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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cubs Preview #3- 3/24/08

Roster Spot #8- 2B/3B/SS/1B/OF- Mark DeRosa #7
Ht: 6'1'' Wt:205 Bats: Right Throws: Right

I'll f*&king show that Code Red guy.

Alright, Mark. I'm a big enough man to admit when I'm wrong. I wrote you off before you ever even stepped on the field in a Cubs uniform. I laughed at the Cubs for giving you that 3 year, 13 million deal. I called you a one-year wonder, said that you'd never repeat your .296, 13 hr, 74 RBI, .354 OBP of 2006. I scoffed that you'd hit no higher than .260 I remarked that you'd be blocking Ryan Theriot at 2nd base, since he hit 30 points higher than you in '06 and would probably do it again. I went so far as to call you a right-handed Todd Walker. Todd Walker, Mark. I'm so very very sorry.

Wrong on Count 1: Mark did indeed nearly copy his 2006, posting a .290, 10 hr, 72 RBI, .371 OBP in 2007.

Wrong on Count 2: As noted, Mark did hit higher, much higher, than .260.

Wrong on Count 3: Mark did not block Ryan Theriot, as Theriot wound his way over to shortstop and teamed with Mark to give the Cubs their best middle infield in several years.

Wrong on Count 4: Mark hit 24 points higher than Theriot in 2007.

Right on Count 5: Mark IS Todd Walker.

Which one's Mark? Eh? EH?

Outside of making me look like a total Ass Clown on 4 of my 5 points, DeRosa made several other solid contributions to the 2007 Cubs. Mark's primary value, as Cubs fans learned, is in his versatility as he rotated from position to position on the field, filling in for injuries and ineffectiveness everywhere from 3rd base to right field. Mark finished the season with 149 games played, 93 at 2nd base, 37 at 3rd, 22 in right field, 9 at first, 1 in left field, and 1 at shorstop.

This spring DeRosa has had to battle trouble with a heart murmur which required surgery and the ever present Brian Roberts rumors. Now Mark, its nothing personal as you have greatly earned my respect this season, but I do hope to acquire Roberts, as he does have the one skill you lack: speed. The team needs a true leadoff hitter and Roberts would be that. But even Brian Roberts won't keep DeRosa out of the lineup, as I have no doubt Lou Piniella would find a way to get him those 93 games at some other position. I also have no doubt, this time, that DeRosa will play well.

Cubs Preview #2- 3/24/08

Roster Spot 9- C- Geovany Soto #18
Ht: 6'1'' Wt: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right

He ain't no Robert Machado..

Quick, name the last Cub catcher you can think of who was both defensively and offensively above-average. Michael Barrett could hit but was a defensive liability at best, and more often played catcher like the Cubs had put Joe from Johnny Got His Gun behind the plate(, and also failed to block Carlos Zambrano's fist from connecting with his mouth. Todd Hundley back in 2001 and 2002 was supposd to provide offense behind the plate, but managed to hit only .187 and .211, respectively, and was shipped off to the Dodgers after earning the place of "Worst Cub of My Lifetime" in the eyes of Bad Kermit of Hire Jim Essian! and no doubt holds that spot for many Cubs fans. The 1990s featured a parade of mediocre backstops, from what was left of Benito Santiago to Scott Servais to Joe Girardi. Really, besides one freak 30 homer season from Rick Wilkins in 1993, the last Cubs catcher to combine a solid average, 20+ homer potential, and plus defensive skills was Jody Davis from 1981-1988. This year the Cubs hope to change that with rookie catcher Geovany Soto.

Soto went from minor league mediocrity all the way up to starting for the Cubs in the playoffs. After 6 season in the minors where he never hit above .271 or slugged more than 9 homers, Soto dropped over 20 pounds in the '06-07 offseason and came into spring training with the Cubs and impressed the big league staff. At AAA Iowa last year Soto tore up the Pacific Coast League, with a .353 avg., 26 hrs, 109 rbis, a .424 OBP and a .652 slugging % in only 110 games. Geovany managed to give some evidence that his minor league numbers might not have been a mirage by ripping .389 in 18 games in the majors last September, with 3 hrs, 8 rbis, a .433 OBP and a .667 slugging %.

There are many people doubting whether or not Soto can duplicate last year's success at the major league level, and they point to Soto's .217 spring training average. I for one side with those who believe in Geovany (among the Geovany boosters is my girlfriend, who I believe just likes the name Geovany) and expect big things from him. I personally also believe he'll do a great deal to balance the strikeout prone Cubs offense, as even in his mediocre minor league years he posted frequent on-base percentages in the .350 range, and never struckout more than 94 times (if that still seems high, Derrek Lee of the .400 OBP struck out 117 times last year ).

