The Superlative Season
Maybe I should create a "philosophy of baseball" tag.
Despite the ribbing exchanged between myself and Rob, and I cannot blame him for exercising caution and thinking my tongue-in-cheek 110 win prediction is nuts. But there is a fundamental philosophical difference between Rob and I, one perfectly exampled by the recent exchange. (Thankfully the world - and even this blog - is big enough for the both of us to not only disagree, but to actually get along and respect one another.)
I am a blatant optimist. Even now, as I near my 30th birthday, having seen some gut-wrenching baseball seasons, I still believe in the concept of eventual possibility. I believe that anything that is possible will eventually happen, and although I've seen and read about enough to know I'm wrong, I also believe that things will usually work themselves out. I apply this philosophy to life outside of sports and can barely bring myself to act worried whenever I hear the latest bit of bad news about the economy or the job statuses of friends.
Rob is a realist leaning toward pessemism. I can't say that I blame him. A life of following the Cubs, intermixed with various trials, tribulations, and being a proverbial circle wedged into a square-shaped hole can leave a person feeling catious and caustic.
He'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Rob at this point in his life is looking for the superlative season. It's the year without questions, without shadows, without doubts. It's the year where you watch your favorite team play and are never left with a sick feeling in your stomach based on the outcome. The Cubs very well may win 100 games in 2009, but it won't be a superlative season for the following two reasons:
- No leadership. Leadership is a hot topic when it comes to the philosophy of baseball. Statheads - or statfags, as we may be called - will argue that "leadership" is such a vague concept that it's a) impossible to build a team around it and b) impossible to prove that a team with great clubhouse chemistry and a heralded leader will outperform a team with the best offensive numbers.
Still, this is a role that fans value, and it is one left unfilled on the Cubs. Derrek Lee is perhaps the modern day Andre Dawson - a consumate professional, liked by his teammates, but not the kind of guy who'll poke his teammates with a stick if they're in a lull. Aramis Ramirez is somebody with good clutch hitting skills - except in the last two playoffs, when he's evaporated - but, again, he doesn't weild a carrot or a stick.
My personal philosophy is that more important than a single leader is the general shape of the team's chemistry and outlook. Luckily, winning tends to breed good chemistry and the Cubs are in their third straight season of looking good.
- Shaky essentials. So, your team has the best offense in the league. Great! How's the bench look? And your team has a fantastic starting rotation. Awesome! But the middle relief corps?
The Cubs are a pretty deep team, and I've already written articles about how they can probably still win even while missing up to three regulars at one go. I'd say that while they need a backup third baseman, they're probably going to see good production from the bench. But the bullpen has been an entire other story.
Just ask Lou Piniella - Neal Cotts is on the Not To Be Trusted list. Hell, let's just call him that -- Not To be Trusted Cotts. Kevin Gregg, the apparent clubhouse slut, has yet to meet a lead that he didn't want to blow. Aaron Heilman, the jury's still out on. Luis Vizcaino might be this year's Bob Howry, pitching with a fork stuck in him. Angel Guzman - if he can stay healthy - is on his last leg's last leg. Dave Patton has never pitched in a ballpark that held more than 12,000 people before this year. Carlos Marmol is prone to lose effectiveness when overpitched, and with that cast of craptacular relievers on the team he will get overpitched.
Unless the Cubs are blowing out their opponents, then they just might not be able to hold onto 110 - or even 90 - leads this year. Incidentally, I'd argue that this issue is slightly more important than the leadership one, because as scary as a bad bullpen is in April, it's about a million times more frightening in October.
So, without trying to predict a win-loss record, those two concerns are probably weighing heavy on Our Rob when he looks ahead to the '09 baseball campaign. And that's where he and reach our philosophical differences. I'm not worried about either of those things. I'm not even scared by our shaky bullpen.
Which isn't to say that I don't have concerns. In my old age, I am no longer finding it as acceptable that Alfonso Soriano bats leadoff in Chicago. As appreciative as I am about the strengths of Lou Piniella, his flaws have me worried. And I know that no matter what happens, no matter who they acquire, no matter how many games they win the central by, October is a completely different story with a blank first page.
And still I believe. I guess that belief can be superlative too, and maybe mine is.