The Cubs have had a very good and somwhat lucky week. Here is where they stand:
Cubs current record: 19-23
Cubs expected record: 20-22
Cubs runs scored: 192 runs, 4.57 per game, 9th in NL
Cubs wOBA standing: .336, 6th in NL, expected runs 203.
Cubs ERA: 4.29 10th in NL
Cubs RA: 4.71 10th in NL
Cubs xFIP: 4.01 3rd in NL
The Cubs luck is beginning to even out since I last reported this. My guess is, they probably should be about 23-19 or 24-18 right now. BTW, when Ramirez and Lee start hitting it should allow all these hitting numbers to increase. I'm hopeful about the next month. We aren't out of it yet. As of now, I believe we are going to make it to 85 wins. I'll try to leave one of these reports every Friday before the weekend.
Newsflash: The Cubs are playing terrible right now. But it just doesn't comport with the facts of this team in my eyes. I don't get it. Why are they losing?
Mostly, it's just bad luck. I know that seems like hyperbole but let's look at some basic information on the Cubs.
The Cubs, coming into today's game, were tied for 5th in the NL in runs scored but 7th in the NL in runs scored per game just above league average.
The pitching looks much worse as the Cubs came into today's game 11th in ERA. The runs scored/runs allowed results in a pythagorean won loss record of 17-19, 2 games better than the 15-21 record they had coming into today's game.
So they should be 2 games better just assuming the runs scored/runs allowed were fairer but even that isn't fair. The Cubs should have scored slightly more runs and should have allowed a ton less. They should be challenging the Cardinals right now.
The Cubs are 5th in the NL in wOBA and haven't been especially lucky offensively. They have a decent K rate, a decent walk rate and above average isolated power. Linear weights suggest they should have scored 181 runs this year, not 167.
To make matters worse, the Cubs are second in the NL in xFIP! Only the Padres are barely better. That is partly a sign that the Cubs defense is worse than expected but it's also a sign that they have been very very unlucky. The Cubs actual record this year should be closer to 22-14, not 15-21. Taking away 2 games for defense (which is probably too many) they still come into today's game at 20-16. Can you imagine how much different the tone would be on this site if the Cubs were actually doing that?
Now, two very annoying facts make all this data less relevant. The first is that the Cubs have buried themselves in a hole so deep that even if they played at this level the rest of the year, they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. The second is that they put up that record against less than stellar opposition. Still, it's a sign that things aren't completely what they seem.
If the Cubs were to play 20-16 baseball (.556) the rest of the season, they would get to 85 wins. That might make them a contender for the NL wildcard. I thought they might be through but maybe not. They need to start showing results that live up to their peripherals but it's the underlying numbers that suggest many have given up a little too early here.
Not too long ago, Goat Reader MSD asked a tough question: do we think the Cubs will win over or under 90 games in 2010?
Sheesh. Might as well ask me to predict where the stock market will be in six months (altho' I'd be generally inclined to guess "in the toilet").
While I can't predict the future of Cubs baseball (altho' I'd be generally inclined to guess 'heartbreak"), I can predict the course of this blog over the next few months. You'll see cautious optimism from myself, AJ, and possibly Byron and Yarbage assuming they contribute. We'll talk about trends, streaks, and hopes of a Cubs team that includes healthy Sorianos, Zambranos, and so-on. You'll also see cautious realism from Rob, who will say early and often that this team does not impress him, who will point out the glaring holes in the lineup, and who will be the first one to call out a player for under-performing.
Although I'll say things like "anything can happen," (but hopefully in a less ridiculous, cliched manner), and Rob will say things like "book it, they're done," neither of us will really know anything for sure until June or July. By then, the holes will be glaringly obvious, and the surprises will be slapping us all over our pretty little faces.
In other words, I just took a long time to say "nobody knows." But if I had to activate my brain in order to guess today ...
