Got concerns? Worried about the batting averages of the Cubs’ middle infielders, whether Alfonso Soriano can catch, or perhaps concerned about the arm of Jacque Jones? Have you wrestled with the fact that Wood and Prior are not as important, yet still kind of being counted on? Is Roberto Novoa still on this team?
I guess with all these questions and concerns, the reality of the 2007 season is that the Cubs Faithful will be lucky if the Cubs can just finish with 82 wins or more, and that any thoughts of dominating the division are a tad premature. Maybe that is how you feel, and deep down inside, where your damaged Cubbie-Fan-Psyche resides, you just know you are in for a colossal disappointment this year, even though you have been trying so hard to put on the external appearance of overflowing excitement and great expectations. Well….I am here to tell you that this season will either be an underachieving disaster, or the Cubs are going to steamroll over everything in their path! I am heavily leaning toward the latter, by the way. Don’t believe me? You know better…. Square D….
If you have ever listened to a radio broadcast on WGN, then you have heard Pat and Ron explain that Square D is the power behind Wrigley Field. This year, Square D is going to have a little competition from the Cubs bats, I imagine. Matt Murton is poised for a 20-25 HR season breakout. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Alfonso Soriano can all hit 40 HRs, and no one will be surprised. Jacque Jones should hit another 25 HRs, and Michael Barrett will likely get his usual 15-19 HRs as well. Add a few from our potent bench bats of Daryle Ward and Cliff Floyd, and another few from Zambrano, and you are talking about a club that will lead the league in HRs easily. Last year, the Atlanta Braves led the NL in HRs, as a club, with 222. Take a good look at the Braves lineup, and then at the Cubs, and try and tell me that the Cubs will somehow hit less HRs….not gonna happen!
I predict the 2007 Cubs lineup will out-slug the formidable 2004 Cubs lineup, which had good power numbers from Moises Alou, Sammy Sosa, and Corey Patterson. Replace those three with Alfonso Soriano, Jacque Jones, and Matt Murton, and take the predicted upgrade from the 2007 versions of Lee, Ramirez, and Barrett, and you can see why I am expecting the Cubs to pulverize the baseball on a record pace unlike any Chicago has seen before, on the North Side! On top of all that, and despite Jones’ arm, and Soriano’s inexperience, you can also make the argument that the Cubs outfield is easily more athletic and better defensively than the 2004 club. Ironically, the strikeouts will be similar between the two clubs, as I see Alou and Murton as a wash with low strikeout totals, but then Soriano and Jones should give Patterson and Sosa a run for their money. I am hopeful that Sweet Lou Piniella’s focus on OBP and making the opposing pitchers work harder will lead to our team getting better pitches to hit, which should result in fewer strikeouts. Man….am I glad that Dusty and his non-sensical approach to OBP are a thing of the past!
2003 was a nice year, but if we are honest about it, the 2004 club was easily superior. We added Greg Maddux to an unbelievable rotation, Corey Patterson was having a breakout year in 2003 before he was injured so great things were expected of him, and we added NOMAR at the trading deadline! Obviously injuries, and a lousy attitude, cost us the playoffs, and our announcers.
I especially think 2004 was a lost opportunity due to the potential of the starting five: Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Clement, and Maddux. How does the likely 2007 staff of Zambrano, Lily, Prior, Hill, and Marquis compare to 2004?
- Big Z vs. Wood: Zambrano is obviously always healthier, and you sense a breakout year with 18-20 wins. Big Edge 2007.
- Mrs. Prior vs. Mark Prior: If Mark shows up and pitches in Spring Training at the top of his game, he is back up to the #2 spot, as far as I am concerned. If we see any hint of Mrs. Prior, though, we will all be very happy that Hendry paid Wade Miller to stick around. Edge 2004.
- Lily vs. Clement: They are both the same pitcher statistically….slightly above .500, strike out pitcher, can get 13-15 wins with enough run support, etc. This is a Wash.
- Hill vs. Z: Your first impulse tells you to give the edge to Z, based on his stuff, but keep in mind that Z was not even talked about as highly as Clement that year, and this was, essentially, his first full year in the bigs. I think more is expected of Hill, coming into 2007, than was expected of Z coming into 2004. Slight Edge 2007.
- Marquis vs. Maddux: Hey, look, two guys from the Braves…. Ok, no discussion here. Edge 2004.
With an extremely accurate and scientifically configured scoring system, I have concluded that the 2007 rotation is obviously slightly better than the 2004 rotation was, with a score of 2 wins, 1 loss, and 2 ties for the 2007 squad.
Close it out….
Scott Eyre, Bobby Howry, Michael Wuertz, Will Ohman, Neil Cotts, Ryan Dempster, and Kerry Wood. Holy quality arms, Batman! Our bullpen should be something special, and hopefully Roberto Novoa is nowhere near it.
How did 2004 stack up in the bullpen area? Well….er….the Cubs banked on Sweaty Joe Borowski to continue to produce similar results as he did in his 2003 career year. Sweaty Joe was to be preceded in the 6th through 8th innings with Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, the unforgettable Glendon Rusch, and Kent “the Complainer” Mercker. Entering the 2004 season, that was, on paper, a decent bullpen. However, the 2007 bullpen has already all pitched well in Wrigley (except for Cotts) and they are proven and established in a Cubs uniform, and we don’t have anyone coming off a career year.
What happens with the odd man out in the rotation battle among Prior, Miller, and Marquis? That is an interesting question. My guess is that Wuertz, or Cotts will be sent to AAA. Maybe Cotts is sent there as a starter, to keep him developing? But do you really want to keep Miller and or Marquis as bullpen guys? What makes you think either of them would be better than Wuertz in the pen? This will be an interesting storyline to watch. Not to keep ragging on Novoa, but unless we are planning on carrying 13 or 14 pitchers, I am not sure where/how he fits in, so I am hopeful he is tradebait. Stick Novoa in AAA and trade him at the All-Star break for some help where we need it. I am sick of the habit the Cubs have of keeping a low-talent player or two on the club, for seemingly no reason, such as Neifi Perez and Glendon Rusch. This year, our bench and bullpen look so deep, that we should have above-average MLB quality bench players, at every position. Backups such as Cliff Floyd, Angel Pagan, Ryan Theriot (or Mark DeRosa), and setup bullpen arms such as Kerry Wood and Bobby Howry, etc….
You can never predict injuries, so you have to assume they will not make a huge impact on the team’s performance in 2007. I see a lot of parallels between this team and the 2004 team, in that they both seemed stacked on paper; made improvements in key areas, have a tremendous amount of power in the lineup, and a deep starting rotation. Things didn’t work out in 2004 due to injuries, and a manager that let his players turn their focus away from the field and on petty issues like the broadcasters. To keep that from happening this year, the Cubs Faithful need to hope and pray the injury bug goes away, and then the rest is up to Sweet Lou to mold this group into a hardworking, smart, and focused team. If those two things happen, the Cubs will be in the playoffs….no doubt in my mind. Until next time, CCO Readers, pencil in the dates on your Roberto Novoa Farewell Tour Calendar, hope that we have seen the end of Mrs. Prior, and let’s go Cubs!