Those are some of the most beautiful words in the English language. How long is it until pitchers and catcher report to spring training? Right now it is right around two weeks. I don’t need to wax overly poetic (as if I even could) but the dawning and new life of spring brings the dawning and new life of hope for a team that would like to win their first World Series in,l what was it?, Oh yeah 100 years. I am looking forward to the new baseball season so that I can stop hearing about whether or not the Cubs will trade this guy or that, and whether or not they will embrace or ignore the fact that this is their 100th year since winning the World Series. I am also looking forward to pushing the terrible playoff series against the Diamondbacks out of my memory.
In light of all of this I want to compose some thoughts about questions that I think will be pivotal as we look at this year:
Question 1: Will the Cubs finally get off to a good start?
Last year the Central Division was much closer than it should have been. I am amazed that even though the Cubs fell way behind the Brewers at the start of the season, most people never seemed to waver about the Cubs winning the division (Aside from jump off the bridge Cubs fans). There was little doubt that the Cubs were the best, most complete team in the division and that they should be able to come back and win it. They did and we start the season and the clear division favorite again.
So ho can we avoid another bad start? You hear often that you need two teams to win at Wrigley Field: The team that can win in bad weather when the wind is blowing in and the second team that can win in good weather when the wind is blowing out. It seems that we have a mix of big bangers and scrappy little guys. Hopefully, we can avoid the team wide slumps that we had last year. It would be nice to be one of those teams who take control of the division early and keep the foot on the gas to where we’re cruising through September. When you look at the team and look at the division this really is possible.
What about the Brewers?
How well will this team do as it matures? Milwaukee has a fun young base. It would be great to watch Prince Fielder, and JJ Hardy, and Ben Sheets and other guys. I feel bad for them because they play for Milwaukee. Even though they have a good base and a beautiful ballpark and some money to spend now, they struggle attracting the free agents they go after because they are Milwaukee. Are the Brewers stronger or weaker on paper? Well the team has not improves very much except that they have matured more. Young guys are getting older and will seemingly be better. How much better can the Prince be? Or will he turn into Funnel Cake like his dad? I think the Brewers have the most potential to compete and hang around. I just don’t know how much and how long?
Will the power return?
A reader once questioned the drop in power and how real it was. I think that clearly the team hit many less home runs and without the strong September they had it would have even been worse. Power numbers were down for Lee and Ramirez. We had almost no power from Right Field or Center Field. Think about this Lee, Ramirez, Murton, Floyd, Jones, Barrett, and maybe even Soriano hit less home runs and drove in less runs than most of us would have ever thought. Will the power return to Wrigley this year. For the Cubs to win a World Series it will probably have to.
Who will own this team and Wrigley (McDonalds or buy this name) Field?
The team has yet to be sold and the sale seems far away. Will Sam Zell put the brakes on spending when we need it most? It seems like we could have at least been in the Santana discussion except for money issues. I keep hearing that the new owners will need to lease Wrigley Field which will be owned and run by a separate authority. I don’t understand all of this but it has something to do with getting Zell more money. What it practically means is that the new owner will need to pay between 10 and 20 million per year for renting Wrigley. This probably means 10 to 20 million less in payroll. Not good.
Who will bat lead off?
Supposedly the Brian Roberts deal will be finalized after the Erik Bedard deal supposedly gets done this week supposedly. We will see. Until then Alfonso Soriano is our lead off hitter, but noticing how hard the Cubs seem to be pursuing Roberts, it seems that Soriano is the lead off hitter by default. I really don’t know if we can win the World Series with Soriano batting lead off. I don’t know how long it will be until Lou blows a gasket over some of the bad lead off stuff. I think the Cubs are working real hard to get someone else to lead off. I wonder if they can do it.
I think he is so key to who we are. The Cubs pursued him more than anyone else this offseason and it paid off. They got their man. But who is he and how will he do? How will he adjust to a new country and a new team and a new league and new players? He is so critical and yet we know so little about him.
Who is in our five?
Right now I don’t even know who our four and five pitchers are, do you? I think we need to have reliable four and fives and not just guys. It would be nice to have four and fives who you have pretty good confidence that they could usually beat other teams four and fives, often bet their three, and occasionally surprise their ones and twos. As of now I don’t even know who they are. I would just like to remind Hendry that just because your holes are in the four and five slots it does not mean you have to go out and sign a four or five pitchers. Think about the great Braves of the 90’s. Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux, all ones. That’s how you go to multiple World Series.
Those are my questions for the season. What questions do you think hold the keys to killing the billy goat?