Can they win?
Imagine that it's April 1, 2009, and the Cubs then are exactly as the Cubs are today. Jason Marquis is still the 5th starter. Neal Cotts remains in the bullpen. Theriot still plays shortstop, while Mark DeRosa splits RF with Fukudome (who splits CF with Reed Johnson) and 2B with Mike Fontenot (who splits the stepping stool with Eric the Midget, team mascot of the '09 Cubs). Alfonso Soriano still leads off. Derrek Lee still bats third. Carlos Marmol still anchors himself to the pitching mount, lest his wind-sail ears pick him up and carry him off over Lake Michigan. Cub fans still wake up with the sweats the night before a Zambrano start, and develop nervous twitches any time Soriano hoppingly one-hands a fly ball to left.
Would it be enough? Could the Cubs win with a team that looks like this?
C Geovany Soto
1B Derrek Lee
2B Mike Fontenot/Mark DeRosa
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Ryan Theriot
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson
RF Mark DeRosa/Kosuke Fukudome
IF Ronny Cedeno
OF Felix Pie/Micah Hoffpauir/Joey Gathright
C Koyie Hill
SP Carlos Zambrano/Ted Lilly/Ryan Dempster/Rich Harden/Jason Marquis
MR Neal Cotts/Chad Gaudin/Sean Marshall/Michael Wuertz*/Kevin Gregg/Carlos Marmol
(*I almost switched out Wuertz for Samardzija, but I think that the Shark pitches in Iowa unless he starts)
The short answer is "yes." With that team, with those players, with that rotation, the Cubs could - and perhaps should - blaze a trail into their third consecutive NL Central title. But perhaps a more appropriate question would be Can They Win the World Series?
Well, the likely answer is no. These Cubs would not be better than last year's Cubs. They would be weaker offensively, at the very least. Then again, the playoffs are a crapshoot. The 83 win Cardinals can win the World Series. The 116 win Mariners can fail to even get there. Alfonso Soriano cautionists* should know - Barry Bonds can bat .198 in the playoffs over 6 trips and more than 100 at bats, with a 1 HR and 7 RBI, and then his head can grow three sizes larger and he can bat .356 in one post season trip and hit 8 homers in 45 at bats and drive in 16 RBI. Anything can happen, and precedence means nothing - just ask the '04 Red Sox who stared the Bambino Curse, the Yankees Dynasty, and a 3 game deficit in the face and smacked it down with the fury of an O.J. scorned.
(*Yes, I just invented a word.)
Regardless, as a fan of the Cubs and a realist, I can't help but wish that our favorite would find a way to upgrade. And that's the rub - when your team has the best hitting, pitching, and NL record, it's reallllly hard to improve.
I suppose we should keep that in mind while we lament over Hendry doing little-to-nothing. Still, while stepping up may be hard, stepping back shouldn't be necessary either.