Since becoming a father, every year at this time I have one singular thought that dominates my brain. I am a horrible father. Not just mediocre or average. Horrible. H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. I need an intervention. Someone should file a 310 on me with Child Protective Services because things are just that bad. I am raising two children in an environment of perpetual pain, suffering and depression. It is bad enough that this happened with Hannah, but the cycle is going to start again with Amelia because she is now old enough to be aware of what is going on. I really should be locked away. There is no defensible reason for my actions. I could blame it on my upbringing and my family, but that is not really an excuse, for there are a number of family members (although distant) who have gotten out from under this problem. But not me. I just can’t stop. I am and always will be a die-hard Cubs fan and I am raising my children to be the same.
I have tried to care less about the Cubs, but I just can’t. Even last year, when I didn’t have high hopes for the team, I couldn’t do it. I came in to the season saying that I wasn’t going to follow scores everyday or even waste time watching games. Yet during the first week of the season, I was flipping through the guide on the TV, happened to see that the Cubs were playing on WGN and wouldn’t you know it, I changed the channel to the game and watched intently. I watch way more games and listened to more games on the radio than I ever could have imagined, given my declaration before the season that I “wasn’t going to care so much this year.”
Going in to this season, I am at least going to be more realistic about my level of fandom. No matter what I say and, more importantly, no matter how hopeless it seems this year, my level of fandom and caring is not going to go down. I just can’t quit the Cubs, no matter how much they continually punch me in the face and give me wedgies. It is going to be a drag on my soul and my overall level of happiness and good cheer for yet another year. I am resigned to accepting this reality. On the plus side, I at least have realistic expectations for this season. Which is to say I have no idea what is going to happen this year.
To be honest, I felt the same last year, which I think is part of why I still tuned in to games, despite my preseason declaration. The likelihood of the Cubs actually winning the World Series is very low (and not just because they are the sCrUBS and will probably never win it all. Back off! I can make fun of them because they are my team, but I won’t let you make fun of them!) I can see a scenario where they can easily be competitive in the National League Central, especially given that the competition is not going to be particularly stiff. The Pirates and Astros stink on ice. The Reds are the defending division champs and look to be a team that will only continue to get better, but they have some injuries (namely staring pitchers Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto) and the biggest impediment of all, manager Dusty Baker. Just when things seem to be looking up is when all of a sudden things fall apart for him, Game 6 of the 2002 World Series with the Giants, Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS with the Cubs (possibly the worst night of my life), the last week to 10 days of the 2004 season and the entire 2005 season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds find a way to underperform this year.
The Brewers made some big splashes this off-season by acquiring some big time pitching in the form of Zack Geinke and Shaun Marcum to go with their high-powered offense. They have gone all-in as a large (figuratively and literally) portion of their offense, portly first baseman, Prince Fielder, is most likely playing his final season with the Brew Crew before leaving at the end of the season for the mega-bucks of free agency. However, Zack Greinke goes and breaks a rib while playing a sport that wasn’t baseball. Throwing their rotation off for a little while.
However, the injury bug affected the hated St. Louis Cardinals the worst, when Adam Wainwright went out with a torn elbow ligament early in Spring Training. Although to be honest, the bigger problem for the team is that they really did not do anything to get any better. Throw in the fact that they did not lock up a player who is probably the best right-handed hitter in the history of baseball, Albert Pujols, to a long term deal during the offseason and the Cardinals look like a team that is a cold April start away from mutiny.
So that leaves those lovable losers in blue, your Chicago Cubs! Here is what I like about us this year. (Oh yeah, I said “us”. I may not ever put on a uniform or cash a check from the Ricketts, but I live and die with the team. Maybe more than the actual players. So there!)
1) While I was initially skeptical about having Mike Quade, a life-long minor league coach, as our manager, he seems to be able to get the best out of the team. He took a team that had zero to play for and probably quit on Lou Pinella, and had them playing decently during his brief tenure last season. He focuses on fundamental baseball, has a good connection with the younger guys (having been their coach in the minors) and seems to keep the team relaxed. I was surprised the Cubs didn’t go with Ryne Sandberg as manager, since they seemed to be grooming him for the job, although I wasn’t sold on him either. (I STILL wish we would have tried to get Joe Girardi before he signed with the Yankees and before we signed Lou Pinella. But no one asked me. Which they should have!) In the end, it seems that Quade is the right man for the job and he is one of the primary reasons that this team might overachieve this season.