Meh. Seriously. Nobody knows. No team in the NL Central really did anything to put themselves in the guerrilla position. The Cardinals are not exactly world shakers. The Brewers are not discernibly better. The Reds have a ton of talent, regrettably in the hands of the most incompetent oaf of a manager in baseball today. The Pirates are the modern day doormat of the National League.
If -- really big if -- Geo Soto rebounds, if Derrek Lee doesn't fall off the face of the earth, if Jeff Baker/Mike Fontenot can make for a passable platoon, if Ryan Theriot is used right, if Aramis Ramirez stays healthy, if Alfonso Soriano bounces back, if Marlon Byrd isn't the Next Great Black Bust, if Kosuke Fukudome can step it up just a little bit, if Carlos stays healthy and focused, if Dempster builds on a strong September, if Ted Lilly gets and stays healthy, if Randy Wells isn't the next one-year-wonder, if Gorzelanny or Silva can shock us, if the bullpen in general can be relied upon, and if Carlos Marmol rediscovers his control and assumes the closer role ...
If all (or most) of those things happen, then the Cubs will be tough to beat. They will be a 90 win team. They will be playoff bound. But that's an awful lot of "ifs." So, if you're looking ahead to September/October, and are trying to plan your life accordingly, I would caution you from booking a trip to Chicago for those months. You might have fun in the windy city, you may enjoy some fine dining, some lovely ladies, and maybe even some fantastic night life, but you aren't too likely to enjoy playoff Cubs baseball.
But really, nobody knows. Not even Jeebus.
Predictions, Projections, and Psychotic Bloggers. In the shortest month of the year, the month in which Pitchers and Catchers report, predictions, projections, and psychotic bloggers go together like peas-n-carrots, or pro athletes-n-Kardashians.
Like the rest of you, I've had a long, dreary winter to think about the State of the Cubs. Actually, probably more than the rest of you, since I have been functioning as a ward of the state since New Years' Eve. And what conclusion have I drawn with my massive chess club brain, and all the time I've had to sit here and compile? Well, in 50 words or less:
The soulless corporation sold the Cubs to actual people. The new owners seem more interested in Wrigley Field than the Cubs. Their biggest moves, so far, have been the wacky hire of an expensive coach, the trade of a discontented yet talented black guy, and the refurbishment of the bathrooms. OMG!! We have returned to the P. K. Wrigley era!!
I tell you kind people that I don't even have my sarcasm key held down as I type all this. However, I understand the special financial circumstances the Ricketts are under at the present moment, and while I might and should expect them to chuck the general ledger aside and just Win, baby? It appears that they are digging in for the long haul as owners. It is clear that the Tom Ricketts does not share the same urgency for a winner as I do. It is obvious that he and his family will not go broke by winning at all costs. There seems to be a four-year period that they need to pay down a special loan that they hadn't counted on having to use when they first made the offer for the Cubs.
Just, coincidentally, this is about the same amount of time that the Cubs still need to pay Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. I suppose if I were the billionaire owners of the Cubs, and although I am a fan, I am not as overwrought as the guy writing on that blog. And, if I had several all-star ballplayers that I had to pay eight figure salaries to, I would expect the players to go out, and win, with minimal help from me. And, when their contracts are finally paid off, and my special financial deal is finally satisfied, I will finally adopt the degree of urgency that the blogger has, and I will hire my own General Manager, and go after the players I really want, and win at all costs.
So, when all was said and done this winter, our roster is fairly static, so it ought to be fairly easy for us to Preview the 2010 Season, one Cub at a time! We pretty much know who we have, and what we have, and between now and Opening Day in Atlanta, we're gonna pass our sweet-and-savory flavor along to you in single player slices. So come back, early and often, because this is a fun time of the year - in fact, most years, it's the most fun time of the year.
Let's hope not, for 2010, though.
