Cubs Win! Cubs Win! How? A combined effort of solid pitching and timely hitting gave the Cubs their first victory of 2011. Everyone contributed and provided the kind of teamwork that will carry this team to new heights. As a diehard Cubs’ fan, I am very encouraged by this team’s tenacity to hang in there. I am pleased by the effort that everyone gave. Indeed, this will be a fun group to watch. Mike Quade deserves a world of credit for the way this team has come together. I think there is good reason to be optimistic this season.
Carlos Zambrano struggled early but managed to keep the game close. Cramping in his hand forced him to leave the game, but Kerry Wood came in and took care of business. Sean Marshall followed Wood and also shut down the Pirates. Then in the bottom of the 8th, the Cubs came to life and battled for a 5 run inning. The beauty of that inning was that everyone contributed with timely hitting.
60602722.jpg Alfonso Soriano had a key hit and of course, Blake DeWitt delivered in the clutch. Dewitt, who struggled in Spring Training, deserves a lot of credit. His confidence needed a boost and he needed that hit as much as the team did. It was a total team effort.
60602747.jpg I like the way that this team sticks together and supports one another. It is refreshing. Carlos Marmol came on in the 9th and struck out the side for his first save of the young season.
60602748.jpg In fact, the bullpen retired the last 9 Pirate batters of the game. Now that’s a solid bullpen!
Matt Garza is on the bump today. He will be starting his first game in a Cub uniform. If he can have a solid outing, then the Cubs should win again. Garza seems like a really good teammate. He’s a gamer, you can tell. With the addition of Garza, Carlos Pena, and the return of Kerry Wood, I believe the club house chemistry is finally coming together. Mike Quade has good reason to like his chances this year. Teamwork is what champions are made of and the Cubs are showing signs of having the right chemistry.
Good job to everyone! Keep up the good work! Go Cubs Go!!!
With Opening Day less than a week away, it’s time to assess the Cubs and determine what we can come to expect in the upcoming season. There have been some positives and negatives that have emerged. Let’s take a closer look.
In his first full season as a Major League Manager, Mike Quade has been impressive with the way he has conducted himself in Spring Training. Quade has demonstrated that he is a hands on type of guy. He brings a ton of energy to the ballpark and that has to rub off on the players. I have heard reports of how Quade has been actively involved in every phase of the game. When he spots a mistake, it is immediately addressed. Mike Quade has proven that he is one of the guys, which is important to teamwork. He doesn’t maintain the distance that other managers might keep between him and his players. Perhaps, that is the reason that the players have responded in a positive manner. Anyway, I like what I have seen thus far. He is an honest, candid, and a no non-sense man on a mission. He has gained my confidence that he was indeed, the right man for the job.
Mike Quade and the Cubs are in the process of trimming the opening day roster, which is no easy task. Many players have already been optioned to the minor leagues. One of the biggest questions revolve around the starting rotation. Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza will be the top three starters. Randy Wells has had a good Spring and has earned the #4 spot. Carlos Silva thought that he deserved to pitch in the starting rotation but didn’t back it up. His performance this Spring was terrible. He had an ERA over 10 and was optioned to Triple A, but refuses to go. The Cubs will most likely try to trade him. Braden Looper had a rough Spring and consequently, did not make the team. He decided to hang it up and retire once again. Andrew Cashner was named the 5th starter, however, I am not so sure that he is the right fit for that role. Cashner has done very well in relief. He has the tools to be an awesome set-up guy. Last season, he opened our eyes. Many people feel that he would make a good starting pitcher, but even while he has earned a spot in the rotation, Cashner has not really demonstrated his effectiveness in that role. Personally, I think Sean Marshall is better suited, but I cannot argue his effectiveness and value in the bullpen. Another possibility is Kerry Wood, although like Marshall, that is unlikely to happen. The only other option for the Cubs would be to trade for a solid starting pitcher and move Cashner back to the bullpen where he can be the most effective. Hopefully, Cashner will settle into his new role, but time will tell.