2) I think that our starting pitching is going to be pretty good. Certainly they are not on par with the Phillies plethora of aces, but I think our rotation is solid. Ryan Dempster is not spectacular, but he is solid. I didn’t think we should have traded for Matt Garza, not because of his ability (because I think he is a good pitcher), but because it seemed to be a waste of prospects to trade for a good starter when our team was going nowhere. Sure, Carlos Zambrano is probably a ticking time bomb, but if we would have gotten rid of him, I guarantee that he would have pulled himself together and become the dominant ace that everyone always thought he could be, just to spite the Cubs and Cubs fans everywhere. Plus, his tirades and antics are rather amusing. Randy Wells looked good his rookie year and showed flashes last year. I think he can round back in to form. The bullpen is pretty good with Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood back (especially because we didn’t sign him for mega-dollars!)
Now for the major downside of the team…. the offense. Lately, when the Cubs have been bad (2005 and 2006, most of last year) the story was always the same. The Cubs would pitch pretty well and score no runs. My fellow Cubs fan, The Bringer of Pain, coined a term for a particularly frustrating part of the Cubs offense. He calls it “getting Cub’ed”. This is when the Cubs have more hits that the other team in a given game, yet still get outscored and lose. When the Cubs have been bad in the past few years, this happens A LOT. I feel like we will have another one of those seasons. Kosuke Fukodome will start hot like he always does, then melt by the time summer rolls around, Alfonso Soriano will continue to look like Sammy Sosa Jr by getting hot for 1 week a month but then swinging wildly at horrible breaking balls in the dirt for 3 weeks and the decomposition of Aramis Ramirez will most likely continue. New acquisition Carlos Pena appears to be a classic Cub through and through. he hits home runs, but also has a batting average in the low .200’s. He’ll fit in perfectly. The only highlight I can see is phenom Starlin Castro.
Going hand in hand with our decrepit offense are two other fun things to watch for. First, we will go for a week scoring 1 or 2 runs a game and looking pathetic. Then, when you least expect it, we will have an outburst of 10 runs. One effect of this is that when you look at the stat sheet, the Cubs’ offense looks deceivingly average instead of scraping the bottom of the barrel. The second thing to watch for is the stories and quotes in the newspaper during this “Good offense, bad offense” routine. During the week, there will be a lot of sturm and drang about how “All we need to do is get the bats going, and we’ll be fine” or ” The offense is about to start clicking” and my personal favorites “Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to [fill in name of the other team’s pitcher]” (even though it is some scrub from the minors making his first ever start, they talk about him like he is Cy Young or something) and “There is plenty of season left. We are going to get hot.”
Then during the one game of the homestand when we explode for like 10 runs, there will be much rejoicing about how “That was the spark our team needed” and “The offense is now on track”, only to be followed by being shut out in 5 out of our next 6 games.
Sports Illustrated picked the Cubs to finish at 81-81, which to be honest, sounds about right to me. When you look at this team on paper, they seem like they should be much worse than that, so finishing at .500 would be a nice job by Quade and company. At some point in late July/early August, the team will heat up and get within a game or two of first place and get everyone excited, but then they will fall back to reality. Can I see us actually playing above our heads the entire season and winning the division? Yes, the Central is definitely ripe for the taking. However, can I see either Aramis or Alfonso (or possibly both) turning into Bernie Lomax and Big Z going crazy and burning down the ivy on the outfield while the team goes out in a giant blaze of glory, dead last in the Central, losing 100+ games? Most definitely. That’s why right at .500 seems like a safe bet to me. Unfortunately, I don’t see any upside for a couple of years as we still have some big contracts (Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez, Fukudome) that only just start coming off the books with Fukudome at the end of this year.
So with that, the pain and depression sets in again. I drag Hannah down with me again for yet another heartbreaking and championship-less season and I start to indoctrinate Amelia into the joyless pain and abuse that is being a Cub fan. But it will all be worth it, when the Cubs finally win the Series. Right? Seriously, this WILL all be worth it, at the end? Hopefully? Oh forget it, just call CPS on me now and put me and my unsuspecting children out of our misery. Please?!