The long delayed sale appears to be finally imminent. We are fortunate that this time, the buyer is motivated out of love for the Cubs and a desire to see them do well, rather than a source of cheap programming, then later, a profitable cost center within an enterprise, as they existed under the Tribune banner. But make no mistake - the Ricketts are businessmen first, and they did not become billionaires throwing bad money after bad.
We believe that the Milton Bradley sunk cost is a primary concern, and that we will not have to deal with him anymore in our uniform. That having been said, it is unlikely that the new owners are going to eat any more contracts, namely Soriano's, Fukudome's or Zambrano's, in the interests of "addition by subtraction". Since nobody in their right minds, or even the Royals, are going to offer us anywhere close to market value for any of these three gentlemen in a trade, we must assume that the 2010 Cubs will include them.
Alfonso Soriano is in his mid-thirties, and as such can be expected to be on the decline, even IF his knees heal and his leg muscles that have been bothering him since joining us are well. We had high hopes for him going into 2009, since it was the first spring in the past three that he reported no muscular pain in his legs. It figures, though, that when he was signed to the 8-year contract at 29 years of age that towards the end he would barely be able to drag himself around. At the time, most of us were ready to take that risk. We just didn't think the day of reckoning would be quite so soon.
Aramis Ramirez is also into his thirties, and this is a big year in his life as well as ours. He can opt out of his deal at the end of the year, and while that may represent potential savings to the Ricketts, please never forget the 100 or so bodies that have passed through our doors between Ron Santo and ARam at third base. Top prospect Josh Vitters plays third base, I believe. But not only is he still a ways away, we all realize that many of our 'top prospects' the past ten years have failed, miserably. Our club has a poor track record of farm system development under Hendry's tenure. I do not believe it is in our best interest to let Ramirez walk after 2010, or to trade him unless we can make an exceptional deal, and off the top of my head, there aren't many players out there that fall in that category.
Derrek Lee will play first base, and hopefully his career renaissance is genuine and will carry over to similar production next year, when it might mean something. Geo Soto will almost most certainly improve over this year's .220 average and bad practices behind the plate. It is unlikely he will return to his 2008 production, but even something in the middle will work at this position with little depth in talent league-wide. After a miserable performance when he was asked to catch every day for a month-plus, Koyie Hill has shown, with rest, that he is decent enough as a backup, once again considering the lack of catching talent out there.
The pitching staff, which most days was our strength in 2009, will return mostly intact in 2010. Carlos Marmol is expected to grow up and close our games, and Guzman, Marshall, Grabow, Heilman and Caridad will assist. Aaron Heilman bears mentioning, for while he asserted at the beginning of 2009 that he considers himself a starting pitcher, because "all of his pitches" don't seem to work in a relief setting, and although he was lit up at times, publicly he kept his mouth shut, and there were no reports of bad behavior in the clubhouse. Heilman was given a largely thankless job this year, and although he isn't the best pitcher in the world, he managed to get through 2009 without too many of us wanting to hang him by his ankles over hot coals. That's as high praise as I can give him.
The starters will be largely static, as well. Ted Lilly has proven himself to be the best of Hendry's free agent signings, famously from his hospital bed. I vote Lilly to be our opening day starter next year. He has the mental toughness and focus that our supposed ace, Zambrano, seems to lack. Dempster should have a better year, now that his infant daughter is successfully battling the disorder she was born with. Randy Wells will be given the chance to show that his rookie year was no fluke. The league has adjusted to him, and like a tough chess game, it is his move to re-adjust to gain the advantage he had the first time through the league. Tom Gorzellany (aka Gorgonzola) and Jeff Samardzija (aka Shark) will battle it out for the last spot, with the loser occupying the coveted Sean Marsall Memorial SwingMan spot.
Now, that all of the certainties are accounted for in Cubs 102, we've put off the hard work long enough. What will become of the middle infield, and center and right field?
