Do you ever feel like you’re on one crazy roller coaster as a Cub fan? I know I do. At the beginning of this year, I was excited about the team. There were many who decided that the team had no chance from the beginning. I was not one of them. I felt like this team was better than last year. I still feel that this team is better off than last year. I’m just tired of being on the roller coaster. I start out excited as the Cubs jump out with a 468 run outburst on opening day and then go on to, at times, seem like they are hitting with their eyes closed. It’s been up and down all year.
Now, there are rumors everywhere about who, if anyone, the Cubs will go out and get before July 31. One day we’re getting Preston Wilson, then the next day we’re not. One day it’s Austin Kearns, then it’s not. It’s enough to make a person’s head spin with confusion. One minute Corey Patterson is our leadoff hitter, then he’s hitting 8th, then back to leadoff then Iowa. It’s hard to know if we should be excited or disappointed or what. I believe this team is a team to be excited about. So, with that in mind, I want to present to you 5 reasons you can’t give up on the playoffs as of yet.
1. Jim Hendry Has A Role Model
Until recently, the Cubs battle plan has been that of John Daly, “grip it and rip it”. They have relied on the longball in a time where GM’s are beginning to rely more on the sabermetric approach. While I am not sold on the Sabr mindset, things like seeing a good amount of pitches per at bat and drawing walks can’t hurt a team, can they? If you take a look at the last 9 World Series winners, you find that the average OBP put up by the winning team is .351, which is an average rank of 3 in their league. Right now, the Cubs have an OBP of .329, good for 11th in the NL. Not too good!!! However, with the additions of guys like Matt Murton, Adam Greenberg, and Jody Gerut, Hendry appears to be buying into the philosophy of fellow GM Theo Epstein, whose Red Sox boast a .357 OBP, which is tops in the American League. If Hendry truly does have a new approach on how to to build a team, it’s something to be excited about for this trade deadline as well as other deadlines to come.
2. The Pitching Staff
It’s still true that the Cubs have one of the deepest and most talented rotations in the business when they’re healthy. As of right now, they are all exactly that. Since the All Star break, which I know only consists of 5 games, the Cubs lead the league in team ERA with an astounding 1.60. They also have the only team WHIP under 1, with a remarkable 0.80. This is a staff that seems to have consistency problems due to health concerns, but if they’re all healthy down the stretch, can you really bet against a rotation this deep? After all, we have 2 guys in our pen that could easily be # 3 starters on a lot of teams.
3. Derrek Lee
Just think about the numbers that Lee could have put up if he had Hairston and Walker hitting ahead of him all year. Now that Dusty has figured out that having guys on base seems to help when your sluggers come to the plate, I look for the team to score runs consistently. With Lee as hot as he is, I look for him to go on a monster tear down the stretch and seriously contend for that Triple Crown.
4. Former Red Sox Return
This one sounds strange, but the Cubs are anxiously looking forward to help from two former Red Sox. Nomar, whose target date for return is August 1st, will be a HUGE lift for the Cubs. He doesn’t really see a lot of pitches, but he just knows how to flat out hit. He should provide some lower part of the order help down the stretch. I say lower part because I really do not want to see him batting in the 1 or 2 hole where he’d be expected to run a little. By hitting him lower in the order, you’re not looking for a SB, you’re looking for a key base hit, which is what he can give you.
In addition to Nomar, the Cubs are also awaiting the return of Scott Williamson, who was a low risk signing that could prove to be a huge reward if he works out. Williamson who was signed with the hope that he could come back from Tommy John surgery appears set to go on a rehab assignment in the next few weeks. ESPN had this to say on the issue…
RHP Scott Williamson threw in the bullpen on Monday in Cincinnati. Williamson is recovering from his second “Tommy John” surgery and is getting close to a rehab assignment. “We don’t know what the timetable is,” manager Dusty Baker said after watching the session. Williamson will go on a rehab assignment soon. …
If he can return to the form he appeared back on the way to showing in Boston, the Cubs would get the help they need in the desperate pen.
5. Best of the Rest
Are the Cubs better than the Cardinals? No!!! However, at this point, the Cubs are working to get in the playoffs via the back door known as the Wild Card. In terms of teams in the hunt, I believe the Cubs are the best of those teams. Sure, some may argue that teams like Florida and Atlanta are extremely strong and the Cubs will have a hard time catching them. But, when you look at it, one of those two is going to win the NL East. The Nationals are not going to hang on all year. It’s not possible. Which means, the Cubs do not need to be better than both the Marlins and the Braves. They only need to be better than one of them. That gives me hope.
Is it a sure bet that the Cubs will go on to win the Wild Card and make a run like 2003? Nope, but since I have these 5 things to cling to, as well as the fact that I have prepaid for the year for the MLB Extra Innings package on Dish, I’ll be watching till the bitter end in October, even if the real end is in August.