Inside Look: Chicago Cubs

cubslogo.jpgThe Mets are in Wrigleyville for a two-game set, playing the 2007 NL Central Champion Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs return as the favorites in 2008, led again by skipper Lou Piniella, sluggers Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, and Derrek Lee, and riding the arm of Carlos Zambrano, among others. New this year is their closer, who as of now is Kerry Wood.

To get a more in-depth look of the Cubs, we turn to Rob G. of The Cub Reporter.

1. After a first-place finish in 2007, the Cubs look poised to make a return to the postseason in 2008. Who do you see as the most serious challengers to the NL Central crown, and why?

The Brewers remain our biggest competition. There’s a lot of talent over there, a lot of young talent that you just hope doesn’t take off at the same time. That being said, Sheets is already dealing with his yearly injury and Prince Fielder has one home run after going on a vegetarian diet. And signing Eric Gagne a few days before the Mitchell Report came out, might go down as one of the boneheaded moves of all time.

Otherwise I thought the Reds were the only team with a chance before the year started, but they’ve got the wrong manager for that group of young talent. A manager who still thinks Corey Patterson can bat lead-off.

2. Do the Cubs go to the postseason without Lou Piniella as manager?

Oh sure, Lou is great and all, but the Cubs have a payroll in the top five. That probably has more to do with their success than the bench jockey. But I’m glad he’s sitting on the Cubs bench…

3. Tell us about Kosuke Fukudome — something we can’t see in his statline.

He strikes me as an incredibly smart ballplayer that knows the situation at all times. The common perception that Pacific Rim players are well-trained in the fundamentals, certainly seems true in this case.

4. How and why did Matt Murton not make the Opening Day roster? (I do see he was finally promoted)

There are a few reasons. First, he’s gotten into a funk with his swing and seems to be hitting everything on the ground right now. Mostly Lou wanted a little more versatility off the bench and a left-handed bat over a right-handed one. With Mike Fontenot, he can move Mark DeRosa to left or right if needed and Fontenot can play shortstop in a desperate pinch.

5. Are you comfortable with Kerry Wood as the closer and do you think he’ll stay in that role all season?

As long as he stays healthy he’ll be the closer all year. Kerry possibly has the best “stuff” in all of baseball (a career K/9 rate of 10.81 being the basis for that statement), so I think he can handle the role just fine.

6. Is Ryan Theriot for real?

Well yes, he isn’t a cyborg. Snark aside, he’s an okay ballplayer with a limited skill set that he does a great job of maximizing. If he can keep an average around .300, and he has the contact ability and speed to do that, he can be incredibly valuable as he’ll likely have an OBP of around .350 or .360 then. Because of his limited power though, he’s at the mercy of the BABIP gods (Batting Average on Balls In Play) when it comes to his batting average. If he hits in the .260 range though like last year, he’s not so useful and the Cubs will be looking for an upgrade.

7. Predictions: Who will be the Cubs’ MVP in ’08? Who will be the biggest surprise?

I’ll go out on a limb on this one and say the guy leading the league in home runs right now, Derrek Lee. Before the season, I would have said Aramis Ramirez. As for biggest suprise, I’ll go out on another limb and take the guy with the 3-0 record, Ryan Dempster. But I do think most folks expected him to crash and burn as a starter, while I think he’ll be be an asset to the team.

Thanks again to Rob G. for his insight into the Cubbies. Be sure to check out The Cub Reporter for all the “inside info” on the Chicago Cubs.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude April 21, 2008 at 3:56 pm
    Good insight…especially concerning Ryan Theriot. I grabbed him in my fantasy league and he’s paying very large dividends so far.

    Going off the beaten path for a second:
    Moises Alou has started a rehab assignment in Port St Lucie, and has picked up right where he left off last September, going 3 for 3 while playing LF this past weekend. Now, I realize things never go according to plan for the Mets, but apparently Alou should be ready to rejoin the Mets on Friday, when they begin a series at home against the Braves (good timing). Of course, this timetable is way ahead of schedule, as we were speculating Alou’d be out until mid-May, at best. Whatever the case, Alou is most likely coming back sooner than later, which impacts the Mets most in 2 departments. #1 – what becomes of Angel Pagan, and #2 – what becomes of the lineup? In my opinion, Pagan goes to the bench, and Brady Clark gets DFA. It sucks for Pagan to be hitting .311 at this point and still know his time as a starter is limited, but I think it’s a plus for the Mets knowing they have a slick-fielding, switch-hitting, clutch bat available on the bench. And a closer look at Pagan’s recent performance suggests maybe Alou’s return will be welcomed. Over the last 6 games, Pagan is just 4 for 22 (.181), with 1 extra-base hit (a double), 1 RBI, 0 runs scored, 1 walk, and 6 Ks. Fair to say he’s coming back down to earth?
    As for the lineup, I have to believe Alou is going to be batting 5th initially. Delgado has not shown the hitting prowess needed to hit 5th and should (at least for the interim) be dropped to the 6th spot. Perhaps this will be a welcome change, as Delgado hit .324 in 71 at-bats batting 6th last year, while Alou was .316 in 196 at-bats hitting 5th. I think we’d all take a duplication of those numbers in 2008. Additionally, Willie may continue to try to break up the Delgado-Church-Schneider lefty parade at the bottom of the order, so I think we should be getting used to the sight of Church hitting 2nd. Which means the Mets everyday lineup with Alou would read…
    1. Reyes (S)
    2. Church (L)
    3. Wright (R)
    4. Beltran (S)
    5. Alou (R)
    6. Delgado (L)
    7. Schneider (L)
    8. Castillo (S)
    I don’t know how to help hitting Delgado and Schneider back-to-back. I’d love to know if other people agree with this or have their own ideas about what the lineup is going to look like.

  2. sincekindergarten April 21, 2008 at 4:52 pm
    Well, the only change I could see would be, on days that the Mets face a LHSP, switch Alou and Delgado in the order to keep from having two LH bats in succession. I understand that Delgado’s power is down, but how long do you think he’s going to go like that without making some kind of changes?