In the infield, on hand we have slick-fielding, little-hitting Andres Blanco, slick-hitting, little-fielding Ryan Theriot, middle-of-the-road Jeff Baker, useless-in-2009 Aaron Miles, almost-useless-in-2009 Mike Fontenot, and oh yeah, the Ghost of Mark DeRosa. Now, I know what I would do - but what will the Cubs Braintrust do? I wager that they will claim to know more about the shortstop position than we do, and assert that Theriot is adequate in the role, with Blanco sticking as his backup against tough righties. Lou's opinion of The Riot is higher than ours is, and that is key. I also believe Baker has impressed since his acquisition, and that he will be given the initial nod at second in the spring. Miles and Fontenot will battle for the backup role at second.
That seems boring though - what of DeRosa, who is a free agent? What about the annual pursuit of Brian Roberts, or at least a Roberts-esque figure, who can lead off and provide basepath speed, a component of the game we rank dead solid LAST in currently? Lou would love some speed, as well as an answer to the perpetual question "Who will lead off?" This is where Milton Bradley rears his ugly head. I do not believe that, based on the tasty $21 million that Ricketts will have to choke down to rid us of Bradley, that he will have the inclination to pursue a free agent leadoff man, especially if we still have to address right field.
And once again, right field will need to be addressed. It's not quite a Catch-22, but this is not a simple act of filling in a hole. If Soriano, Soto, and Ramirez return to previous productivity levels, and if Lee can continue in 2010 his current levels, then the Cubs can opt for 'defense', plug plus-fielder, mediocre hitter Fukudome in RF, and go after someone like Chone Figgins to play center. That will go a long way towards shoring up a poor 2009 defensive effort. If, however, we do not want to count on these three big guns, then we need to find an RBI man for RF. This is the stated preferred option of Sweet Lou, but not only will this be more costly, but it is a much more complicated task. There are more fine center fielders out there than slugging right fielders. We have been trying to plug a slugging right fielder in since Sosa left town, and at this point, the quest is beginning to rival the problems we had filling the hot corner before Ramirez came to town.
The initial thought I had was "Who plays RF now for Pittsburgh?", because that seems to work often. We always seem to have a Kevin Hart to dangle in front of THEM. Too bad Jason Bay was traded a while ago - he would be ideal. Bay may be a free agent, though. What will Matt Holliday want to do - will he want to stay in CrackerTown, or will he go for the money? Either way, both these guys will also cost our #1 draft pick. Brad Hawpe, Raul Ibanez and Andre Either aren't available - how about Hunter Pence? That sumbitch would mean five more wins for us, even if he sat on our bench and spit seeds all year. Of course, Pence is not a free agent, and who would we trade for him? It is easy for us to sit here and wager that somebody would give us a Pence-like figure for our spare parts - Fontenot, Jake Fox, and Gorzellany. That ain't going to happen.
What happens to fill this spot will go a long way towards determining our 2010 success. Most likely, it will be a free agent, and will it be a Type A like Bay, a Type B like Mike Cameron, or someone like Austin Kearns? Cameron and Kearns bring in their own "Ifs", which would be run up the flagpole and flown alongside all the other "Ifs" for Cubs 101. If Zambrano can focus, If Soto gets in shape, If Ramirez' shoulder and Soriano's knee hold together, If the new right fielder works out better than the last six we've tried...
Every team has "Ifs" in the winter. It just seems like the Chicago Cubs have had more than their share the past 101 winters, and if it were me, as the new owner of the franchise, I would direct my efforts towards eliminating "Ifs" and establishing a solid core of near-certainties to build on, regardless of what my ledger sheet said. Of course, that's why I'm here, and Tom Ricketts is up there.
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The Cubs are in first! How lovely.
Considering the astounding number of talking heads and idiot columnists in the sports world these days, I'm kinda surprised no one wrote about this a few days back. The Cubs' sweep of the Reds was not an earth-shattering result, and did anyone really expect the Cardinals to beat the Phillies at home?
As a result, we get to have that, "If the season ended right now..." conversation as many times as we'd like today. Of course, we've still got more than one-third left of the season to play out before anything's decided. With that, I thought I'd take a look at both teams' upcoming schedules, to get a gauge on what's reasonable to expect going forward.
