Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dream a Little Dream

Sit back my friend. Relax, and dream a little dream about the 2007 Cubs.

It’s September and the ’07 Cubs have just clinching the NL Central. To the surprise of many, it was the pitching that carried the club through the season and into the playoffs.

Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano was spectacular, posting a 19-7 record with a 3.13 ERA. To no ones surprise, Zambrano stayed healthy all year and pitched over 200 innings. He also helped his own cause by batting .196 with 4 HR.

Ted Lilly was solid all year and like Zambrano, was a workhorse, logging 204 2/3 innings. His 16-10 record was impressive, as was his 3.88 ERA. Much was written about the foibles of adding a flyball pitcher like Lilly to a ballpark like Wrigley Field, but in the end it didn’t prove to be a problem.

Mark Prior returned to his 2003 form and posted a record of 14-6 and an impressive ERA of 2.96. Although he missed a game here and there with a nagging injury, he still started 26 games and pitched well, even in the losses. Prior threw 174 1/3 innings, the most since his 2003 campaign. The highlight of the year for Prior was the no-hitter he threw against the Padres on a warm May evening in San Diego. It was definitely a comeback year for the young right-hander who is still working on realizing his tremendous potential.

Rich Hill had an up and down year, including a stint on the DL. He ended the year with an 8-7 record, but was fully recovered in time for the playoffs. Hill’s ERA of 4.75 is a bit misleading, since he was pounded in two games that accounted for many of the runs he allowed.

Jason Marquis was a pleasant surprise. Although a lot of negative things were said about him when he signed with the Cubs, he produced a nice 11-8 season with a 4.15 ERA. He also turned out to be a great influence in the clubhouse and a team leader.

Wade Miller was healthy and ready to go at the beginning of the season, but there just wasn’t room for him in the rotation. Trade rumors that included Miller’s name were almost constant from the beginning of the season, but Miller ignored the rumors and concentrated on pitching out of the bullpen. When Rich Hill was put on the DL, Miller filled in admirably. He posted a record of 4-3 in his eight starts for the Cubs and an overall record of 5-5 with a 4.54 ERA. Miller was traded as part of a package at the trade deadline. Of course, I would have to be a psychic to know who the Cubs got in return.

The bullpen was outstanding, led by closer Kerry Wood. A lot of people said Wood had control issues and would not make a good closer, but what those people didn’t realize was that only throwing one inning to close out a ball game is completely different that starting a game and having to pace yourself. Wood saved 33 out of 36 chances for the Cubs. Just having him available and knowing he could be counted on gave the team a boost and allowed Lou Piniella to manage more aggressively and with much more confidence.

So what about Ryan Dempster? I don’t know. He was either traded or got hurt. Does it really matter?

Two other guys who really distinguished themselves in the bullpen were Neal Cotts and Bob Howry. Cotts did a great job in long relief for the Cubs, and filled in nicely when Hill or one of the other starters were injured. Cotts ended the year with a 4-2 record and an ERA of 4.00.

Howry did a solid job as the set up man in front of Kerry Wood. He ended the year with a record of 5-6 and a 3.30 ERA.

The pitching staff was a bit of a question mark at the beginning of the year, but they came through and led the team into the post-sesaon.

Ahh, that was a nice dream. But it’s time to go back to work. If there’s time later, we can dream a little dream about the offense.


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