Posted on 18 January 2011.
“We shocked the world”.
Those words are uttered in only two cases. Absolute disasters, or sports miracles. It’s kind of bizarre, but in no other situation do you ever hear of anyone saying that the world was shocked. Ever. Even with Obama’s election, perhaps some of the world was surprised but no one stated that he had shocked the world, or that our country had shocked the world given our election’s result…and that was a historical Presidential election.
Many would consider the Cubs winning the World Series to be an absolute sports miracle. If the Cubs were to in fact win the World Series, become the champions of the world in the world of baseball…you can bet a LOT of money that someone will use that phrase. Someone will flat out state that the Cubs’ victory over the Boston Red Sox (yeah, that’s right, the Boston Red Sox) surprised the entire world, our entire planet, so much that it is in shock. Chicago? Certainly. Boston? Yes. Canada? Um, ok. Bangladesh? Paris? Sydney? Helsinki??? Intrigued? Perhaps? Shocked? No.
If the Cubs were to win the World Series then yes, someone will say they shocked the world. In reality? They would have made millions of Cubs fans VERY happy and many baseball fans or people who have a heart would happily give them a pleasant smile, perhaps a teary eye and a ‘that’s cool’ sentiment considering the over a century long drought the team has suffered through and well, to not feel something towards a group of people who suffered for so long…yes, you’d have to be heartless to not. However, I feel shocked is a bit of a stretch.
The streak itself lends itself as the only evidence you truly need to NOT be shocked by the Cubs winning the World Series. Over ONE HUNDRED years without a championship. Others have done it much more quickly. The Mets. The Marlins. In fact, every single team that has won a championship has done it within a shorter waiting period of time than the Cubs would have with the current streak at 102 years and counting. Give me a break ‘shocked’. The Cubs are DUE.
You know what I think would be shocking? If the Royals win the World Series in 2011. If the Pirates win the World Series in 2011. If the Orioles win the World Series in 2011. And yes, even if the Phillies win the World Series in 2011 I’d be shocked because how often do you actually meet expectations and nothing goes wrong for your team to stop you from what should have been an easily accomplished, obvious to predict feat? In each of those scenarios, I would be SHOCKED.
If the Cubs win it? Not so much. Surprised? Elated? Thrilled? Speechless? Relieved? Absolutely. But after 102 years and with the roster that we have (that’s right, the roster that we have) I believe in one of the other age-old sayings in sports when it comes to predicting how a season will turn out. And that is: Why not us?
And really, why not us?
As far as I’m concerned, great teams need five key things to win it all and I believe the Cubs have the potential to meet every single criteria. Pitching, youth, veteran leadership, wise management, luck. Some are MUCH harder to come by, but I see no reason why the Cubs can’t land the money ball in every single category.
PITCHING: Our starters were great when it came to quality starts in 2010. Dempster is about as reliable as it gets and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. He’s the rock of the rotation for 2011 now that Lilly is gone and there is no reason to think he can’t be the leader in the starting five. Zambrano is equal parts talent and equal parts imbalance. That’s what many believe, I don’t buy it. Zambrano is extremely talented and capable of doing great things, proven in his overall Cub record, leading the team in the past five Opening Day starts, throwing a no-hitter, being a dominant figure on the mound and the way he finished the second half of last season. If he can start the way he did last year and finish the way he did last year, then Zambrano might just be capable of handling just about anything. And what are the odds that he will go from Opening Day starter, to bullpen, back to rotation with head issues in between mixed with being the center of a lot of team drama? Chances are that’s not going to happen again. I like Z’s chances of having a real quality 2011. Wells is working on showing people that his first year is the real Wells, not the sophomore slump guy we watched in 2010. I like that he can admit that he grew too big for his britches last year. Talent is great but mixed with maturity, it can go a long way.
Silva/Gorzelanny/Russell/ Cashner are practically interchangeable. No matter who ends up staying with the club, they will be the Cubs’ fifth starter and usually .500 seasons out of your number five guy is about all anyone hopes for. I know they are all capable of giving us that if not greater.
And of course, the Cubs’ new toy for 2011…the new piece on the showroom floor: Matt Garza. I was disappointed when I heard we were bringing in another guy this off-season but his name wasn’t Carlos. I really want to lead the league in Carloses (Carlosi? Carli?). I’m kidding….Matt Garza is possibly the missing link the Cubs have been looking for. 15 wins last season, an ALCS MVP and an all-around solid pitcher. Coming from an environment and culture similar to the Cubs where no one expected much, he knows what it is to help get a team from the basement to the penthouse of an incredibly competitive division. I like the Garza signing. I don’t think we gave up too much for him and I’m excited to have him as a key part of the Cubs starting rotation in 2011.