The Cubs and Cards each close out the month of July with a four-gamer. Both teams are at home, but the quality of their opponents isn't quite equal.
The Cubs take on the Astros, a team that has somehow played its way into third place in the NL Central. It's true that the offense has some pretty huge holes in it throughout the line-up. However, as you'll see in the upcoming Series Preview, the Cubs have a couple of tough pitching match-ups ahead of them. Neither of the first two games (Z vs. Wandy, Demp vs. Oswalt) will be easy wins by any means. If the Cubs drop both, they'll need Randy Wells and Kevin Hart to pitch well against Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz to salvage a series split.
At the same time, it doesn't look like the Cardinals will have much of an advantage in any of their match-ups, either. Their series probables are: Wolf vs. Carpenter, Billingsley vs. Wainwright, Kershaw vs. somebody (TBA), and Kuroda vs. Lohse. If Carp and Wainwright go nuts, the Cards might get lucky with Lohse and take three of four. More likely, they'll split, or worse.
It'll be important for the Cubs to pick up a game on their way into August, because it'll be a tough month to try to stay in the lead.
Generally, there's the issue of opponents' winning percentage. The Cards take on teams with a collective .449 winning percentage, while the Cubs take on a schedule with a .490 percentage.
There are a few key series that explain the difference in strength of schedule. The Cardinals have arguably one tough series, a three-gamer at Los Angeles. In contrast, the Cubs have three difficult series in August: four games of their own at Dodger Stadium, playing host for three games to the Phillies, and four games in Colorado against a surprisingly spunky Rockies team.
Pitching match-ups and reinforcements from the disabled list will hopefully give the Cubs the extra oomph they need to carry the division lead into September. In the meantime, it'll be important to take advantage of this next series, to try to get some breathing room before heading into August.
In sports, the window closes.
Any team that decides to make a move for the championship will select a few key stars to lead their team for the foreseeable future. In Detroit, the Pistons had a solid starting five of Rip, Sheed, Chauncey, Ben and Prince for years. In Indianapolis, the Colts offense spent many years revolving around Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Eddgerin James.
The problem with the concept of the "core" is that, eventually, they get old. Just a couple years after winning it all, the Boston Celtics will have this problem, with KG, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all aging quickly (and three good knees between them). The Phoenix Suns' core of Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, and Shawn Marion has already been dissolved, even without having won a championship.
In Chicago, the Cubs have their core. They've invested tens of millions of dollars in three position players that simply can't be moved. For the foreseeable future, third base belongs to Aramis Ramirez; Derrek Lee owns 1B; and Soriano gets left field. That's how it is.
The Cubs' offensive core has had their days. They tasted the postseason in 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately, those days were short. But more importantly, they happened--this team had its chance.
As our core ages, as Aramis' shoulder acts up, as Derrek's neck spasms continue to flare, as Soriano's quick hands start slowing down, we're beginning to notice a major flaw with the group. Fans are convinced, along with the team's manager, that this group needs a lefty power bat to win.
Unfortunately, there's no place to put that bat. We've decided on our core, and there really isn't a lot of wiggle room one way or the other.
Jim Hendry tried to fill the lefty power gap by signing players like Fukudome and Bradley. In doing so, I think Hendry was wise not to ignore one crucial element of the game--defense. The guys we've got are not oafs. Bradley's brain hasn't quite caught up to his legs yet, but the guy can still move around.
As an example, look at the top five lefty outfielders in slugging this season: Raul Ibanez, Brad Hawpe, Adam Dunn, Jason Bay, and Jonny Damon. Those guys will all most assuredly see a rapid decline in their defensive skills over the next one to three years, assuming of course that it hasn't happened already.
