Saturday, June 04, 2005

Winning Streak Ends; Confidence is Back.

The Cubs 7 game winning streak, which began when Mark Prior got beaned on the elbow, came to an end last night as the Cubs fell to Adam Eaton and the San Diego Padres. It was a joyous week for Cub fans who needed it more than ever.
Nothing builds confidence better than an extended winning streak, though Todd Walker still seems to be down on the team.

"We're obviously not going to win the rest of the games all year long," Cubs second baseman Todd Walker said.
Well, not with that attitude we're not!

We learned a lot about the cubs over the streak, and most of these things were positive.
It inspired me to list why I believe that the Cubs are going to be at the top of the wild card race if not the division race.

Here's the top 10 reasons why:

  1. The Central Division Sucks: (Besides us and the Cardinals of course) The Cubs Play 72 games against the Brewers, Pirates, Reds and Astros, all inferior teams. Given the division schedule alone, it's very hard not to be in the wild card race if you are the cubs or the cardinals
  2. The NL East has too many good teams. As of today, every team in the east is above .500. The Braves, Marlins, Mets, Phillies and Nationals will likely beat up on each other so much that the division winner may only win 88 games, a number which the cubs should be able to reach this year. Even if you argue, (and you are probably right) that the Marlins and Braves are both better teams than the Cubs, they are both flawed, and are in a much tougher division.
  3. The NL West has no wild card contender.The Padres are a very good team, and I predict they will win the division easily. I can't see Arizona, San Francisco or the Dodgers making a serious run at the wild card come September, they are simply not good enough.
  4. Key players for the cubs (Wood, Nomar, and The Franchise) will come back eventually. It seems like they are never going to come back right now, but we are still less than 1/3 of the way into the season. There is a long time between now and September. Sure, recent history warns us not to expect much, but it's fair to say that we will be an important part of the 2005 season. It's not just wishful thinking to say that Wood and Prior will come back in enough time to give the cubs a push for the postseason. I don't expect much from Nomar, but it is possible, and that's worth something, when you are talking about a guy of his ability.
  5. Jim Hendry: Jim Hendry is perhaps the best in the business at pulling off great mid-season trades. Look at his track record: Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Michael Barrett, Nomar Garciapara...If anybody can acquire top talent in the middle of the year, he can. He is not afraid to be aggressive, and he has the means to do so. The Cubs have ample flexibility in their budget due to the big moves they didn't make in the off season (no benthic, Percival, Alou, JD Drew, Beltran etc.)
  6. The Cardinals are overrated. Granted, the Cardinals are the heavy favorites to win the central division at this point, and they are a very good team. But they are not nearly as strong as last year. The hot start coupled with the Cubs slow start made things look worse than they are. The Cards are without Renteria, Womack, and now Rolen for who knows how long. Mark Grudzalawnmower will not continue to be awesome. Larry Walker is always an injury waiting to happen, and Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis just aren't that good, I don't care how many games they won last year. Their bullpen is mediocre;The cubs still do have a shot at the division. I will say this though, that Pujols kid can hit.
  7. The Cubs bullpen is...what?...Good? That's right, you heard it here. It's starting to look like the Cubs bullpen is going to surprise a lot of people this. The cubs bullpen is indeed good, and it looks like it keeps getting better each week. They have a lot of talented young arms, not unlike the Texas Rangers of last year. Wuertz, Wellemeyer and Novoa have great stuff and now that they are getting big league experience and finding their roles, things are starting to click. Dempster looks like he belongs in the closer's role. I like his presence on the mound in save situations. He looks like he belongs there. I would still argue that LaTroy is the better pitcher (especially command wise) but I feel better about our chances of winning when Dempster is the closer. The Cubs are only one piece away from a great bullpen, and you can be sure that Hendry is working on that as we speak. Don't forget about the secret weapon of Scott Williamson slowly but surely making his way off the DL.
  8. Aramis Ramirez will hit: While we have to assume that Derrek Lee won't hit .380 all year, (though he just might) we also have to assume that Aramis won't hit .250 either. If he can stay healthy, he'll be back to his .300 30Hr 100 RBI form very soon. He's just too good not to make a difference. Historically, when Ramirez hits well, the cubs win. He's starting to find his stroke again and this is a very good thing.
  9. Middle infield: Nomar who? Neifi!? has been one of the best suprises of the season. He has much better range on defense than Nomar and can hit (it's not pretty but he gets the job done) from both sides. He has been hitting over .300 and added some power as well. He has become a team leader and is one of the main reasons the cubs are where they are today. (DONT FORGET TO WRITE HIM IN YOUR ALL STAR BALLOT) Now Todd Walker is back and he doesn't look like he's missed a beat. It's easy to forget that this guy can really hit both for average and for power (did you see how far he hit that home run in San Diego the other night?) He's the guy that makes just enough of a difference to make a good team a winner. He pushes you over the top with an extra rbi or key hit every other game or so, and he's very clutch. The Cubs have been very close in most of the games that they have lost but couldn't quite get it done on offense. Walker is just the type of guy in a lineup to push the cubs over the hump. Because he has a bad reputation as a defender, he has never been used enough to put up the numbers that would get him the recognition he deserves. But his defense is fine, and if he's in the line up every day, I think he'll prove that he's one of the top 5-10 second baseman in the league capable of a .300/25/85 type year.
  10. The law of Averages: Given all of the things that have gone wrong for the Cubs this year, the law of averages says that things will start to have to go wrong for other teams eventually. Maybe the next time lightning strikes it will be Jim Edmonds not Mark Prior.



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