Wait ‘till next year has always been a popular refrain for the Chicago Cubs. Bookmakers have profited well off the Cubs on the future book. The last time Chicago won the World Series was 1908.
So, will 2011 finally be the season the Cubs breakthrough? There’s more of a chance pigs will fly first unless multiple long shot factors break right for Chicago.
The Cubs still haven’t figured out that a big payroll doesn’t translate to automatic pennants because chemistry still matters and so does fundamentals.
Chicago took a huge step back last season going 75-87, which included a 35-46 home mark at venerable Wrigley Field.
Bookmaker.com has set Chicago’s ‘over/under’ regular-season win total at 82 and plus 390 to win the National League Central Division.
If you have money to waste, the Cubs’ World Series odds are 45/1.
Slugging first baseman Carlos Peña and pitcher Matt Garza are the latest big-name players brought in by the Cubs.
Problem is the 32-year-old Peña is in decline whose batting average and RBIs have dropped each of the past three seasons while Garza is a fly-ball pitcher who seems ill-suited for windy Wrigley Field.
Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez have big names, too, but also are fading.
Soriano has failed to score 100 runs or knock in 80 runs since joining the Cubs four years ago after signing an eight-year $136 million deal. Ramirez has played in an average of just 103 games during the past two years.
Kosuke Fukudome, another player the Cubs lavished with a huge contract, has never batted above .263 in three seasons with the team. Fukudome hasn’t hit more than 13 homers in a season, or knocked in more than 58 runs.
Shortstop Starlin Castro and outfielder Tyler Colvin do give the Cubs some young talent. The 20-year-old Castro led the Cubs in batting last season hitting .300.
Marlon Byrd is a steady centerfielder and Geovany Soto is one of the better catchers if he’s healthy, which he hasn’t been.
Second base, though, is a real weak spot and morale still seems shaky. Already there was a much publicized spring training scuffle between fifth-starter candidate Carlos Silva and Ramirez. Carlos Zambrano always is a blowup waiting to happen.
Mike Quade led the Cubs to 24 victories in their final 37 games after replacing a burned-out Lou Piniella.
Despite this short-term success – achieved when the pressure was off – the jury remains out on the largely untested Quade. If the Cubs begin the season slow, there could be a clamoring for Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg to take over.
Zambrano pitched great down the stretch going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA. Zambrano has the talent to be an ace, but is one of the biggest head cases in baseball and can not be relied upon.
Ryan Dempster and Garza have proven consistent. Dempster has averaged 14 wins and 207 innings pitched during the past three seasons. Garza has averaged 11 victories and 155 strikeouts the past three years pitching for Tampa Bay in the brutal American League East.
The pitching question marks are at the No. 4 and No. 5 starting spots where Silva, Randy Wells and rookie Andrew Cashner are all competing. Wells failed to follow his solid 2009 form while Silva faded badly after a strong first half.
Closer Carlos Marmol averaged a major-league best 16 strikeouts per nine innings last season. Kerry Wood, the NL Rookie of the Year with the Cubs back in 1998, has returned to add bullpen support and possibly close again if Marmol should falter.
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