The Cubs finished last year on a disappointing note by sliding out of the
Wild Card race in the season’s final week. Fingers pointed in a number of
directions. The bullpen imploded. Where was the clutch hitting? Where was Sosa
during the last game of the year? Regardless of who you blame, coming within
five outs of the World Series as the team did in 2003 and then not making the
playoffs the next year left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many fans.
General Manager Jim Hendry’s approach has been to rid the clubhouse of any
possible distractions and what’s left is a team that can still contend in
the Central division if it stays healthy.
Backup catcher Henry Blanco (free agent); Left fielder/ second baseman
Jerry Hairston Jr. (trade); Jeromy Burnitz (free agent)
Right-handed pitcher Matt Clement (free agent); Left fielder Moises Alou
(free agent); Right fielder Sammy Sosa (trade); OF Tom Goodwin (free agent);
2B Mark Grudzielanek (free agent); C Paul Bako (free agent); RHP Kyle Farnsworth (trade)
1: LF Jerry Hairston Jr.
2: 2B Todd Walker
3: SS Nomar Garciaparra
4: 3B Aramis Ramirez
5: RF Jeromy Burnitz
6: 1B Derrek Lee
7: CF Corey Patterson
8: C Michael Barrett
Last year’s team had no problem hitting the long ball – the Cubs hit
235 homers, setting a franchise record. But home runs did not always equal
wins and too many of the team’s home runs came with no one on base. That
plus a lack of clutch hitting proved be the team’s main offensive weakness.
Hoping to help cure that problem this year will be Todd Walker stepping into
an everyday role. During the May and June when he was filling in for
Grudzielanek, Walker had one of the highest on-base percentages on the team
and Dusty Baker hopes that having him near the top of the order helps score
At last month’s Cubs Convention Baker mentioned that as of that moment
Patterson was still the team’s leadoff man, but with the addition of
Hairston Jr., that could change. Perhaps Baker missed the final month of the
season when Patterson all but destroyed a number of key rallies with an
untimely strikeout. Whether Patterson develops the mental state of a leadoff
hitter is the one of the team’s biggest question marks, but odds are
Hairston Jr. may get a chance to leadoff.
This year’s lineup will depend heavily on a healthy Nomar and Aramis to
help carry the offensive load. They’ll be helped out by Lee, and Burnitz,
who replaces Sosa in right field. He will be expected to replace what
was a powerful outfield with Alou’ 39 home runs and Sosa’s 35.
Rounding out the lineup is Barrett who, until the final few weeks of the
season, was a nice surprise offensively for the Cubs.
C Henry Blanco
IF Jerry Hairston Jr.
IF Neifi Perez
IF Jose Macias
OF Jason Dubois
OF Todd Hollandsworth
Signing Blanco to backup Barrett so far has been the lone big addition to
the team’s bench. Blanco has had success in the past and should serve as a
more than capable replacement for Barrett, but the rest of the bench is
questionable. Hollandsworth has been a solid pinch hitter and fourth
outfielder, when he's healthy, and Perez was a pleasant surprise towards the
end of last year filling in for an injured Garciaparra, but both player's
career trends show that they can’t be trusted in much more than a reserve
RH Kerry Wood
RH Mark Prior
RH Carlos Zambrano
RH Greg Maddux
LH Glendon Rusch
Regardless of the potential holes in their lineup, most Cubs fans sleep
easier at night knowing that the team has one of the best starting rotations
Kerry Wood and Mark Prior both are coming off disappointing and
injury-filled seasons. Wood never quite hit his stride and ended up with only
8 wins, and Prior only showed his brilliance the last few weeks of the season
— highlighted by a brilliant 16-strikeout performance against the Reds in
the final week. A healthy season for both is imperative this year if the Cubs
hope to stay in contention.
Zambrano had a breakout season last year and earned a number of votes in
the CY Young balloting. He was among the league leaders with a 2.75 ERA but
showed occasional lapses in concentration and had a habit of letting his fiery
temper get the best of him. But as he gets older (he’s only 24) and gains
more experience, Zambrano will continue to scare opposing batters.
Long-time Maddux critics are eager to point to 2005 as the year he finally
fails to reach 15 wins. Maybe that will happen or maybe it won’t, but the
Cubs can count on Maddux to be the symbol of professionalism and class on a
team that occasionally forgot about that. Maddux struggled to find a groove at
the beginning of last year but ended up sharing the team lead with 16 wins
along with Zambrano even with his highest ERA in 17 years.
Rusch will have a chance in Spring Training to earn the fifth spot in the
rotation and if he pitches the way he did last year, there’s no reason to
think he won’t earn it.
MR Latroy Hawkins
MR Joe Borowski
MR Ryan Dempster
MR Mike Remlinger
LR John Leicester
The Cubs failed to sign a closer this off season and instead stressed that
their closer was already on the team. But just who that person is, no one
knows. It could be Hawkins, who closed for the team after Borowski went down
with arm problems. Hawkins didn’t particularly shine during his stint as
closer — especially in the final week when he blew a number of key saves. If
he can return to the setup role he is much better suited for, and more
comfortable in, Hawkins should provide more than adequate middle relief.
Another possibility is Dempster, who has never closed before. He looks like
he might have the best chance and publicly has stated he’s interested in the
Borowski was fantastic in 2003, and seems to be getting written off after
an injury plauged '04, but could be a sleeper candidate although he too had
problems early last year.