I'm not expecting Geovany to replicate his 26 homers of 2007 in the majors, at least not right away (though I wouldn't be surprised if he did), but i think a .280-.300 average, with 15-20 homers and 70-90 RBIs isn't beyond reason, which would put him well ahead of all previous Cubs catchers.

On the defensive side, Geovany had a very solid career .992 fielding percentage in the minors and in his brief call up with the Cubs last year the Cubs pitchers managed a 3.60 ERA with Geovany behind the plate, and he posted a 1.000 percentage in 16 games behind the plate for the Cubs last year.
So here's to Geovany and the hope that he can continue what we saw from him in 2007. If so he wouldn't have far to go to capture the lightly contested title of Greatest Cub Backstop of the 21st Century.

Cubs Preview 3/24/08

We enter the top ten, and thanks to another weekend I have three more to do today. So unto...

Roster Spot 10-P-Kerry Wood #34
Ht: 6'5'' Wt: 220 Bats: Right Throws: Right

Make us proud..

The news officially broke today: Kerry Wood has been named the Cubs closer for the 2008 season. We can only hope that this is the start of the second glorious phase of Kerry's career, where he becomes a superstar once more, albeit in a different role than originally imagined. We all remember Kerry Wood as a starter. The 71 wins, the fastest ever to 1,000 strikeouts, the domination of Atlanta in the '03 playoffs, and of course, the 20 strikeout game. At ten years old I watched with the rest of Cubs fandom as the 20 year old rookie Kerry pitched what I would argue to be the most dominant pitching performance in history. There have been perfect games, of course, which Wood's was not. There have been no hitters, yes, and Wood did give up one dribbling grounder to future Cub Ricky Gutierrez that I still feel should have been ruled an error, but in no perfect game or no hitter has any pitcher approached 20 strikeouts. The only other man to do it is the man who has done it twice, Roger Clemens, a man now slandered with steroid accusations. On that day in May of 1998, Kerry was as powerful as any pitcher could dream of being, and I will maintain until someone does better that I watched the greatest game ever pitched that day. For those of you who didn't see it, here's a brief recap of the strikeouts:

But that was then, this is now. Its really hard to believe that its been a decade since we saw Kerry annihilate the Astros and thought that we were watching the kid who would bring us back to the promised land. A decade in which Kerry has risen and fallen again and again, only to fall prey to some other injury, some other roadblock between him, the Cubs, and glory. There were highs almost as high as the 20 K game, like his pairing with Mark Prior to take the Cubs nearly to the World Series in '03, or his duel against Roger Clemens that same year. But mostly there have been lows: the arm surgery after 98 that kept him out of the majors for all of 1999 and most of 2000. His struggles to rebuild his velocity and control. His loss of game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. His shoulder and arm problems in '05. Then came 2006, and his final arm injury that forced us all into the painful realization that we'd never see him start again for the Cubs, if we were to even see him at all. With his contract up after 2006, another surgery on the horizon, and the Cubs looking elsewhere, we thought we finally had to say goodbye to Kid-K.

But Kerry didn't leave. In a move so unlike so many of the greedy, me-only baseball players of today, Kerry told the Cubs to pay him what they felt he was worth, and steeled himself to face his next surgery and return to the Cubs as a bullpen ace. In something so bizarre to the modern athlete, and so rewarding to the fans, he stated that he felt he owed Us something, and carved in stone his place as the pitcher every Cubs fan would always root for. In 2007 he worked his way back, rehabbed his shoulder through a recovery period that was at one point so painful he nearly called the Cubs to tell him that he was going to retire. But return he did, to a standing ovation on an August night at Wrigley Field. 22 times he took the mound for the Cubs from August to the end of the season, working his way into a valuable setup role by going 1-1 with 3.33 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 24.3 innings.

As spring training started Kerry entered the closer competition with Marmol and Howry, though no one questioned who most Cubs fans were rooting for. Kerry did not disappoint this spring, as his fastball popped the mitt once more at 98 mph. In 10 innings Kerry struckout ten batters and posted a 3.60 ERA, and despite the health questions popping up once more after a one day bout with back spasms, he proved he could pitch on back -to-back days and locked down the role he seemed destined to from the moment his arm failed him as a starter.

So once more the dance begins. This is, in all probability, the last chance for Kerry to claim the greatness that once seemed inevitable for him. I for one believe he will succeed. But when it comes to Kerry Wood, just like all other aspects of being a Cubs fan, it was always about believing.