Well, unless you’re under a proverbial rock by now you know that the Cubs carried into June the best record in baseball. You know that this is the first time they’ve done this since…yep, 1908. You know that this is the hundred year anniversary of that accomplishment, as well as a second one: World Series Champion. In order for the Cubs to repeat the more important accomplishment of 1908, here is a first draft of things that need to happen:
List after the jump…
1. I’m starting with what I feel, at this time, is the most important and controllable step the Cubs can make to win the World Series with the 2008 club: Trade for a top-flight starter at the deadline. Now I’m not talking about a Jeff Suppan or Tom Glavine, and I’m not even talking about a solid, steady consistent winner like Mike Mussina. I’m talking about a Jake Peavy or Tim Lincecum-type. A dominant pitcher.
I don’t care if Hendry has to empty the farm. As Cubs fans know, this opportunity doesn’t come around all that often. Once a quarter century by my count and therefore, they should do whatever it takes. Ted Lilly is not a number two and as much as I love what Dempster has done so far this year, I worry about his stamina having been a reliever the past three seasons. He’s fine as a number three, but not as a number two. We need a robin to Zambrano’s batman; a duo like Arizona had in ’01 with Schilling and Johnson. Let’s make it happen.
2. As the Rockies are reminding everyone in 2008, just because you caught the magic one year, doesn’t guarantee that it will happen again the following year.This is especially true if you don’t continue to improve (and add depth) to your team in the off-season (see ’04 Cubs). Plus, the Rockies have been decimated by injury. The have nine players on the DL and lost three of their key players in a two game stretch a week or so ago. This can happen to any team, at any time. We need this to not happen to the ’08 Cubs. Soriano is still limping around the outfield and we didn’t have Eyre for 6 weeks, but otherwise, the team has been pretty healthy. Three players we cannot lose: Ramirez, Lee, Zambrano. If any of these players miss significant time, we’ll have our hands full with teams like the Phillies, Cardinals, Dbacks and Braves. Particularly when Ramirez isn’t in the heart of the batting order, this team just doesn’t hit the same. So fellas, take it easy on off-days and just take the time this year to follow the trainer’s set of boring pre-game stretching routines.
3. The Cubs are now 26–8 at home, but as any good Reds fan will remind you, have played 34 at home and only 23 on the road. That’s about to change in June and July. Plenty of road games to come starting with a lovely west coast swing this week. The magic just hasn’t been there when the club isn’t in The Confines (so far) this year. I’m not sure what the difference is. The players cite the screaming Wrigley faithful, and I can buy that to a degree, but they’ve been screaming for this team for years and those empty Old-Styles have yet to produce anything close to a 26–8 home record in April and May. This leads me to believe it’s not about the setting, but the team. I see no reason why they can’t at least play the necessary .500 ball on the road. They are currently 10–13; this must improve, albeit not necessarily drastically, but it must improve if they are to take this train all the way home.
4. On-Base Percentage. It’s June 2 and the Cubs lead MLB with an .367 OBP and a delicious .818 OPS (On-Base plus Slugging). These are the gold stats; keep these high and we’re in really good shape in October.
5. Continued contributions from unlikely sources have been essential. What’s impressive to me about these unsung heroes is that they’re doing them the right way: getting on-base, throwing strikes, getting key hits and not complaining. With disappointments like Rich Hill’s control and Sean Marshall’s hamstring, the Cubs really needed a few kids and vets to step forward, lets look at the list:
a. Ronny Cedeno. For years this kid’s potential has been discussed, and the Cubs have been patient with him. The benefits are finally spilling over. The kid is still only 25 and he has a .381 OBP (10 BB/only 12K). He’s slick with the glove and would start on 20 other MLB teams.
b. Sean Gallagher. Only 22 years old, Gallagher was called to the big club probably a little before his time, but with Hill and Marshall out, he’s gotten the job done. He’s 3–1 and he throws strikes. In his last 12 2/3 he’s given up only three runs while striking out eleven.
c. Scott Eyre. Now I’ve ripped Eyre all season, but it’s time to look at the numbers. After nine appearances since his season-opening DL stint, he’s given up zero runs. That’s right: 0.00 ERA. That’s production from an unlikely source. Well done Scotty.
d. Ryan Dempster. The closer to starter thing only works for Hall of Famer’s like John Smoltz right? Maybe not. Seven wins in 2 months, and on pace for a 21 win season? Keep it up and he’ll help pitch us to the title.
e. Kosuke Fukudome. Four-year $48 million contract. High risk? Only some of the Japanese players have been able to make it work in the USA, and only Ichiro has been able to make it work this fast. From the 3-run homer on opening day to his ability to get on base some way, some how in almost every clutch situation, he’s delivered. And you like chanting his name, it just rolls off the tongue.
In closing, I’ll add this. I won’t apologize to the Cardinal fans who just vomited reading this love fest; don’t worry, I’ll say it: there’s still a long way to go, and the Cubs are synonymous with another C word…Collapse. But as a student of the game for a few decades now, I think the Cubs are winning the right way: with solid pitching, defense and OBP. Maybe this is the year. We have four hot Summer months to find out if we can see the red ivy put an end to 100 years of turmoil.