For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; heck, they're playing real games in Japan tomorrow.
Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Chicago Cubs. Your author is Mike Bruno.
Mike Bruno is an editor for Entertainment Weekly and a former writer for The Black Table. His words are after the jump.
Has it really been a hundred years? My, how time flies. Not that I've suffered through the whole thing, of course. I may grumble about a bad hip and have to pee more often than I used to, but I'm still a few decades shy of the century mark, which makes this anniversary feel more like a legend — a fable, if you will — than a landmark within a tangible losing streak I've endured. Besides, there were some sweet moral victories last season. For one, the Cubs made the playoffs. Two, despite a horrid start, they wound up finishing last season stronger than any other team in baseball. Plus, of course, they placed above the St. Louis Cardinals — the ultimate moral victory for any Cub fan.
My obsession with moral victories may fuel the theory that I am your stereotypically delusional Cubs fan, fervently rooting for a loser, generating excuses instead of accepting that the sun is more likely to explode and turn every man, woman and child into a blotch of molten plasma before the Cubs actually win a World Series. So go ahead and laugh at me — for loving my baseball team unconditionally, for having my allegiance tested like no other team's fan, for never giving up hope. Because this year, my friends, 100 years after "Three-Finger" Brown, Jack Taylor and Ed Reulbach drove to Wrigley in those rickety old cars you have to crank to start and won their second of two consecutive World Series by defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, on this year, with one of the fattest batting orders and most promising pitching staffs in the game, the Cubs really could do it.
That's right. I'm saying it. It's the 100-year mark and the Chicago frickin' Cubs are winning the damn pennant, and there isn't a goat, geek or Garvey that's gonna stop 'em. Delusional and pathetic, am I? False hope and a pocket full of stupid excuses, have I? Please allow me to break it all down using the most objective logic I can muster.
100 Years, 100 Schmears
The 100 years thing is meaningless and overhyped. The fact is, the Cubs were a baseball powerhouse back in the 1900s, whereas the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals (Montreal Expos), San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners have all NEVER won the World Series. And yet everyone is so fond of pointing out a former dynasty's failings while subordinating the futility of those losers. (I could also point out that the Cleveland Indians haven't won since 1948 and the San Francisco Giants haven't been crowned champs since 1954, which is also pretty sad.) Speaking of losers, what about the New York Yankees? Oh, they're so great, what with their 26 World Series titles. But they haven't won a Series since 2000. Think on this: the 21st century actually started on Jan. 1, 2001, right? Which means (yes!) that the Yankees haven't won a Series in a century either. That's right. But Chicago, always the second city, gets saddled with the century-of-losing mantel. So, so typical.
The Cubs may have spent a lot more money ahead of last season, but it was this offseason that they finally filled the biggest hole in their roster and signed a Japanese player. I am really excited about this. Boston won last year, and who was their big off-season acquisition? Dais-K. Japanese guy. And the Yanks, while in the midst of a century-long World Series drought themselves, did pretty well last century with that Matsui guy. Where's he from again? Oh yeah. JAPAN . Plus, Fukodome hits left-handed and, I hear, is very strong (always good). The Japanese is really just icing on the cake. Hell, look what Ichiro has done for... crap, what team is he on again? Well, whichever, I'm sure they're good.
This is the year Z jumps from "potential" to "actual" Cy Young contender and here's why: the six-year contract extension. Zambrano's trouble in the past as been focus, but now that his financial well-being is taken care of with a guaranteed extra few million, Z can finally focus and fulfill his obligation as the team ace. Plus, the Cubs finally dumped that jerk Michael Barrett, who was always antagonizing Zambrano when all he wanted to do was pitch and occasionally point up to the sky and scream in Spanish.
Rest of the rotation
Hello, yesterday? This is today, and I'd like you to my version of Prior and Wood: Ted Lilly and Rich Hill. These guys both had career years last season, and... well that's darn near certain to continue in 2008 (name one reason why not). Then there's Jason Marquis, who looks to be extremely serviceable bordering on satisfactory in the fourth slot, plus Jon Lieber is set to make his big comeback, if he can beat out Sean "We Are" Marshall at No. 5, and... well... Zambrano!
The bad-ass two-headed monster of Bob Howry and Carlos Marmol should get the job done at closer (two guys have got to be better than one Dempster, and he was good enough to take the division). Then there's Wood in the bullpen, which should work out fine once he hashes being able to pitch in back-to-back games. Really, the bullpen is pretty stacked from top to bottom, now that Will Ohman is gone. Cuz let's face it, last year's post-season collapse was really Will Ohman's fault. His and Michael Barrett's.
Soriano, Lee, and Ramirez: Sick. That's the only word you can use to describe them... behind the plate. Sick behind the plate. When they play up to their potential. The only way to describe them. Add Fuko to the mix, and the Cubs now have four .300 hitters capable of 40-45 home runs and 100-125 RBIs. And although Soriano will probably insist on leading off, with Barrett finally gone, this year he should get more chances to knock in hitters from the bottom of the order. Plus, Fukudome is from Japan.
Other new guys
Not only did the Cubs sign a big, strong, left-handed Japanese guy, they also landed one of the top prospects in all of baseball this off-season with Soto, making it possible, if not likely, that the Cubs will have the Cy Young winner hurling to the 2008 NL rookie of the year. It's such an improvement over that idiot Michael Barrett it isn't even funny. And then we have Felix "Twisted Nad" Pie, who's finally making his big league debut surrounded by hype we haven't seen since the Cubs drafted Mark Prior over Mark Teixeira in 2001.
The rest of the lineup
The corners are two of the best in the game, but up the middle they're merely above average. Until the inevitable signing of Brian Roberts, we'll have to settle for Mark DeRosa at 2B (assuming the heart condition doesn't sideline him - man up, DeRosa). At shortstop we'll again see Ryan Theroit, who really "sparked" the offense and finished just 24 points short of batting .300 last season. As Adam Sandler once said, not too shabby.
Let's face it, the guy's a winner. And he isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to get it done, even if it means having to pretend he's a crazy, hat-kicking old man to motivate his players. He's already got a World Series ring, but I have no doubt that Bak... er, Pinella has another one in his future.
So there ya have it, haters. The Cubs are finally the team to beat this year, at least in the National League... Central. With Barrett finally out on his ass, there really are no holes, save possibly for Scott Eyre, the middle infield, various injury concerns, and the closing and No. 5 rotation spots. The only question left is will the Cubs take the NL Central with 85 wins or 90? If they peak at the right moment (and don't think Pinella won't let last year's post-season spanking motivate him to finish strong this year), there's no reason this club can't win the pennant. Oh wait, Ryan Dempster predicted they'll win the Series this year. Ryan Dempster said that. Okay, then. It ends this year.
Bite me, Pujols.