The Final Twelve Games

With only twelve games left for our 1st-place Chicago Cubs, which of these two schedules sounds the most appealing to you?

Schedule 1: Cinncinatti, Pittsburgh, Florida, and Cinncinnati again, with 2 days off.
Schedule 2: Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Diego, with no days off.

Being the intelligent CCO Readers that you are, you likely know that the Cubs have the former schedule, and the Brewers have the latter, which really put the Cubs in the proverbial driver’s seat to win the division. Since my column last week, the Cubs managed to go 6-2, which is even more impressive when you realize that was done over a 7-day span!

Are you starting to lose your grip on your cautious optimism? Did you really think you could casually stroll through the last few weeks, containing your dreams of playoff glory, and keeping your excitement from taking over your ever waking moment? Think you are really going to get anything done the next two weeks at work? You know better….

Power Surge

Those long-lost homeruns are finally finding their way back into the Cubs box scores, and that is the most promising thing I saw this past week. I had a side-bet with a co-worker that Soriano would hit 30 HRs or more, but I put a clause in that the bet was off if Soriano hit the DL. Looks like I should have thrown caution to the wind, and taken the bet regardless. Despite his early season leg injuries, and his DL stint, Soriano has been everything the Cubs Faithful could hope for at this point. He is not stealing bases, but with his leg injuries this year, that is understandable. It is just amazing to watch his wiry frame twist and launch those deep balls. Wrigley has not had such a prolific and skinny slugger since the days of Ernie Banks!

I still maintain Derrek Lee is injured, and we will probably hear about it in the off-season, as he has too much class to make excuses for himself. I also believe Lee suffers on the road, as his mind may be on his daughter. This may sound like a stretch, but I know if a child of mine was battling a disease that could cause blindness, my focus would not always be 100%, especially if I was away from home for a few days.

Aramis Ramirez likely also has some injury issues, even if they are the nagging sort, as I have seen nothing to indicate his body-type, or power, have changed in anyway the past couple of years. So rather than blame steroids or HGH, I think Aramis is having a season similar to 2002, when he was woeful offensively for the Pirates, and he later blamed it on a leg injury.

To have made it through this 7-day/8-game stretch, with no injuries, and a majority of victories, was a great accomplishment. The Cubs have to play like a superior team, and continue to pile on the wins against their upcoming foes that carry much inferior win-loss records.

The Future….

Quick….tell me what the holes are for 2008? No, I am not looking past this year’s playoffs, but it is hard not to feel like the Cubs have secured a nice window of opportunity with their stars under contract (Soriano, Lee, Ramirez, and Zambrano) and their new young talent (Hill, Marmol, Soto, Theriot, and even Pie and Patterson). While they took a long time to jell, and the final roster pieces were not in place for a while, the Cubs, as they are currently constructed, are built like a winner, in my opinion. They have a great mix of in-their-prime veterans, solid pitching, up-coming-young-talent, and a strong mix of veteran part-timers and bench players.

The moves the Cubs have made have been very positive, and very contrary to the pain and foolishness we were forced to endure during the Dusty Era. Jim Hendry was the GM back then, too, so it is hard to explain why we previously were force-fed the likes of Todd Hollandsworth, Jerry Hairston, Todd Walker, Glendon Rusch, Jerome Williams, and Neifi Perez.

This year, when the Cubs Faithful started getting that antsy feeling about a player, he was often gone in the following weeks….guys like Michael Barrett, and Cesar Izturis, and even Wade Miller. The smart move was made to proceed as if Mark Prior and Kerry Wood would not be in the rotation, and that move was the smartest of them all! I like seeing Wood in the bullpen, and I have to be honest and state that I still see him possibly trying out for the 2008 rotation. We may have seen the ceiling for Sean Marshall, and a healthy Kerry Wood as a 3rd Right-Handed hard-throwing starter seems to be a better complement in a rotation with Jason Marquis and 2 left-handers. Zambrano, Lilly, and Hill aren’t going anywhere….and likely Marquis will be around another full year at least. Plugging Wood into next year’s rotation reminds me a bit of bringing in Greg Maddux in 2004, for what should have been an improved rotation over our 2003 successes.

Final Thoughts

The next 6 months are going to be the most exciting, and intriguing, I have ever had as a Cubs fan, provided they make the playoffs, which I believe they will do. Shortly after this year’s playoff run, we will be ushering in a new era of ownership for the Cubs, which will be unchartered territory for me, having grown up as a Cubs fan largely in the Tribune Era. Will Steve Stone return in some capacity to our Cubbies? Will Ron Santo see his beloved Cubs win a World Series? Will they beat the Mets along the way? Do I get to see a local Diamondbacks/Cubs playoff series? What will our 2008 outfield look like….will it be the Patterson/Pie show, combing with Soriano to be the fastest OF in baseball? Will Kerry Wood still be a Cub? Will he start? What about Mark Prior?!?! Can we really keep pushing Ryan Dempster out there when Marmol pitches lights out for a whole season? Jacque Jones, Matt Murton, and Cliff Floyd….not to mention Ronny Cedeno may all have new homes.

Enjoy the next two weeks, Cubs fans, because it is likely going to get crazy, and there is nothing wrong with losing yourself in the madness, just remember that the players win and lose ballgames, and not the fans in the stands. Until next time, CCO Readers, let’s hope Hill and Zambrano are unhittable, and let’s go Cubs!

Quote of the Day

"You can’t sit on a lead and kill the clock. You’ve got to give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game." - Earl Weaver