Basically what I'm saying is--if you're convinced that the Cubs need a left-handed power bat to win it all (and I'm almost convinced of the fact at this point), then you're going to have to wait until 2011, when Lee vacates his spot at first base, for a championship team on the North Side of Chicago.
Until then, perhaps you should advocate having the Cubs act as sellers in the trade market, to prepare them for their next run. At this point, I think that's the side I'm on.
Despite the "predictions" tag I used, I'm not trying to be Goatstradamus here or anything. I am not saying that this is what I expect to happen. I'm not even saying that the guys who decide about things on these matters will agree with me. But if today was opening day and in a moment of frantic desperation Jim Hendry called me up for advice, this is the Cubs team I'd trot out to face the league.
1. Carlos Zambrano - Arm problems? Inconsistent delivery? Loss of "ace" status to Ryan Dempster last October? Zambrano remains the best Big Game Pitcher the Cubs have.
2. Ryan Dempster - A 17-game winner and receiver of a large contract this past winter, Dempster probably won't have as good a 2009 but he should still be a reliable #2 starter.
3. Ted Lilly - The Ice Man has been worth every dollar of his contract so far. Another 17-game-winner, Lilly just might be the best #3 pitcher in the NL.
4. Rich Harden - Call him the defacto 5th starter if you want, but it's an insult to his talent to even have him listed as the #4 guy. If Harden had a healthy arm, he'd be a perennial Cy Young contender. If he can be healthy enough to give the Cubs 25+ starts in 2009, then he'll be hands-down the best #4 pitcher in the game.
5. Jeff Samardzija - My first controversial pick! Here's the logic: he's proven that, in a limited capacity, he can pitch effectively in the Major Leagues. He's young, will certainly encounter growing pains, may get his ass handed to him from time to time, but pitching for an offensive juggernaut on a team with four other extremely talented guys in the rotation means that there is room to grow. In other words, the Cubs can afford to allow the Shark to struggle. And while he is unlikely to have the same impact as the '98 version of Kerry Wood, he just might be one of those feel-good stories that comes along every once in a while.
Note: The next section has been edited on account of how I forgot about Heilman. Vizcaino has subsequently been moved to long relief and Heilman has been inserted into the MR role. My official take is this: if Guzman gets "awarded" another option, let him start out in Iowa out of the rotation. If he doesn't, then his fate will be determined by the guys who are gunning for the 5th spot of the rotation. If Shark actually does win, Guz is done. If Shark loses and starts his year in Iowa, then Guzman becomes the defacto Long Reliever, Vizcaino gets bumped back to Middle Relief, and all is well.
LR - Luis Vizcaino - He's sort of the forgotten man on the Cubs pitching staff, at least by fans. From 2004 to 2006, he was a reliable arm. In '07 he was Howry-like, and in '08 he was even worse. The good news is that he remains an effective strikeout pitcher (which tells us a little bit about his stuff). The bad news is he gave up a Howry-load of homeruns in '08 (even though he was pitching in Colorado, but he gave up an even number of homers at home and on the road). If he can rebound, he'll be a reliable arm. If not, he'll just be another Gas Can. But he won't be able to do too much damage as a long reliever if he's running on fumes.
LHMR - Neal Cotts - I don't like him. Watching him pitch is a sweat-inducing experience. Unfortunately he's entrenched and I doubt that any other lefty reliever can outperform him.
RHMR - Aaron Heilman - He wants to start but he might not get the chance. He's possibly good enough to serve in the setup role, perhaps even better than Gregg if he finds his groove again. When you consider how unreliable the Cubs pen was after its three best pitchers, and you then look at this year's bunch, it's really Heilman who puts them over as having improved. With him - and even with Cotts and Vizcaino occupying roster spots - the Cubs might be five strong out of the pen -- and that sort of thing can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
RHMR - Chad Gaudin - Gaudin wants to start. Can't say I don't blame him. In my pretend scenario, he lost the gig fair and square to Samardzija. Last year as a Cub he was pretty good until he got hurt and was Piniella's whipping boy in the August 22nd game against the Nationals. Based on his age and ability, I'd expect him to be reliable.