Marshall/Wood/Marmol. Is there a better bullpen trio in the league? Maybe only the Yankees and that’s only because they landed Soriano to match with Rivera. Rivera is a legend, but he’s also another year older. Even if they make the Cubs #2 in the league, I’d take it because in the grand scheme of things, being number two in the league regarding your top three bullpen guys is pretty damn good and nothing to complain about. I love the talent and potential we have to close games out now, starting with a lead going into the seventh and holding it throughout the rest of the game. 2010 was horrible for the Cubs when it came to one-run decisions. This next season? Not so much.
The Cards are strong with their 1-2 punch in Wainwright and Carpenter. The Reds are impressive with their young staff coming off a division title. The Brewers always seem to compete and will do so with Greinke in 2011. It’s not going to be easy, but pitching wins championships and I feel comfortable putting the Cubs staff up against any one else in the Central.
THE ROSTER: Our starting line-up, while somewhat premature considering it’s only January 14th and pitchers and catchers don’t even report until a month from now, is pretty much figured out for the most part. Not in any particular batting order, just a simple run-down of Cubs starters by position:
C – Geovany Soto – Talented young catcher, one of the best in the National League. Coming off an off year last year but recently signed an extension with additional money/increased salary. He’ll be looking to show the Ricketts and the fans that the Cubs didn’t make a mistake in signing him and avoiding arbitration. Also, all we have behind him is Koyie Hill really, so Soto, you have no choice. You need to be awesome…no relying on Koyie. Thanks.
1B – Carlos Pena – Our latest Carlos addition to the Cubs. Pena batted under .200 for the season in 2010. He was one of many one-year contracts that were doled out in the off-season (do that many people think they have a shot at Pujols?) and he is expected to bring the power bat necessary to replace Lee’s spot in the order. His glove is supposed to be reliable and his power numbers shouldn’t suffer at Wrigley. I like the signing, I think it has a lot of potential to work out and I believe his BA will rebound. God, help us if it doesn’t. I’m tired of anyone thinking Colvin is a good option at first and Lee’s already been exiled to Baltimore. This has a lot of potential to work and if he stays healthy, I believe it will.
2B – Blake Dewitt – I don’t expect much out of DeWitt and I believe Baker may even replace him come June or July. However, with the other guys in this line up, second base is a place that we really just need the flash and reliability of the glove on defense, not necessarily a whole lot of RBI. Just get on base and set the table for the guys we’re paying to knock in the runs Dewitt and we’ll all be happy.
SS – Starlin Castro – The club already has ads sporting Castro against Jeter, so yeah, the organization is high on Castro. All of the Cubs Con materials feature the youthful stars of the team and Castro, after finishing in the top 10 for the NL in hitting his rookie campaign is among the top of them. No sophomore on the team is expected to do more than Castro is, I believe the expectations on him are even higher than Soto’s were. Hopefully he lives up to them and continues to learn under Quade’s leadership.
3B – Aramis Ramirez – If Ramirez stays healthy (and I understand it’s a big IF) then he will be fine. He is playing at the end of his current contract and if he truly wants to stay in Chicago as a Cub, then 2011 is the time to prove the Cubs should pick up the 2012 option. He picked up his own option for 2011. The team has the call in 2012. Rami can put up big numbers healthy. I’ll be rooting for the trainers once again this year to see that it happens.
OF – Soriano, Byrd, Colvin, Fukudome – No, I don’t think we’re playing softball. I simply believe left to right we’ll start Sori, Byrd and Colvin and Fuke will sub in where needed. I believe we’ll be seeing Reed Johnson at Wrigley a bunch this year as well. Chances that five outfielders stay healthy and produce are very slim, however, I like our chances with the guys we’ve got. They all bring something different to the table and they are a talented bunch at that. Hopefully Byrd can repeat his All-Star caliber performance of 2010 in 2011 (it wouldn’t hurt for Sori to make a return to the All-Star stage as well. Just saying).
New manager: Mike Quade – Quade took a team playing for absolutely nothing and had them playing basically .600 ball. He proved to be a great leader in teaching the young stars on the team and the vets respect his long journey and knowledge he’s gathered throughout his life in the game. As of Opening Day, the entire team will be behind the idea of having him as their manager. Some more than others as some of them even went as far as publicly backing his selection before it was announced. Quade is going to get a chance to do something he’s always wanted to do and the players believe he can get them what they’ve always wanted to get. The same thing the city has always wanted to see. A title. A championship. A ring.
Given all the unknowns that happen to every single team throughout a baseball season, luck becomes a great factor, indeed. However, luck is out of our control as it is every other team in baseball so as for things we can control, I think the ingredients and potential are there. Let’s hope the execution and results show up as well.
Respect to the rest of the Central, the National League and the Red Sox (that’s right, the Red Sox…I don’t even think the Yankees are making the playoffs in 2011). I think it’s going to be a tough road to get there, but after 102 years…come on…we don’t expect it to be easy…and we’re due. Why not us? A Cubs fan predicting the Cubs will win the NL Central and then go on to win the World Series.
I know. Shocking.
Projected order of finish in the NL Central (rest of the league to follow in a post much closer to Opening Day):
1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Prose and Ivy