What to Expect From The Cubs in 2009
- Updated: March 23, 2009
To say that this is probably the beginning of the end for Derrek Lee would miss the point – we have likely reached the end of the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end came in 2006, when he broke his wrist in a collision with Rafael Furcal. Lee has had two good seasons in 2007 and 2008, but they have been greatly aided by Wrigley Field. In 2005, when he was an MVP candidate, he played at a very high level both at home and on the road, and actually hit for a higher average away from Wrigley.
Now Lee is struggling in camp, and isn’t getting any younger. Either this season or next, Lee will go the way of Chicago Cubs heroes past, who enjoyed several seasons hitting in the Cubs’ bandbox, but then faded prematurely.
What does being a former wide receiver for Notre Dame get you in the Major Leagues? Lots of attention, to be sure, but Jeff Samardzija is quickly learning that what happens on the football field at South Bend impacts little what happens in the big leagues.
Frankly, it is difficult to figure why – other than his Notre Dame-ness – this kid gets so much love. He was never a dominant minor league pitcher, and he has always walked too many guys to be considered a legitimate major league starter. Samardzija will likely begin the season in the bullpen after not looking good this spring at all.
Can the Cubs get a full season out of Alfonso Soriano in 2009? Good question – even though he’s hit over 60 homeruns with the Cubs in two seasons, he has done this despite missing 70 games during that span. Soriano did some really odd things in 2008 – despite playing in only 109 games, he nearly hit 30 homeruns; he matched his previous season’s stolen base total (19); he topped the previous season’s RBI total (75 vs. 70); and he took 43 walks, the second most of his career.
What you really have to give Soriano props for, though, is his anti-home field hitting. Two years ago, he hit 20 of his 33 homeruns on the road, and posted a 1.003 OPS there, as opposed to his .794 at Wrigley Field. Last season, he came back down to earth a bit but still maintained an .828 OPS on the road, which is high for this team. When you have a lineup, like the Cubs, where half the team goes dead when you head out on the road, guys like Soriano are worth their weight in gold.
You heard it here first – there are very few teams who may be more undone by their outfield defense than the Cubs will be this year. Moving Kosuke Fukudome to centerfield to make room for Milton Bradley in right field means that the Cubs will have an aging, fragile outfield with three guys that aren’t playing their natural positions.
It is hard to not go getting all excited about Geovany Soto; by all standards this guy looks like a legitimate star. He had the third lowest catcher’s ERA in baseball last season, and the Cubs team ERA was significantly higher in games he didn’t catch. He hits on the road as well as he does at home – like Soriano, he had 22 of his 35 doubles on the road in 2008, and his OPS was only 20 points lower on the road than at home. He was also amongst the leaders in things like least errors committed and passed balls allowed, and he gave up a low number of stolen bases while finishing middle of the pack in caught stealing percentage.
Now, Geovany, let’s see if you can avoid a sophomore slump.
What player is the biggest throwback to the speedsters of the 1970s and 1980s, who were fast as could be but couldn’t get on base to save their lives? Wily Taveras and Michael Bourn probably lead the category, but Joey Gathright is definitely on the list. For the record, the Cubs have Gathright on their spring roster, but he is unlikely to go north with the team. Shame, though – he is one of those guys you’d like on the team just to watch him run (remember Ced Landrum?).
It is around this time of the spring that I think Lou Pinella might be wondering if the Cubs should have done more to improve the team over last season. Oh, sure, last year’s roster was good enough to post the best record in the National League, but wasn’t that roster built to win last year? Aren’t the Cubs just a little bit older now? Can we really expect Rich Harden to stay healthy, Ryan Dempster to keep it up, and Ted Lilly to continue to pitch effectively? Isn’t Aramis Ramirez due for an injury (check the stats, he’s hurt literally every other year)?
Hard to imagine things going as well for the Cubs in 2009 as they did in 2008. Or did I already say that?
As a final thought, if Carlos Zambrano can get back to his usual 200-innings, 130 ERA+ self, this could be the year that he becomes the Greatest Pitcher in the History of Wrigley Field. Something to watch for.