Leiber and the starters?
So we’re bringing back ol’ Liebs huh? Not what I was hoping for, but the big fella can throw strikes and everybody likes the guy. On paper, I have some concerns about the rotation heading into ’08. Z will be Z. He will continue his trend of being better at controlling his emotions, but it certainly will not last all season. He’ll have his allotted share of emotional lowlights. He’ll also likely win 15-20 games and continue to be one of the best starters in the National League. I have trouble believing that Lilly will be able to repeat his ’07 season despite his absolutely outstanding initial campaign with the Cubbies. He was 15-8 with a 3.83 ERA and a better than 3:1 K/BB ratio at 174/55.
There are two possibilities here. One: that Lilly simply came into his own at age 31. It’s possible, but not as likely as Two: in that he simply took advantage of making the switch from the American League to the National League. Usually pitchers have the advantage for a full year when they switch leagues, particularly when moving from the high-powered offenses in the AL to the bunting, stealing and double-switching NL. Lilly was undoubtedly a solid #2 last year. A big key to the Cubs repeating as the Central champs will be if Lilly can match his ’07 numbers. Having a true # 2 from the left side, especially one who is a completely opposite pitcher to your #1, is a valuable commodity.
#3 Rich Hill. Now that Hill has figured out the strike zone and is relaxing a little, he’ll slot in the middle of the rotation nicely. I don’t think he’ll ever be the # 1 that he could be, (I don’t see him being able to handle the BIG game) but he’s as good of a #3 as you’ll find around the NL. The picture becomes quite a bit more muddy after slot 3, hence the acquisition of Leiber. The Cubs already had Marquis and clubhouse comedian starter-turned closer-turned back to starter, Dempster (gulp) ready to settle into the #4 and #5 spots respectively. Fortunately, Hendry took a look at that and decided it was sub-par. At this past weekend’s annual Cub Convention, he threw the doors wide-open on the competition for the back-end of the rotation. Marquis and Dempster will be there, but Leiber and young arms Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher, and Kevin Hart will have a go at it as well. Piniella is big on competition instead of just handing the job to the veteran (see Theriot over Izturis at SS last season, amongst others). It may be why the Cubs were able to go from last to first. Now, on the 100th anniversary of their last Series crown, can they stay there?
Infielder or Outfielder?
Word around the inter-web is that Baltimore is simply asking too much for sometimes-steroids-user Brian Roberts. Although he would clearly be an asset to the team, I’m not convinced the Cubs should meet Andy McPhail’s (spelled F-A-I-L) high asking price. So the search has migrated to finding a right-handed OF bat to complement left-handed hitting Felix Pie (or up and comer CF Sammy Fuld). Rumors point to Shannon Stewart (good bat, no arm), Marlon Byrd (never fulfilled potential) and Kenny Lofton (forty year old who still plays like he’s twenty-three and my personal favorite; .367 OBP last year). Hendry won’t have to give up much for one of those RH CF’s. My guess is that by the next 2ON2OUT, we’ll know who this is.
Here’s to Rich “Goose” Gossage on being inducted into Cooperstown. Goose played for the Cubbies in ’88 and all the kids in the neighborhood absolutely loved that handle-bar mustache and electric fastball. Unfortunately, one of Gossage’s biggest claim-to-fame moments was pitching the final two innings of Game 5 in the ’84 NLCS for San Diego after they had scored four runs in the seventh inning to take a 6-3 lead against the Northsiders. He iced it by getting Keith Moreland to hit into a force play for the final out. We’ll forgive him. Cheers Goose.
Hey, by the way folks…pitchers and catchers report in 18 days. I don’t know about you, but I woke up and it was 30 degrees today. There’s nothing that warms up winter faster than the phrase “Pitchers and Catchers reporting”. Nice.