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2007 Chicago Cubs Team Preview

by Eric Freeman, Jr., Special to BaseballEvolution.com
April 1, 2007

2006 Record: 66-96 (Last in NL Central)
2006 Runs Scored: 716
2006 Runs Allowed: 834
Pythagorean 2006 Record: 70-92

 

What a difference one year can make. One year ago, I expressed my hope that the Cubs would contend for the wild-card spot, if not the division title. One year ago, I was expressing my extreme discontent for the selection of 2005 NL MVP Albert Pujols over the actual Most Valuable Player, Derrek Lee. One year ago, I learned precisely what a “faux-pas” was as I boldly proclaimed that Jeromy Burnitz was “the biggest disappointment in Cub history,” much to the chagrin of the BaseballEvolution.com staff. And one year ago, I was a 19-year-old living in Baltimore and weighed about 360 pounds. Now a spry, 20-year-old, 282-pound sophomore in a swanky apartment on the campus of LSU, I make my return to BaseballEvolution.com with the 2007 Chicago Cubs Preview.
 

Manager

2006 Manager: Dusty Baker

2007 Manager: Lou Piniella

October 18, 1977. Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. (Tony, stop gloating. It’s not everyday that I talk about the Yankees). On this date in history, the legend of Mr. October was born as Reggie Jackson hit three home runs to win the World Series for the Yankees. This moment in history is relevant only for the reason that both Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella were there to see it live. It’s only fitting, however, that Dusty was on the losing end of that magical moment as the Dodger left fielder, whereas Piniella probably remembers that date fondly as the Yankee left fielder. The pair met against each other three times in five years against each other, with Piniella winning two to one. Now as managers, the two have combined for five Manager of the Year Awards (Dusty 3-2), but Piniella has the slight edge in that he has a World Series ring, and because he led the Seattle Mariners to a single season record-tying 116 wins in 2001. And whose record did they tie? Oh yes, that’s right, the 1906 Chicago Cubs. Piniella’s the man.

Catcher

2006 Starter: Michael Barrett

Projected 2007 Starter: Barrett

Just three words: Nothing but solid. True, Barrett is no Piazza or Pudge, but he’s a dependable bat with a good arm. I can’t really ask for much more in a catcher.

First Base

2006 Starters: Derrek Lee, John Mabry, Todd Walker, Phil Nevin

Projected 2007 Starter: M-V-Lee

Do I really need to say anything here? Lee got hurt, Mabry stepped in, Lee returned later. Lee’s the starter.

Second Base

2006 Starters: Todd Walker, Neifi Perez, Ryan Theriot

Projected 2007 Starters: Mark DeRosa, Theriot

Mark “Freaking” DeRosa. As thrilled as I am about the fact that the Cubs FINALLY have someone hailing from Passaic, New Jersey, DeRosa just doesn’t thrill me that much this year. He did have a career year last year, hitting a personal best .296 with 40 doubles and 237 total bases, and I like him a heck of a whole lot better than Neifi “Old Man” Perez, who jumped ship to the eventual AL Champion Detroit Tigers.

But I’m not yet prepared for the Mark DeRosa era to begin inside the ivy. I’m much more excited about Ryan “The Riot” Theriot. Not only does he have the speed, the power, and the glove to become the next great second baseman, but he also hails from right here, where I’m typing, in Baton Rouge, LA. (Speaking of LSU, it seems that my college has an incredible Chicago rep, as not only The Riot but also Tyrus Thomas of the Bulls are turning into fresh waves for the future of Windy City Sports. Watch the NFL Draft to see whether the Bears follow this trend.) Theriot will be starting in place of DeRosa by the All-Star Break. Just watch.

Third Base

2006 Starter: Aramis Ramirez

Projected 2007 Starter: Ramirez

He has averaged 35 homers over the last three seasons. Last year saw career highs in home runs, RBI, walks, total bases, and most importantly four (COUNT 'EM, FOUR!!!) triples. And he turns 29 in June. Get ready for a monster year.

Shortstop

2006 Starter: Ronny Cedeno

Projected 2007 Starters: Cesar Izturis, Cedeno

Promise is a tricky thing. Cedeno showed extreme promise at the minor league level, hitting .355 at AAA-Iowa before being called up in 2005. But last year as the everyday shortstop, Cedeno struggled to barely post a .245 average with 109 strikeouts and 23 errors in the six spot. Izturis, on the other hand, broke out in 2004 with a .288 average, 193 hits, 90 runs, and 25 stolen bases, along with an extremely impressive Gold Glove at shortstop. The clear choice this year is Izturis, and Cedeno will probably be shopping for a new job soon.

