alfonso Soriano .282 32 HR 77 RBI 16 SB CF Reed Johnson .293 8 HR 56 RBI 1B Derrek Lee .295 19 HR 94 RBI RF Milton Bradley .308 26 HR 93 RBI 3B Aramis Ramirez .284 27 HR 104 RBI C Geovany Soto .294 27 HR 94 RBI 2B Mike Fontenot .297 13 HR 71 HR SS Ryan Theriot .290 2 HR 37 RBI P Carlos Zambrano .249 4 HR 12 RBI
Rotation RHP Carlos Zambrano 16-10 4.04 ERA 141 K RHP Ryan Dempster 15-11 4.13 ERA 171 K LHP Ted Lilly 15-9 4.34 ERA 170 K RHP Rich Harden 13-5 3.25 ERA 181 K LHP Sean Marshall 9-7 4.35 ERA 114 K
CP RHP Kevin Gregg 3.49 ERA 36 SV 65 K
Best Case Scenario: Harden stay healthy and gives the team 160 innings and 25-30 starts. Gregg works as closer making all Cubs games 7 inning games with Marmol in the set-up role. Lee and Soriano still have one more year of production left in them. Dempster was not a fluke last year and is still an All-Star pitcher. Zambrano is still an ace. Milton Bradley stays healthy and out of trouble enough to finally become an All-Star. This team stops choking in October and heads to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
Worst Case Scenario: Harden and Zambrano go down with injuries and Dempster proves last year was a fluke leaving the rotation in disarray. Soriano and Lee continue to age and hit above .300 or over 20 home runs. Bradley headbutts a ump, player, team mascot or fan and is sent packing to his 8th team. This team fulfills the curse of the billy goat for another year and exits quickly from the playoffs.
Player Most Important to Success: Rich Harden. Rich Harden has incredible stuff. The problem is that no one ever gets to see it because he is always on the DL. He has a career ERA of 3.23 and 9.00 K/9, the problem is that that is in 612 innings spread over 6 years. He has only made over 20 starts in a season twice and one of those was last year when he went 10-2 2.07 ERA and 181 K in only 148 innings. If he every were to make 30 starts he would win the Cy Young. With Zambrano aging and Dempster being a flash in the pan, the Cubs need Harden to be healthy and give this team a rotation that can compete in October. A healthy Harden makes this team a legitimate shot to finally end the 101 years of futility.
Outlook: This team should again play great and exciting baseball all summer but the question is whether the fun will continue into the fall. One reason for the past two collapses has been the fans' expectation to fail. It can not be easy to take the field in Game 1 with your home fans sitting on their hands waiting for it all to implode. The first error or strikeout confirms their suspicions and it all snow balls from there. It is similar to Boston until they got a team that didn't care about the fans' myths or curses and just won. This is what the Cubs need. This team has all the talent to put it together but whether they do or not is up to them. The good news for Cubs fans is that even if October is sour again June and July sitting in the best ballpark in the world will still be the time of their lives.