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PIT/PA Watch

May 15: 3.55
Season: 3.61
NL Average: 3.73
Cubs' NL Rank: 15th

Cubs Season Record 22-15 (--)

This Series
May 14-May 16

Cubs Sweep 3-0

Final Score: 6-1

Final Score: 7-5

Final Score: 4-2

Next Series
May 18-May 20


May 18: Clement (5-2, 2.78) vs
Schmidt (3-2, 3.79)

May 19: Zambrano (4-1, 1.82) vs
Rueter (1-4, 5.52)

May 20: Maddux (3-3, 4.44) vs
Hermanson (1-2, 4.67)

Last Series
May 11-May 13

Dodgers Win 2-1

Final Score: 7-3

Final Score: 4-0

Final Score: 7-3

Know Your Enemy - The Series
Part 1 - The Reds
Part 2 - The Pirates
Part 3 - The Brewers
Part 4A - The Cardinals - Position Players
Part 4B - The Cardinals - Pitching and Bench
Part 5A - The Astros - Position Players
Part 5B - The Astros - Pitching and Bench

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08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003
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Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Thursday, March 11, 2004

Cubs Blog Army Roundtable - The Director's Cut

If you didn't check out the Cubs Blog Army Roundtable over at the Cub Reporter, do yourself a favor and take a peek. But here, in the ultimate act of hubris, is the complete text of my answers to the questions posed. Naturally, they were edited the first time around (I am about to post a 3,300 word essay on the freakin' Brewers tomorrow, after all), so enjoy them in all their original, verbose glory!

Q: Most pundits agree that the Cubs have one of the best rotations in baseball. Will the rotation live up to the hype? If so, which pitcher will have the best year? If not, who will falter, and will the team be able to overcome it?

First, I have to say that I think the hype is unrealistic under the best of circumstances. Not living up to it wouldn’t be a sign of the staff underperforming, rather it would merely prove they weren’t space aliens or deities or the inventors of Krispy Kreme.

Mark Prior will have the best year, but we’ll see Kerry Wood finally get enough wins for people to stop with the overrated tag. If anybody falters, it will be Zambrano. He was so gassed at the end of last year. I know Will Carroll said he didn’t hurt himself, but I’ll feel a lot better when he’s got 10 or so starts under his belt at his established level. I still think he’ll regress a bit, but as long as he’s keeping the ball in the park, I won’t be concerned.

If any single pitcher not named Wood or Prior goes down for the year, it can be absorbed, and one of those two could be gone for a stretch similar to Prior’s DL stint last year without causing a collapse. Anything beyond that would be catastrophic.

Q: Which, if any, of the Cubs pitching prospects will make an impact on the team this year?

It depends on injuries. If all the starting staff stays healthy, or only misses outings one or two at a time, I don’t think you’ll see anyone making an impact, or even getting many innings. I think they’re going to be very cautious with Guzman, and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t spend the entire year in Iowa. If he doesn’t, then something very bad happened on the big club.

I suppose Beltran could make an appearance in the pen, but again, that would take someone getting hurt. Maybe he’ll break camp in Remlinger’s spot and head back down when Greybeard is all the way healthy.

Q: What should be done with Juan Cruz?

Eventually, he should be traded, but now’s not the time. He’s a big chit, so you’re better off holding on to him until mid-year when you can better evaluate and prioritize your needs. So, the question becomes where do you stash him in the meantime to keep his value as high as possible?

This is a reversal from what I’ve previously said, but I’m thinking he should stay in Iowa until he’s dealt. Rotting at the back of Dusty’s bullpen won’t do him any good, and he might just implode when he’s asked to pitch after ten days off (again). He owned AAA when he went down there last year, so why not let him keep building his stamina and showing off his arm. Plus, if the unthinkable happens, and he’s needed to start, he’ll have been doing it for a while and will be comfortable.

Q: How much better is the Cubs bullpen this season than it was in 2003?

A lot, but I’m not sure it matters as much as it could. Sure, the innings thrown by the pen will be of higher quality, and that’s certainly positive, but what the Cubs really need is MORE innings out of the pen, and I don’t think they’ll get that. I took a look at this a little bit ago, and near as I could tell, Dusty tends to base his bullpen usage almost entirely on the quality of his starters. One would think it would be symbiotic, and that’s what I hoped to find, but it looks more like a case where, if Dusty has the horses, he lets ‘em run ‘till they drop.

Q: While there are very few questions about the pitching, there are plenty of questions about the offense. Will the Cubs score enough runs to hold off the Astros in the NL Central?

The Cubs’ offense is better this year. Not by a lot, but it’s better. I’d expect the team to score around 750 runs, which isn’t great, but with the likely decrease in the team’s runs allowed, it should be enough for them to be there at the end.

Another factor is the Astros’ offense. The bad news is, Morgan Ensberg is getting the Astros’ full time third base job. The good news is, Jason Lane isn’t getting any of the center field job. As long as Craig Biggio keeps up the Scrappy Doo imitation, he’s got the organization wrapped around his finger, which should keep a smile on the face of all Cub fans. If the Astros can find a taker for Hidalgo, then Lane will get his shot, but it’ll be in the wrong spot and will result in a net loss in production. Add in Bagwell’s age, the fascination with Brad Ausmus, and the likelihood that, without a trade for Hidalgo, they’ll be unable or unwilling to take on much payroll at the deadline, and I think the Cubs match up well.

Q: Who will have a better 2004, Michael Barrett or Damian Miller?

I like Barrett overall. Miller is a better defender, but I think he’ll continue to decline offensively, and that’s where Barrett can make up the difference. I imagine they’ll be very close in total value, but I think Barrett takes it.

