Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guide Preview: Chicago Cubs

Continuing the trip through the NL Central, our second team preview takes us to the windy city and the Chicago Cubs. I have to admit, I don't exactly have the most positive feelings towards the Cubs. Living in Milwaukee, I see too many Cubs fans who have bad attitudes towards the city and the team (not that Jay Mariotti is the best example of anything, but there is this...). It's a classic big-city/small-city, white-collar/blue-collar thing, and can cause some slight annoyances at the ballpark.

I don't mean to disparage all of Cubs fandom, though. I know some terrific people, and some terrific baseball fans, who are Cubs fans. I just know that being the "small city" part of that dynamic can sometimes be rather frustrating. And while I may not be the biggest Cubs fan, I can recognize that they are the most talented team in the NL and have the best chance at not only the division crown but the pennant as well.

Anyhow, it's now time to take a look at how this season's preview guides are seeing the Cubs. As before, this preview isn't meant to be my personal opinion about the team's 2009 season. Instead, it's a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My intention is to refrain from providing any opinion because, while I may know enough about certain teams to make an educated prediction, I don't feel like I know enough about most teams to make a good guess. In fact, most of my knowledge about some of these teams (like maybe the Pirates or Blue Jays or Royals) will probably come straight from these magazines. Why repeat and dilute the source? So, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Chicago Cubs
Last Year: 97 - 64, 1st Place, NL Central


Predictions
Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News11
2.75*3.375*
Athlon11
3.5**3.625**
Lindy's11
----
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008


Team Notes

Apparently, there isn't much to figure out when it comes to the Cubs. With a large pool of talent, including potentially one of the best rotations in baseball, a great offense, talented young players like Geovany Soto, and a great manager, there isn't much to say about the Cubs except that they need to play through the season and somehow get past the issues that have seen them swept out of the last two postseasons.
"The Cubs have it all figured out during the regular season. It's the postseason that has them stumped. After back-to-back Central division titles and back-to-back 0-3 sweeps in the National League Division Series, the Cubs continue to build for the long haul. 'We had as good of a team as there was in the National League,' GM Jim Hendry says. 'We had the best record (97-64). We just played bad baseball for three days.' There is no magic wand to wave during the postseason to make the players hit, pitch and play better defense. Hendry dismisses critics who think the team is not built for October and hopes the team can prove him right by advancing deep into the postseason in 2009. (Athlon)"
In fact, the only debate involved with the Cubs is whether Milton Bradley will bat fourth or fifth and who will play centerfield more, Kosuke Fukudome or Reed Johnson. It's not exactly the worst debate a team can have heading into the season.
"After their predominantly righthanded lineup was muted in the playoffs by the Dodgers, the Cubs made Milton Bradley one of their offseason priorities and signed him in January. A switch-hitter, he provides versatility in the middle of the lineup and will get most of the at-bats in right field. Reed Johnson will be the primary centerfielder, but Kosuke Fukudome will get time in both center and right. Fukudome got off to an impressive start in his first US season but crashed and burned in the second half, hitting .217 and getting benched in the playoffs. Leftfielder Alfonso Soriano is still productive, but is not suited to lead off, consistently batting less than .300 and stealing 38 bases in his two seasons with the Cubs after swiping 41 for Washington in 2006. (Lindy's)"
The clubhouse character issue that Milton Bradley brings to the team, though, is cause for concern, when you consider the hot heads already in that locker room. It's only mentioned once in the three magazines, but I don't think it's insignificant.
"A guy like Bradley represents talent but always brings baggage to the clubhouse. Some people believe chemistry is overrated. We'll see with this team, which has had such issues before... (TSN)"
Still, the Cubs primary concern is staying healthy. If their super-talented rotation and infield can stay healthy, with the likes of Rich Harden and Derrek Lee playing regularly, the Cubs should have no problem making the postseason for the third year in a row.
"Final Analysis: After a full century without a World Series title, Cubs fans are getting tired of watching the team fail to win the ultimate prize. In fact, after two years of winning the division title only to fail miserably in the playoffs, the fans are getting downright irritated. The Cubs should be favored to win the division title for a third straight year, and if that happens, somehow the players need to transfer a little of their confidence and solid play from the regular season into the postseason. (Athlon)"

Spotlight Quote

From the "Scouts' Snapshot" section of the Lindy's:
"Everyone was screaming 'break up the Cubs' after they got swept by the Dodgers in the Division Series last year, but I don't see any reason for that. I don't think you can look at three bad games as a basis for tearing apart a good team. They have some flaws like every other team and could use a lefthanded bat, but they still stack up favorably with anybody in the National League."

3 comments:

The Common Man said...

lar,

I know you're striving to leave yourself out of these predictions, and I find that really interesting. At some point though, when all is said and done, it'd be interesting to read how you'd handicap the races this year.

lar said...

Well, my original plan was to give my predictions for how the season would turn near the end of spring training, when we all have a better idea of how things are looking. However, after writing a couple of these previews now, it seems pretty clear to me that they could use some kind of commentary from me besides what's already there. You should probably see something along those lines in the next couple of days. I'll make sure to add some comments to the previews I've already done too.

One problem I have is that, for some of these teams, I'll be able to write a lot (too much, probably) but for others I'll hardly have anything to say. I don't want to write a lot about a team if I don't know much. I'll handle that as it happens, though.

As for the Cubs, briefly: I think they're still the class of the National League. A great offense, potentially, and the best rotation in the league. I don't think I can see them winning 100 games though. There's bound to be some regression from some of these guys (Lilly, Dempster) and, more importantly, I don't think I trust their mental makeup. Piniella was very impressive with them last year, keeping them focused and playing good ball for 162 games, but I'm not sure he'll be able to do it again. The mental harm that they received last year from getting swept in the NLDS after being the cream of the crop all year isn't inconsequential, especially in a town like Chicago. The clubhouse is also full of hotheads, and Piniella may have a hard time controlling all of them.

Again, though, they're obviously the best team in the NL and I suspect they'll win 93 or 94 games and keep their spot at the top of the Central. From there, I can't say yet. A favorable matchup would help, certainly.

Paul said...

Mental harm, schmental harm. There's no crying in baseball. They are professionals and will perform as such. I don't think there's such a thing as "mental harm" that continues over from a previous season. The Cubs, if their big dogs stay healthy, will win the Central and by a good margin.