2011 Cubs. 2 Months In. The Good.

The Double Play Combo. Hi. Mr. Obvious here, to tell you about Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. We all got to see Castro last season, and we were expecting big things from him again this year. And for the next 15. But did anyone see Darwin Barney having this impact? Right now, he’s my most deserving Cub for an All-Star spot. Castro is just behind him. By half a point on the Stableford modified scoring system. Or something similar. These crazy kids are gonna be fun to watch for a long time.

Carlos Zambrano. He likes baseball again.  Because he’s having fun. I say it every time I see him on the field, but he’s hitting, running, and smiling like a Little Leaguer. This is the Z I love to watch. I hope he doesn’t enjoy himself right into a deadline trade.

The Bullpen. Baseball history won’t rave about this group, but they’ve been better than what we feared. Jeff Samardzija? 3-0 with a 3.76 ERA. And his WHIP is 1.63! I don’t know what that is, but it’s impressive! Kerry Wood is back, and that just feels right regardless of how he pitches (1-3, 2.41 ERA). John Grabow doesn’t scare me anymore. Some of the time. Carlos Marmol, while still heart-stopping at times, has been solid.

Utility Men. Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson have made the most of their playing time. Blake Dewitt hit a home run on a non-homer day when I was at Wrigley. Lou Montanez put it all together and made his Cubs debut. After 11 years. Perseverance. Well done.

I went to one game. It was cold. Rainy. Pena drilled a ninth inning home run, and Kosuke won it with a single. Watched with a good friend. What’s better than fun at the old ballpark?


Hope For 2011

The last time I let myself get truly optimistic about a Cubs season was 2002. Moises Alou had been signed to a 3-year deal, and even though I wasn’t a fan of his, I knew what he could bring to the club. And we had Sammy! 67-95. Yeah. So much for optimism.

As you may have heard by now, the Cubs have taken a beating over the past 18 months or so. On the field, in the media, throughout the interwebs. It’s been a difficult time to be a fan. Yet, a fan I remain. Don’t worry, I’m not predicting that this is the year. It may never be the year. But I like this team. I put together a list the other day, a list of things that I hope happen on the north side in 2011. Please understand, there needs to be “AND”‘s between most of the wishes, not “IF”‘s. This team is full of talent, some of it new, some of it on the downslope. Maybe some of these players aren’t capable of achieving what I hope for them, but I think they are. They can. And, hopefully, they will.

I hope Aramis Ramirez plays (mostly:hits) like he has during each of his major league seasons except for 2010. He might be my favorite Cub. Other than the times at 3 Rivers and PNC Park when I screamed “boot it!” when a Cub hit a ground ball to third (he often did; Sorry Rami), he was my favorite Pirate when I was in Pittsburgh. I love the guy, and I’ll root for him as long as he’s in the league. He’s not a .240 hitter; he’ll be back.

I hope Alfonso Soriano plays like the guy that warranted an 8-year contract back in 2006. We all love to hate that deal, but that was his market value back then; if the Cubs hadn’t given it to him, another team would have. And I’m one of those who thought at the time that he was worth it. I’d like to see one of those 6-month stretches where he puts the team on his back. Can’t steal 40 bases? So what. Just mash the ball, and play left field like the grass doesn’t hurt your feet.

I hope Carlos Zambrano has fun playing baseball again. I want to see him charge off the mound pumping his fist, swing from his heels at the plate, and run the bases like the 5-tool player we all wish we were. Carlos Zambrano smiling in the dugout is my sure-fire sign that things are well at Wrigley. I need a ton of that this summer.

I hope Kerry Wood stays healthy, and pitches himself to a series of 7 more one-year deals. I know clubhouse character is becoming clichéd, but we need him on that wall. I’d also like to see a home run. Don’t know how he’ll get any at-bats, but as much I like watching Big Z, I love watching Kerry hit more. Plus, I love him.

I hope Marlon Byrd continues to play center field like it offends him when your baseball lands on his lawn. Also, we haven’t had a good brawl in years around here, and I want him on my team when it happens.

I hope Kosuke has one good season before he heads back to Japan. Ichiro aside, the transition for Japanese ball players to the U.S. has not been terribly successful. The Cubs bought into it, and got what they thought was the best import available. I like Kosuke. I wish he had had a better career here. But it didn’t happen, and he’ll move on, as will we. I’d like to wish him the best, but honestly, if he goes back to play in Japan, I’ll never hear another word about him anyway.

I hope Ryan Dempster continues to be Ryan Dempster. I thought putting him back into the rotation after being the closer was a horrible move. I’m glad I was wrong.

I hope Carlos Silva starts 2011 like he started 2010. If he does that, I hope he stays healthy. If he doesn’t, I hope the Cubs move him out of the way and let someone else pitch. Even if they have no more Carloses.  

3/27/11 Can’t get much more out of the way than releasing him. Heave Ho Silva, away!!

I hope Carlos Marmol pitches strikes. No more needs to be said about that. The guy’s filthy.

I hope (actually, I believe) Sean Marshall continues to be the consummate professional team player, taking the ball when it’s given to him and pitching his best. If he wants, and earns, the chance to be a starter again, I hope he flourishes. I like this guy, and I’d like to see him stay here for a long time.

I hope Tyler Colvin gets the at-bats he deserves. I hope the Cubs have the guts to yank Soriano or Fukudome if they don’t play well, and get Tyler into the line-up every day. He earned that in 2010.

I hope Starlin Castro continues to learn, improve, and mature. He hit .300 as a 20-year-old! And I think he’ll only get better. I plan to watch him play shortstop for the next 15 years.

I hope Carlos Pena and Matt Garza become instant fan favorites. If Pena struggles with the Mendoza Line again, it won’t be pretty. That left-handed power bat we’ve been waiting for is gonna be scrutinized from the beginning of March. A 15-win season from Garza might be enough to endear him to Cub fans, but much of that will depend on what 1 thru 8 produce, as it will for every pitcher on the team.

I hope Geovany Soto hits like the ROY Soto of 2008. I don’t know much about catching, but I hear he handles the pitchers well. His defense has never hurt us, and I thought he was throwing the ball last year the best of his 3 seasons. He can pencil his eyebrows for all I care; just play good baseball.

I hope Jeff Baker and Blake Dewitt can handle being platoon players at second base, if that’s what it comes down to. I see them both as experienced major league veterans. I keep hearing about a “hole at 2b”, but I don’t see it. No, they aren’t All-Stars. But with the potential-mixed-with-past talent on this roster, we don’t need an All-Star second baseman. I’ll take 2 role players like these guys.

I hope whoever ends up as the #4 and 5 starters pitch like they want to be 1 and 2. I hope some, most, or all among Cashner, Samardzija (yes, I googled the spelling), Berg, Wells, Russell, and Diamond surprise us. A lot to ask, I know. But it sure would be nice.

4/6/2011 Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells made great starts out of the 4th and 5th rotation spots. And then…both went to the disabled list. Cashner with a rotator cuff strain; Wells with a forearm strain. Hope. Indeed.

Ok, so all this stuff is a lot to ask. And it all would be nice. But I haven’t wished for anything truly unrealistic. Everyone on this team has proven themselves at some point in their careers. All I’m asking is that they all do it at the same time. In 2011. If they do, this might be…Ok, no. It’ll just be a ton of fun to watch.