 

Outfield

2006 Starters: Matt Murton, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones

Projected 2007 Starters: Murton, Jones, and a guy named Alfonso

I really don’t get it. The Cubs decided to spend $136 million over the next eight years to acquire Alfonso “I Got Traded For A-Rod” Soriano. Soriano did put up monster numbers last year, becoming the fourth person in history inducted into the 40/40 club. So we got rid of 29-year-old Juan Pierre, the NL leader in hits, second in stolen bases, and who hasn’t missed a game in over four years. We got the 2004 All-Star Game MVP whose last game as a Yankee was spent suffering a World Series loss to Juan Pierre’s (and more accurately Josh Beckett’s) Marlins. A guy who struck out more times last year than any other in his career. A guy who complained loudly to his new team about being moved to left field, even though he was a better fielder in left than he ever was at second base. A guy who is now being moved into center field, between Jacque “Sir Whiffs-A-Lot” Jones and Matt Murton, who should come into his own this year in left. It just seems that there’s something wrong with Soriano, and we will all see it around May. I don’t know, maybe I’m nuts. But it always happens with the Cubs: Big name acquisition for millions of dollars, leading to an injury, discontent, or simply lack of production. Be afraid.

Starting Pitchers

2006 Starters: Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall, Greg Maddux, Rich Hill, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, Juan Mateo, Glendon Rusch, Mark Prior

Projected 2007 Starters: Zambrano, Hill, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Wade Miller, and then eventually Prior

My head still hurts. Every year, the key to the Cubs’ success is pitching, and every year, serious problems emerge, from the starters or in the bullpen, and it makes my head hurt. I thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with Zambrano, but apparently he’s getting sick of the “poison” ivy. He might not even be a Cub at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis can be lumped together. They are similar pitchers who are good for 12 wins each at least. Lilly might benefit from the switch to the National League, and Marquis is familiar with every hitter in the NL Central, but I’m pessimistic about the pair. Together, they’ll put together a 4.45 ERA and 29 wins. The Cubs are also hoping that Wade Miller can rediscover his 2002 form when he posted a 15-4 record and juicy 3.28 ERA.

The Cub faithful, however, are sick of waiting for Kerry Wood and Mark Prior to come around. Their lingering injuries have been a plague on Chicago. We all have fond memories of 2003, when Prior was healthy, Wood was healthy, Zambrano was healthy, and Sammy Sosa still played for us. It was also Dusty Baker’s first season, and the Cubs won the NL Central. Four years later, Prior is on the DL, Wood will be working from the bullpen, Zambrano has lost his faith in Chicago, Sammy Sosa plays for the Rangers (President Dubya should have kept him when he had the chance), and Dusty Baker will be joining the broadcast booth telling stories about how he knows Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. The point is that pitching is a problem, and this season depends on the starters.

Bullpen

2006 Starters: Ryan Dempster, Bob Howry, Will Ohman, Scott Eyre, Roberto Novoa, David Aardsma, Michael Wuertz, Scott Eyre, Kerry Wood

Projected 2007 Starters: “Dempstafunk” , Howry, Eyre, Wuertz, Ohman, Neil Cotts, 20K

It never mattered how the bullpen performed last year. The Cubs were always in too deep of a hole to get out. A closer with a 4.80 ERA and a 1-9 record can’t get anything done. A former starter who struck out 20 in one game who is rehabbing from a devastating string of injuries and loss of control, can’t get much done. In fact, the only person I did like out of this crew was David Aardsma, who has not lost yet in his illustrious two-year major league career. 56 total appearances, 4-0 record. Now that’s a pitcher I want, and he’s not even a Cub anymore. Prepare the painful sighs.

Prediction

The Cubs have worked a lot harder this spring while getting used to Piniella. And historically, the Cubs are solid after 90-loss seasons and in the first years of a new manager. Soriano batting leadoff will scare pitchers into making mistakes, knowing that they have to deal with D-Lee, A-Ram, and most dangerously, M-Murt. Don’t count the Cubs out of making a wild card run, as the NL Central really is wide open this year, but I don’t see the North Siders making it higher than 3rd place this year. If my prediction consistency is telling, the Cubs will win the division. I hope I’m wrong with my pick.




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