Series Preview: Cubs at Atlanta, opening day
Since then, the Cubs sale has been completed, the bullpen has been decimated, the cancer has been traded, but not a whole lot of upgrading has occurred. How will this spell success over the course of the new year? Who the hell knows! But for a while, at least, we'll play the optimists while the Cubs work out their kinks and move quickly to be rid of whatever puzzle piece does not fit.
Just one bit of caution for you all, and heed my prophetic words closely:
Some poor players will start out amazingly well. This does not mean they are the second coming of Babe Ruth. Remember Tuffy Rhodes and do not get too closely attached to these jamokes, because sure as anything you will see some of them working Full Service at your local ESSO come September.
Some amazing players will start out very poorly. Yes, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, I am looking at you both. Just because a few Cubs will enter May chasing after Mario Mendoza does not mean that they are washed up. Remember 1983 Ryne Sandberg and don't give up on these guys for career minor leaguers like Micah Hoffpauir, because sure as anything they will be smoking the baseball like it was a fat blunt come September.
In other words: in all circumstances, be they fantastic or dismal, exercise patience. The quality of the future cannot be predicted from the first few moments of the coming day.
Onward with the preview.
Monday, April 5th - Carlos Zambrano (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Derek Lowe (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Oooh, those scary Braves. So nerve-wracking! So ultimately meaningless! Carlos Zambrano enters 2010 with something to prove. He had, far-and-away, the worst year of his career in 2009, going 9-7 with a 3.77 ERA in 28 starts. He is now 2 seasons removed from his last fully healthy season. He has promised to stay calm, be brave, and wait for the signs (the one Canadian who reads this site and listens to CBC just snickered).
He faces off against Derek Lowe, a player who lives off the name value of once being a Boston Red Sock. Lowe played well in pitcher-friendly Los Angeles, but his first season in Atlanta was a lot like his last season in Boston - rife with a lot of runs scored against.
Say what you will about the Cubs and their pending bullpen woes, but the offense should be good. Lowe is just a touch better than a tin can. If Carlos Zambrano can stay calm, this is a very winnable game for Chicago.
Wednesday, April 7th - Ryan Dempster (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Jair Jurrjens (0-0, 0.00 ERA
Ryan Dempster had a chance to sign with Atlanta a few years ago, had the Cubs not pursued him and kept him in Chicago following his epic 17-win season. He is scheduled to face Jair Jurrjens, a 24-year-old who, based on his 2009 performance, deserves to pitch on opening day far more than the guy the Braves actually have tapped for the role. Only problem is that Jurrjens is trying to get (or stay) healthy and has had a nagging shoulder problem this Spring, according to ESPN.
Dempster, meanwhile, was a slow starter in 2009, but he really focused and pitched exceedingly well after tripping over the dugout and breaking a toe last year. Chances are he will try hard to get off on the right foot on Wednesday.
Thursday, April 8th - Randy Wells vs. Tommy Hanson
Wells, last year's one and only pleasant surprise, will be pitching under quite a bit of pressure for the next little while. After all, it's not so uncommon to see surprise successes flop. We won't know for sure how well Wells will wallop his woeful wopponents (ran out of words that start with "w") for a month or two. His first opponent of the new year is another sophomore looking to prove that 2009 wasn't a fluke, Tommy Hanson.
Hanson's a 23-year-old who went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts last year. While it's ridiculous that the Braves continue to develop young, successful talent, particularly in pitchers, the Cubs have one thing they do not: Greg Maddux (HAH!). Maddux mentoring Wells will hopefully work in our favor.
The 2009 Cubs won on the road about as often as the Jonas Brothers score with their groupies. A fast start is important. But with the shaky bullpen and unanswered questions, it might be a bit much to assume a fast start from the Cubs this year.
Still, the Braves are throwing at them one veteran pitcher with a penchant for giving up runs and two young pitchers who may or may not have had fluky years in 2009. How the Cubs do in this series will tell us nothing about the rest of the year, but getting off on the right foot would be nice.
And so would avoiding a 14 game losing streak to start the year. I'm not expecting it, but c'mon. I'm a Cubs fan. It's something we worry about every freaking year.