Been quite a year for Carlos Zambrano. No single individual player on the Cubs roster elicited more debate in 2007 than Big Z. While Ted Lilly, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall quietly went about their job of turning in consistent quality starts (more or less), Carlos inexplicably ran hot and cold, and we’re not just talking on the field here. As streaky as anyone in baseball, it seemed the club more or less went with him on the roller coaster. When he thrived, they thrived. When he tanked, so did the club. Which makes Game One tomorrow absolutely pivotal.
On June 6 Carlos publicly declared that he was starting over, that his second season had just begun. It was a bold statement indeed but one he delivered on.
But the case could be made (or else I wouldn’t have written this) that Carlos Zambrano didn’t stop at just two seasons in 2007, but in reality went through the entire calendar and has given us all four seasons in order: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.
Winter of Our Discontent
April 2 – June 2 (Z 5-5) (Cubs 22-31)
Cold, miserable, all you want to do is sit with a good book by the fire. Who wants to be outside playing baseball when it’s so frigid out there? The first 53 games of 2007 left many of us wondering if Z and the team got the memo that the season had indeed started. Carlos didn’t even look like the 4 of clubs, let alone the ace of the staff.
In winter, all I feel is frustration; the ice, the cold, the snow. I hate winter. Frustration also dogged Zambrano, as evidenced in the infamous dugout brawl between him and soon-to-be ex-teammate Michael Barrett. Cub fans didn’t know it then, but that altercation, coupled with Lou Piniella’s carefully orchestrated ejection the day after would catapult the team right through the vernal equinox and into Spring!
June 3 – August 4 (Z 9-2) (Cubs 36-20)
Everything comes to life in Spring; flowers, fields, gardens, the trees and Carlos Zambrano and his Chicago Cubs. Easter celebrates resurrection in Spring. Days grow warmer & brighter, smiles broaden and everyone seems to have an extra skip in their step as we jettison the Winter’s blahs. That is precisely what happened to Carlos and the team as a whole. The Ace reestablished himself as the Number 1 starter on this squad. Even the two losses suffered during his Spring season were quality starts, including a stellar complete game 2-hit performance against San Diego on June 16th. Zambrano’s masterful outing resulted in a 1-0 defeat, a game no one remembers other than the Derrek Lee/Chris Young fight. At 14-7, some were even speculating that Big Z might attract some consideration for a Cy Young Award.
Dog Days of Summer
August 5 – September 7 (Z 0-5) (Cubs 13-18)
Timing, as the clich√à goes, is everything and Carlos could not have chosen a worse time personally to be entrenched in his worst stretch of the season. On August 17th he signed a well publicized $91 million contract extension making him the highest paid Cub in the clubhouse. The stress and strain began to show. Five starts, five losses, five horrific losses where he tossed 28 2/3 innings, allowing 30 earned runs. As the temperature soars in Summertime, the fans and Zambrano each seemed to suffer from a bad case of prickly heat. They booed, he reacted.
What goes better with Summer than a nice dip in the pool or the ocean? But during Carlos’ Summer Season, all the Cubs could manage was treading water as they hoped their ace would break out of the dogged days so many players and teams endure in the hottest time of the year. On Labor Day he suffered his worst defeat of the year, giving up 8 earned runs and falling to 14-12. No one was whispering possible Cy Young honors any more.
September 8-30 (Z 4-1) (Cubs 14-8)
As the sweat and toil of Summer yields to the crisp and cool tidings of Autumn, once again I often feel reinvigorated by the smells, sights and sounds around me. The Playoffs draweth nigh and my team is within reach of the brass ring, a reality occurring but a scant 5 times in my 49 years of existence. Not a minute too son, either, as Zambrano enters his fourth and hopefully, final season of the highly unpredictable and occasionally tumultuous campaign. The Labor Day debacle behind him, Carlos is reborn yet again as he is touched for a total of just six runs over his last five starts, including no runs at all the last two times he took the mound.
Cub fans are thus encouraged, with every right to be. Carlos Zambrano has a 3.06 ERA on the road and his night splits are better than his day. But if remains locked in as he has over his last 13 innings, it will not matter when or where he pitches. He will march to the task set before him without fear or trepidation.
After all, Carlos Zambrano is well seasoned.