Monday, February 13, 2006

My First Post!

Before I get going on my first column here, I’d like to take a second (a few lines actually) to introduce myself. My name is Mike Wilkinson, and I’m a Cubs fan. Sounds kind of like someone standing up at an AA Meeting doesn’t it? That’s a fairly accurate assessment for me as it pertains to the Cubs. I’m addicted, and I can’t get enough. No matter what has happened, I’ve always been a fan of the Northsiders, through thick and thin. Baseball is one of my true passions in life, and another is writing. I’ve never been particularly great at writing though, so I steered away from English as a major in college. Oh college...Those days were great. I plan on writing a column once a week, hopefully more frequently during the season. I plan on shying away from the day-to-day recaps (you can get those other places, and I guarantee they’ll be done better than I could do them), and focus more on opinion and retrospective. I also plan on sprinkling in a minor league report once a month or so. I did this at my old blog, “Out in the Bleachers”, and it went over fairly well. I know Chris liked it. He also liked ripping on Lenny Harris, and while he’s safely out of our lives now, I’ll see what I can do about tossing in some of that as well. I’m really interested in comments and feedback, and you can leave that for me at the end of the article. Enough of the intro crap, it’s onto the feature.

I’m not going to beat on the dead horse that was last year, but we all know that the Cubs circa 2005 weren’t good. We didn’t even play .500 ball. Logic dictates that in order for us to be contenders this year, we have to have improvements over last year’s performances. This has to come from either young players maturing and playing at a higher level, obtaining players who can play at a higher level than last year’s crew did, or luck. Or some combination of the 3. Luck is the hardest to quantify, but I can say with some assurance that we weren’t terribly lucky or unlucky last season. Sure, we had some injuries, but we also had some performances that were better than expected (Lee, Murton and Cedeno’s late season emergence, Dempster as a closer). Where have the Cubs attempted to upgrade for this season? Common logic dictates that we’re in store for a full season of Cedeno at SS and Murton in LF. Some people think that both will come in this season and perform at the levels they established in their short time last season. I don’t think that will be the case. I think one of the 2 will fall well short of expectations while the other thrives.

Other changes are in store in RF and CF as well. While the defense Jones will provide in right will be a step up over Burnitz’s, the offense won’t. Pierre is a significant upgrade over Patterson in center…that much we all know. The Cubs really struggled with taking a walk last season, as well as getting the runners over. While having Pierre at the top of the order will be nice, neither he, nor Jones, nor Cedeno will take walks often enough. I think the offense has improved some, but not by much. The pitching staff features tons of question marks. Can Mark Prior stay healthy for a whole year? Can Kerry Wood make it back from shoulder surgery? Can he be effective? Will Dempster be effective as a closer all season long? Is Maddux done? Can Glendon Rusch rebound to his 2004 form as a starter? Whats the story with Jerome Williams? Was signing Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre enough to patch the bullpen? I wish I had the answers to these questions. My gut feeling says that the pen will still be ineffective, and that we’re going to have injuries in the rotation again.

Best case scenario has Cedeno and Murton exploding on the scene, Prior winning 18 plus games, Kerry returning to the rotation and being Kerry by June, and the bullpen holding up. Worst case scenario sees injuries, ineffectiveness, lots of Neifi, Derrek Lee returning to Earth, Dempster imploding, the bullpen being leaky as ever, and Aramis’s groin causing problems. As is always the case, the truth lies in between. I see the Cubs being a little bit better than last year, but not winning more than 85 games. Call it 83-79, in 3rd place behind the Cardinals and the Brewers. I hope I’m pleasantly surprised though!