The Cubs have a similar outfield situation to the one they had last year. Alfonso Soriano will be the left fielder. Of course, he will need to have a good year and stay healthy. He will need to produce if he wants to keep the Cubs’ faithful off his back. Marlon Byrd has had a good Spring and promises to be a team leader. Right field is where the problem lies. The Cubs have Kosuke Fukudome, who has not done well at all. It seems like he has nothing to offer the Cubs but defense. It may be time to unload him and get it over with. Tyler Colvin can definitely hit, but his defense remains a bit shaky. I do not share most Cubs’ fans optimism concerning Colvin. He simply needs to work on his defense. Reed Johnson was re-acquired this offseason. Reed will definitely help the Cubs this year, particularly against left-handers. If I had my way, I would platoon Soriano and Colvin in left, move Marlon Byrd to right, and bring up Brett Jackson to play center and lead off.
The infield needs to tighten up the defense. Darwin Barney has earned the job at second base, period. Blake Dewitt and Jeff Baker can be used as back-ups. Barney has shown all the signs of a promising second baseman. He has won me over this Spring. He has the right attitude and work ethic to succeed.
Carlos Pena remains a bit of a mystery. He is a gold glove first baseman, but his hitting still needs work. He has the left-handed power that the Cubs were looking for, but still struggles at the plate. Pena has a lightning-fast bat, but has difficulty with pitch recognition. Hopefully, that will improve and he can raise his batting average to a respectable level.
Finally, Geovanny Soto will be the primary catcher, but there is much debate over who should back him up. Koyie Hill handles the pitching staff well, but simply cannot hit. Wellington Castillo has had an incredible Spring, batting over .600, but the Cubs will probably elect to send him back to the minors where he can get regular playing time. That is unfortunate. How much more does Castillo have to do to prove that he is ready for the big leagues. He is way better than Hill who has contributed nothing to the offense or the defense. Wellington Castillo has earned a spot on the Cubs’ roster, pure and simple. To deny him the opportunity to play in the big leagues would be a travesty.
Well, Mike Quade and the Cubs’ front office still have work to do. There remains much to be optimistic about, however, there also remains some wrinkles to work out and decisions to be made. Let’s hope the Cubs can figure it out. As Spring Training winds down, Opening Day will soon be upon us. It’s time to “Play Ball!” I can’t wait.
By now, everyone has seen or heard about the scuffle that took place last week. If this is a sign of things to come, then the Cubs are in serious trouble. Hopefully, this incident will be put to rest and the Cubs can get on with the business at hand. Before we move on, perhaps we should take a closer look at how these things happen.
Obviously Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Silva have better insight into the situation than I do, but I may be able to shed some light on this subject. Players get frustrated when things don’t go their way. A bad pitch or a costly error can cause some players to become unhinged and blow up at their teammates. Bad idea. The word “Teammates” suggest that players should be on the same side. We’re all in this together should be the motto. A teammate should lift his fellow player up when he makes a mistake, not condemn him. This has been the problem. Mike Quade did a fine job of downplaying the incident with the media, but I wonder how the situation was addressed in the clubhouse. Sure, they had a team meeting to address the 14 errors in the first 4 games, but was it enough to prevent future outbursts of infighting? Time will tell.
A successful team establishes urgency and direction. A worthwhile purpose that unites the team as a whole. Teams must have complementary skills at each position. Everyone plays a particular role. Teams set clear rules of behavior to help achieve their purpose and performance goals. This enables the team to stay focused and committed. Teammates should challenge one another to be better rather than placing blame and embarrassing each other. Teammates should be family, spending alot of time together to create an unbreakable bond, trust, and understanding. Successful teams feed off of positive reinforcement, recognition, and reward. Lastly, there must be accountability. Each player should be held accountable for his performance. That does not mean he deserves to be ridiculed but rather each player has a responsibility to his teammates to learn his craft, work hard, and improve on a daily basis. Just because a veteran earns millions of dollars doesn’t mean that he isn’t expected to work hard and give maximum effort. It doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t seek help from a coach when he needs it. There are too many players that think they know it all and don’t need the extra help or that they don’t have to hustle. Those players don’t deserve to wear Cubby blue. The players who are truly commited to improving and winning are the ones that should stay, everyone else should go elsewhere. There is no room for laziness at the MLB level.
