As a kid, I went into seasons with little to gain from our beloved club except a season's worth of tracking the Hawk, Grace, and Ryno. You'd think that would be a great core for a contending club, but they were surrounded by guys like Doug Dascenzo, Luis Salazar, and Amaury Telemaco. Frankly, we sucked most years. Fourth place was like a comfortable old t-shirt.These days, I'm aching for a World Series title, but in 1998, I literally didn't care when we got swept out of the playoffs - I was just so happy to have made the post-season. Now, a kid in the oversized Cubs windbreaker just hoping to sweat out 75 wins has become a blogger coming dangerously close to the hell of raised expectations. Still got that windbreaker, though. Mom liked to buy big.
All the previews I've read have talked about how crappy the Central is and how the Cubs should win it running away, though they're not quite as optimistic on our pennant chances. This makes me damn nervous, even as I read all sorts of statistical compilations with funny acronyms proclaiming the Cubs' supremacy in the Central (Central Cupremacy? Sentral Supremacy? Forget it.) For now, let's drum up five reasons to worry this upcoming season. And since I'm not Paul Sullivan, I'm going to soothe that fire with five things to hope for later this evening. I'm also providing counter-points, from the voices in my head. At least I'm more honest about it than Jay Mariotti. Enjoy.
1. Post-2006 D-Lee
As you might recall, D-Lee broke his wrist about three seconds after signing a $65 million extension at the beginning of the execrable 2006 season (4 lower-level Labor Day tickets for $40! How crazy does that seem now?). Ever since he came back, it's clear that he didn't bring his power back with him. He's kept comparable RBI and OBP numbers, but one has to wonder if his fading power precludes a massive drop in production one of these years. "
Voices in John's Head say: He's still playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, providing veteran leadership, and churning out more offense than your average first baseman. How's Hee Seop Choi doing with the Kia Tigers?
2. "Oh, Carlos!"
I really hate most sitcoms - everyone goes around saying the same old predicable things, and at the end of the day, you can't expect anything to substantially change. That's how I'm beginning to feel about the yearly Carlos Zambrano Dog and Pony Show. Every year, I defend his inscrutable tantrums and on-mound blow-ups, and every year I get a little more sick of it. "Oh Carlos!" And cue the studio audience. The guy is 28 now - major changes in behavior most likely aren't coming. Let's just hope he gets off of the alternating good game/bad game strategy and that the injuries he was clearly suffering in the second half of last year are a thing of the past.
Voices in John's Head say: Last year, Cubs fans seem to think he was injured half the time and off his rocker the other half. But he still pitched 188 innings, won 14 games, and improved his HR surrendered and WHIP numbers. If he can finally put together all the tools at his disposal, he could win 18-20 and go a long way to silencing his critics.
3. Rich Harden = Defective Stretch Armstrong
Rich Harden is a mad beast on the mound - when he's healthy enough to start and stay in the game, he melts hitters in the box like ants under a magnifying glass. While fans should know him for his 1.77 ERA as a Cub, they instead know him as the guy with all the durability of a Faberge egg. If he can make 25 starts this year, the Cubs will dominate hitters in the division. If anyone sneezes near his shoulder, however, all those #40 jerseys in the stands could become the next #22. Look at how fast Ben Sheets went from ace to eating Hormel chili and watching Cosby Show re-runs all day.
Voices in John's Head say: Harden pitched 189 innings in 2004, before he was the hitter-eating monster he is today. So we can figure he's still got that in him somwheres. If he could combine that work load with his current skill set, we could be talking 14-15 wins.
4. CF is Fuk-ed
SI Covers: More harmful to careers than Alyssa Milano
I love Fukudome, I really do. Ever since he hit his first major league pitch off the brown ivy at Wrigley on Opening Day last year, I've exalted in his successes and said "lalalala I'm not listeniiiiiing" to his failures. But it's soon getting to the point where even I have to call bullshit. He hit .167 when righties threw curves to him. He hit .292 at Wrigley, means that road games hurt like a bastard - to the tune of .225. He got himself benched for the final of the World Baseball Classic because he was hitting a sterling .235. I really hope he can fix whatever is up, but at age 32, I think that's unlikely. If he doesn't start evening out his road numbers and hitting for more extra bases, all that Fuku merchandise people snapped up last April will go in the Pogs/Cabbage Patch Kids/Beanie Baby closet.
And behind him? Reed Johnson (bad back, trouble with sliders and curves) and Joey Gathright (OBP just north of .300).
Voices in John's Head say: His walk numbers still show plate discipline, and if he can match his road performances to the level of his home numbers, he'll be an above-average CF. It's not like Zombie Edmonds lit the world on fire last year (.209 BA at Wrigley).
5. Bradley's "Personality"
I know we're way more worried about the man's physical health, but as you may remember, there's the question of his mental health to consider as well. In a time when the media dogs are temporarily called off, Bradley still manages to come off at defensive and petulant in those rare occasions when the main papers manage to cover baseball in the off-season. Remember the last time the Cubs had personality issues? 2004. And we don't ever want to go back there.
Voices in John's Head say: While he hasn't always felt the love from reporters and fans, Bradley has in the past been known as a good teammate. It would be pretty hard for one guy to replicate the toxic locker room atmosphere of 2004. Plus, there's no Steve Stone to threaten anymore. Additionally, the motherfucker can hit.