LHSU - Sean Marshall - Not that he's shown a ton of ability to be an Out pitcher, but between he and Cotts it's a no-brainer. If Piniella needs a lefty in the 8th inning, Marshall will be his guy in '09 in this pretend scenario.
RHSU - Kevin Gregg - It's true - Carlos Marmol is better for this job. For 2 years, Kevin Gregg has been a reliable-if-not-unimpressive closer. If baseball was a computer game, I'd assign this gig to Marmol. Since baseball is played by people with egos, it goes to Gregg.
CL - Carlos Marmol - The most dominating setup man of my lifetime has earned his shot to close. I can't see why he'd fail. Marmol shutting down the opposition in the 9th would be a refreshing change on the North Side.
C - Geovany Soto - In his second full season, I'd hope and expect Geo to have a year similar to that of many premier catchers in their second full years. In his second year, Johnny Bench saw his OPS go up by almost 100 points. Carlton Fisk saw his power numbers go up, but his AVG dropped by about .50 points. Pudge Rodriguez's OPS went up by about 70 points. Mike Piazza's numbers were almost identical. Granted, none of that is at all relevant to Soto. But I do not think he'll do worse, and based on his age he could do better.
1B - Derrek Lee - If they made a movie about Lee's life at this moment, maybe they'd call it The Slow Decline. I'd still expect Derrek to be a reliable bat in the lineup and glove in the field, although he was defensively shaky in '08.
2B - Mike Fontenot - Bats lefty? Check. Good pop to his swing? Check. Gritty? Check. Shawty has played well and I expect that he will earn his way to the starting role come April.
SS - Ryan Theriot - I believe that Theriot will probably produce numbers somewhere between his '07 and '08 output. That would land him at a .287 AVG, 25 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, and about a 75% base stealing success percentage. Oh, and his OPS would be at .358. Actually that about puts him right where he'd need to be to leadoff. More on that later.
3B - Aramis Ramirez - I don't think Ramirez will hit 38+ homeruns again, as he appears to have elected not to go the Sammy Sosa route in terms of career progression. But at 30, he is still well within the window of legitimate Massive Production. If A-Ram has the kind of year he is capable of, then the Cubs opponents will weep.
Lf - Alfonso Soriano - This guy is bound to stay healthy sooner or later, right? I mean, he was never injury prone before he began dodging Wrigley Field potholes, so we may have a healthy '09 to look forward to for Sori. Imagine the kind of runs the Cubs would score if he was smashing the ball with regularity all season long.
CF - Kosuke Fukudome - Before he came to Chicago and tried to bring back the twist, Fukudome was a pure hitter of science and grace. Call me crazy, but I believe he could return to form. Maybe he'll never be a hitter of Matsui/Ichiro proportions, but if he can actively increase his offensive output in 2009 then the Cubs will have a phenomenal lineup.
RF - Milton Bradley - Crazy Milton had the best OPS in baseball last year. He walks a ton. He hits the ball a ton. He gets injured a ton. He hasn't had a healthy year since 2004. Maybe he's due?
C - Paul Bako - What does Paul Bako have in common with only two Cubs on the current roster? He's played for the Cubs when they won playoff games and a playoff series. Not that it means much. I can't believe he'll live up to the work of Henry Blanco, but as a backup how much will it matter?
IF - Aaron Miles - He's replacing the versatility of Mark DeRosa without the actual hitting ability. He's spent time playing every position but catcher and first base, and while he's not a homerun hitter, Miles does get his fair share of singles. If he can match his career averages of .289 in a limited capacity, then he might be extremely valuable in 2009.
IF - Luis Rivas - Based on their current available players, the unlikelihood of pursuing another Nomar, and their undeniable need for another infielder who can play shortstop, it's pretty hard to deny that Rivas will break camp with the Cubs in April. He's offensively about as exciting as Neifi Perez was in his heyday, but as long as he isn't as stupid with the glove as Ronny Cedeno was, I can't see him being any worse.