Every successful team forges its own path. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be conflicts because there will be, but how a team handles it, is crucial. Isn’t it time the Cubs start playing as a team, committed to excellence and winning? Enough of these childish tantrums, let’s get down to business and win a World Series!
With Spring Training right around the corner, it’s time to evaluate the offseason moves made by Jim Hendry, the Cubs General Manager. Each and every year Cubs’ fans get excited around this time. We are ever hopeful that the new season will bring that elusive championship, but in the end, we are disappointed yet again. Could this year be different? Could 2011 be the breakthrough year to remember? Have the Cubs made the necessary moves to bring the right balance to a team that has struggled to reach its potential? I am going to gaze into my crystal ball and peek into the future and try to determine what kind of team we have to look forward to.
The first glimpse that may be indicative of a promising year dates back to the last month and a half of last season. After the sudden retirement of Lou Piniella, Mike Quade took over the helm and steered the Cubs in the right direction. Under Quade, the Cubs finished strong. The players responded to his style of managing and won nearly 2/3 of the remaining games. Quade made a strong impression on Jim Hendry and Cubs’ Chairman, Tom Ricketts, and the interim tag was removed as he won the managerial job over fan favorites such as Ryne Sandberg and Joe Girardi. There was much controversey over the process, but in the end, Mike Quade had earned the position. In 2011, Mike Quade will face the challenge of managing over the long haul of the season. If 2010 was evidence that he has what it takes to turn this team around, then indeed, the Cubs have much to look forward to.
As the Cubs searched the free agent market to fill some obvious holes, Jim Hendry finally found a left-handed first baseman in Carlos Pena. Was it the right fit? Some may argue, but seriously, Pena is a great defensive first baseman and has a powerful left-handed bat. Exactly what the Cubs needed. Is his .196 batting average and high strikeout ratio a concern? It would be, but Pena is working with Rudy Jaramillo, the Cubs’ hitting coach, and is totally committed to improving his swing. That willingness to learn is the key. There are far too many veterans who think that they are so great that they have nothing more to learn, the very same players who start to stink and drag everyone around them down. So it is refreshing to see a player who wants to get better. Carlos Pena is going to work out just fine, you’ll see.
The Cubs also re-acquired Kerry Wood. I am very happy about this because Woody is, was, and always will be a Cub. He is a club house leader and understands what it means to be a Cub. He gave the Cubs a huge discount to come home. He did an awesome job for the Yankees last season and he promises to do more of the same for the Cubs in 2011. Hopefully he can remain healthy and prove to everyone that HE’S BACK! I think that he will return with a vengeance. I am excited to see him again!
Then, there was the controversial trade for Matt Garza. The Cubs may have lost some top prospects, but they have gained one of the best pitchers in the game today. He will be a welcomed addition to the Cubs’ pitching staff. Coming to the National League where hitters aren’t very familiar with him will be to his advantage. I look for him to have a great year. Like Woody and Pena, I foresee him silencing the critics very quickly. I predict that he will win 18 games or more this season.
The Cubs have also made some minor moves, such as re-acquiring Reed Johnson, Todd Wellmeyer, and getting some players in the Tom Gorzellany trade. We’ll see how those work out as only time will tell. On a positive note, the Cubs have signed Geovanny Soto, Sean Marshall, and I believe, Carlos Marmol thus avoiding arbitration. So that is good news.
One important factor that will determine the Cubs destiny is whether or not they can stay healthy. Last year was a disaster as far as injuries go. A healthy team learns to play as a team and gel. A different line-up everyday is disastrous to team chemistry and that was something we saw too much of last year. The Cubs need to stay healthy, period! It is good to hear that Tyler Colvin will be back this year. Watching him being impaled by a broken bat scared us all. It’s great that he will return, we’ll need him.
