submitted on October 8, 2008, 6:32 PM
I apologize for my lack of baseball content, I had really wanted to do a quick preview of the Cubs/Dodgers series, in hindsight it's probably better that I didn't bother wasting my time. I also would have most likely dismissed the Dodgers pitching staff and made myself look like a jackass in the process.
I had been terrified of the playoffs for pretty much the entire month of September. And it's not because I'm a Cubs fan, and fear any remote possibility of success; I was actually really excited about having a legitimately good team, probably the best Cubs team of my lifetime. But the MLB playoffs are brutal. Your entire season is decided in an opening round best-of-five series. That's a tough thing to have in the sport of baseball, where the sport is already played more in three game series than individual games. Having a five game series instead of a seven game series really changes things, and makes it a lot more unpredictable. I suppose that's not such a bad thing, unless you're a fan of the clear cut best team in the league. Then unpredictability can mean nothing but bad things for your team.
And that's why I was dreading the playoffs. Not because I didn't believe in my team, but because literally anything can (and did) happen. In the playoffs, after having Ryan Dempster pitch lights out at home all season, he can show up in game 1 and have possibly his worst game of the season. In the playoffs, you can have a fairly dependable infield commit four errors in a game, three in one inning. In the playoffs, you can have the team that has scored more runs than anyone else in the National League and had a run differential of +184 over the course of the season get outscored 20-6 in three games.
In the end, none of it matters. The first team to 3 wins moves on, the other team goes home. The whole season comes down to three victories. Kind of brutal to think about it that way.
But, I'm not here to lament on what could have been, instead I'd rather give my thoughts on what to expect from the Cubs in 2009 (When you're a Cubs fan it's never too early to start thinking about next year, right?).
I guess the good (or bad) thing about the team is that there aren't any large holes that need to be fixed. The team was good on offense, had good starting pitching, a good bullpen, good all around. But there were some issues that were maybe not talked about too much due to the team's successes during the regular season.
First, Derrek Lee really didn't have a very good year. He had 60 more ABs this year than last, and yet most of his numbers stayed the same, meaning his average dropped almost 30 points. I don't much care that he's not the same power hitter that he was before his 2006 injury (Well, I care a little), but he still needs to be able to contribute with his high average, which didn't happen. With Aramis Ramirez, his walks were way up, but so were his strikeouts. Power numbers were down, he should be putting up at least 30 HRs a season. The reason this kind of stuff wasn't criticized more is because A. The Cubs were winning, and scoring a lot of runs, and B. The Riot and DeRosa were having career years, so the more spread out offense overshadowed any individual struggles. (On a side note, Daryl Ward did not hit well as a pinch hitter, although he did draw a lot of walks. I wouldn't overlook this, because in 2007 he hit about .300 as a pinch hitter and was as clutch as they come. I think his injury in the beginning of the season affected his numbers). Also, holy crap can Derrek Lee stop hitting into a million double plays? Talk about an infuriating habit for your #3 hitter to get into.
I assume that part of the reason for Ramirez's power issues and high walk number had to do with the #5 spot in the lineup. Soto, Edmonds, DeRosa, etc., there wasn't a great guy there to protect him and let him see good pitches. So that's really the #1 thing I think that is missing from the Cubs. They need a left-hander who can fit into that #5 spot and hit for some power. Edmonds was a nice pickup, and he provided some nice moments, but I don't think he was the best solution as the season wore on. Obviously it would have been nice to see Fukudome have a better season and maybe fit into that spot, but that didn't happen.
So maybe that means moving Fukudome to center field (I know he's great defensively in right field, but he's a liability at the plate, so we need to find someone who can contribute on both ends), share time with Reed Johnson, and consider putting Micah Hoffpauir into right field. There's no reason for him to stay in Triple A, and he has the ability to play right field (He's not a great right fielder, I won't lie), and he's a power guy who hits from the left side of the plate. I don't know who is available in the rest of the major leagues as far as power lefties go, but the Cubs really need to find someone to put in the lineup. It really gives Lou a lot of flexibility when he's putting together lineups. You have a myriad of guys who can play right (Fukudome, Hoffpauir, DeRosa, Ward) depending on the situation, and Hoffpauir can also play first base. I'd love for Pie to figure out his swing and become an every day guy in center field, but who knows when (if) that's going to happen.
Pitching-wise, I'm not sure what you can do. Chicago's top three starters won 48 games, team was 3rd in the NL in ERA, led the league in strikeouts, have a very good 1-4 rotation (Possibly 1-5 if Rich Hill ever recovers), have a great setup man in the bullpen, a solid closer, maybe could use some more help in middle relief (As I assume most teams could also use), but overall it's a really good pitching staff. I'll be interested to see how Angel Guzman works into the equation next year, as well as Jeff Samardzija.
If I'm Jim Hendry/Lou Piniella, I re-sign Dempster, Wood, and Reed Johnson, I let Edmonds walk, and I have Fukudome platoon in center with Johnson, and make Micah Hoffpauir my every day right fielder. Pitching rotation stays the same, hope that Rich Hill comes back from the DL healthy and able to pitch well again in 2008 and take over the #5 spot. Or if not Hill, maybe Guzman or Samardzija. Overall, though, you can't really change the team that much, right? It's a good team that can win you a lot of ball games, there's no need to blow it up. So the whole timing thing on the 100 years didn't work out, that's fine, now there's no pressure on them until the next anniversary rolls around in 2108.
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