2005 Team Preview: Chicago Cubs

by Scott Glab

A work in progress. As a lifelong sufferer, Iím sure my opinions on the Cubbies will morph again before the season begins.

2004 Record: 89-73 (3rd Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 789
2004 Runs Allowed: 665
Expected 2004 Record: 94-68

Hitting

All of the clichés apply to the Cubsí lineup: Consummate professionals, clutch hitters, fierce battlers, etc. But the bottom line is, they donít get on base often enough. The high strikeouts donít matter as much if you can still reach base. On the plus side, they have no glaringly weak hitters in their starting lineup, no out making wizards like Brad Ausmus, Paul Bako, Pee Wee Reese. Eight-deep lineups in the NL are rare, and immediately make an offense respectable. Should they get on base a little more, however, they could be among the top three in the NL.

Defense

Mostly adequate. Aramis Ramirez had matured to his defensive peak as an average 3B. Garciaparra has declined to an average SS. Walker has worked hard to improve his fielding, though it may still be a liability. Burnitz and Hollandsworth can both play all three outfield positions, just not terribly well. Barrett draws rave reviews for his work as a catcher, but his arm has only been slightly better than average of late. Derrek Lee is a first rate first baseman, and many new modern fielding evaluation techniques such as Ultimate Zone Rating and similar derivatives rank Patterson as a second-echelon center fielder: not a jaw-dropper like Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, or Torii Hunter, but right at the next level.

Patterson: maturing slow and steady

It is this humble fanís opinion that Corey Patterson will have a huge impact on the 2005 Cubs, one way or another. As the slated leadoff hitter, he has repeatedly made comments this season to the effect the he is buying into the philosophy behind hitting leadoff, namely getting on base. A few things to note here.

  1. Patterson may not be best suited to hitting leadoff, given the presence of Todd Walker, Coreyís middle-of-the-lineup power, and the difficulty of teaching someone (or yourself) to increase OBP.
  2. Projections for Patterson are all over the place this year. Some project a breakout season (he turns 26 in August). Others predict the same middling Dunston-esque numbers of his previous years.

As a fan of the Cubs and a brother of a Patterson detractor, my ears get a lot of hooey about him during the season. But to me, he has looked steadily less clueless at the plate over the last three years, and also seems to be a more confident fielder. Iím hoping the steady grade that Corey is climbing leads to a critical mass that catalyses his skills into the five tool superstar all Cubbiedom has dreamed about. Not one to buck trends, Iím predicting a steady improvement again this year, with Corey playing a full season and raising his OPS over .800, something like .280-25-80 with .340 OBP, .470 SLG and 35 SB.

 

Pitching

Close your eyes and throw a dartóperhaps the best way to pick which of the Cubsí big three will be most effective next year. If Wood, Prior, and Zambrano all stay healthy, it will be difficult for the Cubs not to win 90 games this year. Maddux may be the best fourth starter in baseball, and Glendon Rusch, Ryan Dempster, Angel Guzman, and Sergio Mitre will vie capably for the fifth spot, with lefty groundball specialist Jimmy Anderson as the dark horse.

Speaking of southpaws, the Cubs could use left-handed help in the bullpen. Rusch may be forced into bullpen action if Mike Remlinger is injured or ineffective, unless something clicks inside Will Ohman. Latroy Hawkins is a perfect setup man, but the question is for whom? Joe Borowski seems rejuvenated, but donít count out Scott Williamson. Dempster doesnít look like part of the closer situation yet, but that may change. Youngster Michael Wuertz may mature into the role before long, or they may inexplicably continue to show faith in Todd Wellemeyer.

 

Bottom Line

While the NL Central may be improved overall, none of the teams are without glaring deficiencies save the Cubs and the Cardinals. They seem primed for a division battle that has me shivering with excitement. Everything that the clubs have done this off-season and all the aging and developing of the players on both sides suggests to me that one of the two will win the division with 92-96 games, while the other fights for the wild card. However, with the proven abilities of Cub pitchers to get injured, the Cubs may have to resign themselves to second fiddle yet again.