The Cubs seem pretty solid up and down the line-up, except for one thing. We still do not have a protypical lead-off hitter. I probably sound like a broken record, but this could make or break the Cubs’ offense. Last season, there was no spark to ignite the offense and consequently no pressure on the opposition. If the Cubs truly want to contend, this crucial piece must be found. If no trades are made, then somebody will need to step up and learn how to get on base and rattle the defense. I hope that Mike Quade doesn’t just pencil in just anybody. He knows full well that the lead-off hitter sets the tone for what will follow. Anyway, we’ll see what happens. Perhaps Starlin Castro or Kosuke Fukudome will be willing to learn how to fill that role. Who knows, after all, there is still some time before the season begins.
Overall, I think the Cubs will be much improved. If the lead off role can be filled, I think the Cubs will be in business. Once again, I am excited about the upcoming season, unfortunately, my crystal ball isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, but that would take all of the fun out of watching the season unfold now wouldn’t it?
The Cubs have been busy this offseason improving the team for 2011, but there is still one piece that has yet to be addressed to elevate them to the next level – a legitimate lead off hitter.
In 2010, the Cubs lacked one crucial element which failed to spark the offense. All season long, the offense struggled to score runs. There was nobody at the top of the batting order to ignite the spark and put pressure on the defense. Lou Piniella and Mike Quade exhausted every option at their disposal to find somebody that could fill the role. Ryan Theriot was traded to the Dodgers and consequently left a huge hole to fill. Many attempts to try different players were unsuccessful. As a result, the offense struggled to offer much run support. Too much reliance on the long ball resulted in a lack of run support for a pitching staff that deserved better.
During an interview, Mike Quade was asked who would be the Cubs’ lead off hitter in 2011.
His response was disturbing. He admitted that the Cubs did not have such a player that he would consider a true lead off candidate. He acknowledged that the Cubs simply lacked what was needed. At least he was honest. Given the fact, his response was that the lead off role would be by committee. In other words, he would be forced to pencil in anybody and everybody to fill the slot. A repeat of last season apparently. This disturbs me because last season was a disappointment due to the lack of run production. There was no spark to ignite the offense. So is 2011 doomed to failure?
What exactly is the role of a legitimate lead off hitter? A lead off hitter, first and foremost, must be able to get on base. He should be able to draw walks, bunt for a base hit, and hit for average. In other words, he must have a high on-base percentage. Secondly, he must have speed. Once on base, he must apply pressure to the opposing pitcher and defense. He must be a base stealing threat. He must cause the pitcher to be nervous and disrupt his concentration. He must draw the defense out of position and wreck havoc. Not only should he have the abilty to steal bases, but have the abilty to reach third base on a hit and run. He must be able to get himself in scoring position, somehow. He must be fast enough to score runs and make things happen. Such a player causes the opposition to make mistakes and opens the door for the offense to score runs.
The Cubs have made some improvements this offseason, but still lack the necessary spark to ignite the offense. With all due respect to Mike Quade and the current roster, the Cubs will be in for another long season if this isn’t addressed.
The Cubs’ General Manager, Jim Hendry, needs to find a way to fill this hole. It is too important not to. I was reading another Cubs’ blog, Strictly Cubs Baseball, http://strictlycubsbaseball.mlblogs.com/, I began thinking about this problem and reached the conclusion that this IS a HUGE problem. The lack of offense last year is directly attributable to the lack of a legitimate lead off hitter. There simply was no run support. Opposing pitchers were entirely too relaxed while facing the Cubs. Jim Hendry still has work to do. I hope and pray that he does something to address this glaring hole or 2011 could be disastrous. The Cubs are on the right track, but to be truly competitive, we need a solid lead off hitter. Only then, will we be in good shape to reach the playoffs.