OF - Reed Johnson - Reed Johnson is one of the best bargains Jim Hendry has acquired in recent years. Picked up off the scrapheap after back surgery, Reed delivered unto the Cubs a great performance in 2008. Based on his consistency (apart from the year of the back surgery), it's safe to bet that Reed will see more at bats than any other backup outfielder in 2009, and he should do well there.
OF - So Taguchi - Probably the second most controversal "choice" I've made, this selection is where Childhood Dreams go to die. Micah Hoffpauir turns 29 in a week or so and had a great month with the Cubs last year. Joey Gathright is a 27-year-old bases-stealing fool. Taguchi can converse fluently in Kosuke Fukudome's native tongue. I love Hoffpauir, but I don't think it's realistic that he will be a successful major leaguer. I've made this point before, so here it is again: if he's as good as you think he is, then how come he's on the bubble with the Cubs and not a single Major League GM has attempted to acquire him? Don't you think a tight-budgeted team would spring at the chance to acquire a guy who - according to you - will outperform Derrek Lee and his 12 million dollar 2009 contract? Sorry, just thought I'd point that out. Anyway, probably Gathright is the better choice, although both he and Taguchi both suck fairly badly. There are really only two things working in So's favor - a) he could be a friend for Fukudome, and b) he bats righty, and the Cubs have a lot of lefty bench bats.
Lineup and unscientific projections:
Taking this scenario a step further, below is how I'd bat 'em and how I think they might do (if the stars align correctly)
1. Ryan Theriot - .285 AVG, .350 OBP, 30 SB, 5 CS
2. Mike Fontenot - .285 AVG, .350 OBP, 30 2B, 15 HR, 5-10 SB
3. Aramis Ramirez - .300 AVG, .370 OBP, 40 2B, 35 HR
4. Milton Bradley - .300 AVG, .400 OBP, 40 2B, 25 HR
5. Alfonso Soriano - .285 AVG, .340 OBP, 40 2B, 40 HR, 20 SB
6. Derrek Lee - .290 AVG, .350 OBP, 30 2B, 20 HR
7. Geovany Soto - .280 AVG, .340 OBP, 30 2B, 25 HR
8. Kosuke Fukudome - .280 AVG, .360 OBP, 30 2B, 10-15 HR, 10-15 SB
That would be potent. It's also surely on the high side a little but don't forget, we are blogging from pretend land today.
Anyway, I like this team. I like the roster. The rotation is solid, the bullpen isn't weak, the lineup is amazing (and probably could score the most runs in all of baseball), and there is enough depth for me to not feel too worried about potential injuries.
Billingsley - 3.65 ERA, 6.6 IP
Zambrano - 3.63 ERA, 7 IP
I know that my projection for Dempster was lower than my projection for Zambrano, but I think Z is the better pitcher. Marcels is a "dumb" projeciton system, and it can't tell the difference between a low ERA compiled as a reliever and a low ERA compiled as a starter. And my method of generating ERA from components seems to perpetually underrate Zambrano. Also, Zambrano is much more of a horse than Dempster, and much more likely to take us deep into ballgames.
Cubs expected win percentage is .561, a healthy jump up from last night's dismal odds. Today we are truly putting a better team on the field than the Dodgers (without home field advantage the Cubs would have been favored to lose last night's game). Let's capitalize.
Now, pitching projections. These are nothing more than basic Marcels, using BaseRuns to generate ERA. They now take into account strength of team defense:
Dempster, 3.47 ERA
Lowe, 3.60 ERA
This year, the Dodgers' bullpen outpitched the Cubs' bullpen, with a 3.76 RA to the Cubs' 4.58 RA. Low has also pitched deeper into games. So the Dodgers have the slight edge in pitching going into tonight's game, 3.87 RA to 4.01 RA projected.