Q: The Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee trade was a classic example of trading potential for current performance. Do you think it was the right trade to make for this year? What about for the future of the team?

There’s no question it was the right deal for this year. Don’t get me wrong, I love Choi, and there’s still a part of me that wishes I could get the chance to see him grow up and reach his potential with the Cubs. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that Lee will be the better player this year, and probably in 2005. This is a team in a position to go on an extended run of success, and when the opportunity arose to make a much needed near term improvement offensively and defensively, Jim Hendry did what should be done and grabbed it with both hands.

The future? Well, the main argument for keeping a player like Choi around is that he provides superior production for minimal financial investment. While this concept is an important one for any team to grasp, it’s less important for a team with greater resources, like the Cubs. This deal wasn’t made in a vacuum, and while the Marlins will be getting good, inexpensive production from Choi for the next four or five years, when Lee’s contract runs out at the end of the 2006 season, the Cubs will almost certainly be in a position to acquire another near-peak first baseman at market rates, assuming they don’t have a youngster ready to take over. As an academic question, the answer might be different, but looking at the Cubs specific situation, this was the deal to make now and for the years to come.

Q: What sort of seasons do you expect Moises Alou and Corey Patterson To have? If one or the other struggles, will Dusty pull them from the lineup, or stick with them?

Is ‘short’ a good answer? Seriously, I expect Patterson to be able to get it going after a month or so. His first step might not come all the way back for a bit, but as fast as he is, his offensive game has never been predicated on his speed, so I don’t see that being a huge problem. My one worry would be on defense. If he can’t get to balls as easily, will he try a Griffey-esque leap to reach his goal? I shudder to think.

Alou is another matter. He’s little more than a singles hitter anymore, and the power decline should continue. That won’t be too much of a problem, though, because I’ll be shocked if he plays more than 100 games this year. I think he will do enough damage to himself before the All-Star break that the Cubs will have to trade for an outfielder around the deadline. This is part of why I’d hang on to Cruz until July.

Q: Who will get more playing time at second base, Mark Grudzielanek or Todd Walker? Who *should* get more playing time?

I think Grudz will get the innings. Dusty just loves him to death, and I think this is one of those times when the ‘ol Baker Loyalty Wagon and Traveling Show will come rolling into town.

Who should be in there? It depends. If Grudz’ defense regresses at all, Walker should be in there against all righties. Otherwise, I wouldn’t mind seeing a platoon of these two based on who’s pitching – for them and for us. If a lefty is throwing for the opponent, Grudz should be in there no matter what. Walker’s a lousy defender, and he can’t hit port-siders, so there’s no excuse for playing him. However, if there’s a right-hander up for the opponent and Wood or Prior is throwing, I’d use Walker. Lots of K’s from those guys, and the fewest ground balls on the staff. If Maddux, Clement, or Zambrano is on the hill, I use Grudz no matter what, because those guys throw too many dirt balls to let Walker get a taste of the infield.

Q: Jim Hendry was very active this winter. Everyone expects the Lee and Maddux acquisitions to help the team immensely. Was there another, lesser transaction the Cubs made this winter that you think will have a significant impact on the team?

Jose Macias. Definitely, Jose Macias.

[pause for removal of mind controlling parasite from inner ear]

Ah, that’s better. Now what was the question? Oh yeah. Jose Mac….I mean, LaTroy Hawkins. I knew, as we all did, that the Cubs would need to pick up another reliever or two to hopefully take some pressure off the starting staff. I don’t know that his acquisition will mean more reasonable pitch counts for Wood, Prior, and Zambrano, but he will certainly make a difference in critical late game situations. I think it’s fair to say that the Cubs didn’t have a dominant reliever last year. They had Kyle Farnsworth, who could be dominating, but no one had that kind of mastery on a consistent basis. Hawkins brings that quality, and with Joe Borowski in the capital “C” Closer role, there’s the added bonus of having the best man out of the bullpen not being constrained to the ninth inning. It will turn out to be a big advantage, even if this “proper” usage pattern is somewhat accidental.

Q: Recently, GM Jim Hendry locked up Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood and Derrek Lee for the next few years. Who on the current roster, if anyone, should get the next long-term contract?

Aramis Ramirez is the only player who should be in the discussion, and that’s only if he solidifies his gains this season. He fell off the table after his excellent 2001, and he made it part of the way back last year, but I want to see what the Pirates saw when Aramis was 23 before I lock him up long term. Everyone else is either too young or too old.

Q: As a Cubs fan, are you having a hard time dealing with the fact that the Cubs go into this season as favorites?

Of course, it’s strange. I’m just not used to the idea of reasonable people being able to say with a straight face that the Cubs could win the World Series. That said, coming so close last year made me want it that much more. The oddity of being good is nothing compared to the misery of being bad, and after coming so near the goal, the disappointment of NOT being favorites would be unspeakable.

Q: What are you looking forward to about the 2004 Cubs? What are you dreading about them?

I look forward to seeing what this pitching staff is capable of, and I dread injuries. Yes, we lost Corey last year. Yes, Sammy was out for a while. Yes, Prior made like a pinwheel. Yet, the only major boo-boo belonged to Corey, and my fear for this year is a catastrophic meltdown involving two-thirds of the outfield and two-fifths of the starting staff. If we were talking about random possibilities, I’d be fine, but it doesn’t take a big imagination to see just that scenario occurring. Good teams can deal with the loss of one good player, no team can lose them en masse and hope to compete.

I just used eight times the words to describe my dread as I used to describe what I look forward to. I must be a Cub fan.

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Posted by Derek @ 4:52 PM