The Cubs made a major move to acquire Matt Garza, one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. In return, the Cubs traded their minor league pitcher of the year, Chris Archer, and their minor league player of the year, Brandon Guyer. The highly touted shortstop, Hak Ju Lee was also thrown in. So did they give away the farm just to get a top-notch pitcher?
It is arguable.
My first reaction to the news was, “How could they let that happen?” I thought they were building the farm system, building for the future. However, after having some time to think about it, I have settled down and have come to the conclusion that the Cubs needed to do something to upgrade the starting rotation. Perhaps, it was the only way. Tampa Bay was insistent on receiving the best prospects for Garza. Perhaps, the Cubs have enough depth in the minors that they can afford to make such a move. I certainly hope so. It doesn’t matter now. What’s done is done. I am happy that the Cubs landed a big time pitcher. Matt Garza is definitely a big time pitcher. He tossed the first Tampa Bay no-hitter last year and has pitched in the post-season. Coming to the National League will benefit him since opposing teams aren’t very familiar with him. He won 15 games last season in the toughest league of all. I can’t wait to see what he can do with the Cubs. I expect Garza to perform at the highest level. He will be joining his first baseman, Carlos Pena, which will make both players feel more comfortable coming to the Cubs.
So was it a good move? Time will tell, but for the most part, I think it was. To make a trade for a top-notched pitcher, Jim Hendry had no choice but to give something up in return. It’s the nature of the beast. Once Matt Garza shows Cubs’ fans what he brings to the table, I think everyone will forget all about the prospects that were traded. The Cubs will certainly be in a better position to make a playoff push with Garza on board. I wish him well. Welcome to Chicago, Matt!
Welcome back, Woody! While some Cubs’ fans might be hesitant to get excited about Kerry Wood’s return to Chicago due to the injuries that haunted him during his first tour of duty, I am not one of them. Sure, Woody was plagued by injuries in the past but those days are gone. A skeptical fan need only to look at the year Wood had last season with the Yankees. During the post-season Kerry came out of the bullpen and was lights out. I thought to myself, “He’s back!”
Now, Woody is healthy and has returned to form. Now, he is back with the Cubs and I am excited. He has new life and the Cubs will benefit from his presence in the bullpen. Jim Hendry sought a veteran right-handed reliever to anchor the bullpen and Kerry Wood is the perfect fit. Personally, I was skeptical at the idea of bringing him back, but something dramatically opened my eyes.
Woody wanted to return to Chicago since his family has roots here. His wife is from the Windy City and he wanted to make Chicago his permanent home. That is great, but the reasons why I am excited about his return is that I was watching Chicago Tribune Live and Dave Kaplan was talking about a conversation that he had with Kerry Wood. He jokingly told Kerry that the White Sox were interested in signing him as a free agent and asked Wood if he had considered going there. Kerry Wood’s response, “Never!” Spoken like a true Cub!
Then, when I heard that Jim Hendry was considering signing him and Woody was willing to accept far less money on the open free agent market to come to Chicago to play for the Cubs again I thought, “Hmmm”. In essence, he was willing to take a pay cut to accomodate the Cubs who have had a huge payroll deficiency. He was taking one for the team. Wow, you don’t see that every day. Any player who is willing to turn down millions of dollars to help the team out is definitely my kind of player. Kerry Wood is truly a Cub!
I will never forget the day he struck out 20 while pitching against the Houston Astros in 1998, his rookie season. I have watched a million games and that, I swear, was the best pitching performance that I have ever seen. Better perhaps, than any no-hitter that I have watched. Kerry Wood was in the zone that day. It was incredible! Sure, due to injuries, he has had a disappointing career, but we can take heart that Woody is healthy now and he’s back, back with a vengeance. Kerry is a true Cub, a veteran presence, and a true leader in the club house. I am glad to have him back and wish him the best of luck as the Cubs set forth on their journey to the World Series in 2011. Don’t laugh. It could happen. As Mike Quade has said, “Why not us?”