Welcoming Back Kerry Wood: Set-Up for Success

There have been some rather large events this off-season, signings that really jump off the screen at you, no?

Look familiar?

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Cliff Lee’s signing with the Phillies has significantly changed the landscape of the National League.  I don’t care how many heavy hitters you have in your line-up.  If they can’t drive through the ball on the sweet spot of the bat, or at least make contact and muscle one out of the stadium or deep to the wall for extra base hits, it doesn’t really matter.  Pitching wins championships and now with that rotation in place, Philadelphia has positioned themselves as the team to beat.  In not only the NL East, but in the National League as a whole.
In the year of the one-year contract, the Cubs managed to land Carlos Pena to man first base.  He’ll be expected to perform significantly better in the average department (.196 in 2010) and at the very least find a way to also stay on par in the power numbers department (28 HR, 84 RBI in 2010). In his time with the Cubs, Derrek Lee not only led by example in the clubhouse and delivered game changing presence at the plate, but his glove saved many errors from occurring over the years and in effect cancelled out a lot of would be runs.  The Cubs are going to need Pena to step up and play that same role.  A match of his .196 AVG in 2011 isn’t going to cut it.  The fans will have patience with the newest Cub but I can’t imagine the leeway lasting more than the first few weeks of the season.  If Pena follows ‘The Lee Way’ however, he will get off to a very slow start.  If we were able to give Lee time to get his season in gear year in and year out, we should at least afford Pena the month of April to do the same.
Think about how many one-run ballgames we lost last year.  Give us enough of those games back and we would have been playing meaningful games in a role other than spoiler, well past the middle of August.  Injuries and our record in one-run games in 2010 were two keys to the Cubs not living up to hopes/expectations.  Hopefully a new line-up featuring more Colvin in right with Fukudome as the fourth outfielder, a repeat All-Star performance by Byrd, a return to form by Soriano, sophomore success by Castro, a healthy Ramirez, another year full of quality starts by the rotation and an overall positive effect by inserting Pena into the lineup to help generate another run or two per game and we may be back, looking at the top of the standings in 2011.  I don’t expect Cincinnati go away, the Cards are always tough and Milwaukee is shoring up it’s pitching staff so it might take every single one of those things listed above happening in order for the Cubs to land on top next season in the Central.
Of course, this post was kicked off by talking about pitching making the difference.  We can add another couple runs per game (which would be great since we scored more than 80 runs less than our opponents did last year) however, if we can’t hold onto that lead late in the game, it won’t even matter.
And that…is where Kerry Wood comes in…by coming back.
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The return of Wood is the biggest headline of the Cubs off-season dealings and he’s going to be welcome with open arms, expected to carry the load late in the game.  Wood may just be the bridge we need to fill the gap from Marshall to Marmol.  Wood absolutely helps the Cubs form a powerful 7-8-9 inning tandem in Marshall, Wood and Marmol.  It will make the Cubs a scarier opponent going beyond the fifth inning with a lead.  Definitely, a lot scarier than the team was last year when we pitched so many youngsters in late inning, hold situations.
Wood’s return showcases the portion of heart that was lost on the team when Wood went to the Yankees.  He represents what could have been and now what could still possibly be. Kerry Wood isn’t the answer to all the Cubs’ problems.  I mean, just look at the list I put together three paragraphs back.  However, with two disappointing seasons behind them, the loss of their voice in Santo (whose funeral provided the opportunity for Wood and his wife to meet up with Hendry and kick off the dominoes it took to make this deal happen – and wouldn’t that be cool if while Santo can’t see the Cubs win the Series during his lifetime, his passing may be the thing that helps make the deal happen that pushes the Cubs over the hump to victory in 2011? – What a story that would be) and the great unknown ahead in what Quade can accomplish with a whole season, it will be nice to have a familiar face on the team again.  The face of a guy that never should have left in the first place, in my opinion.
The thing about Wood’s return is I can’t think of another pitcher that once served as a full-time starter, set-up man and closer for the same organization.  Can you?  Wood won Rookie of the Year and nearly led the Cubs to the World Series as a starter and tallied 34 saves in his one year as the Cubs’ closer, the same number he’ll wear back with the team as a set-up man.
Philadelphia may have landed Lee.  The second best pitcher dealt out there, Grienke, may have landed with the division rival Brewers.  However, when it comes to the Cubs making a difference with a pitching signing, it wasn’t about the big name or the big bucks.  The Cubs have a competitive, quality start-churning out five in Z, Demp, Wells, Gorzy and Silva if in fact those are the guys we go with come April.  So, it’s more so about a great pitcher with a lot left in the tank in short relieft, coming back to his home team, his home field, his home organization to carry the load, this time as the set-up man.
Hopefully this stint with the team will result in him setting up the team for ultimate success instead of let down.  Either way, it will be good to have him back and Chicago will be thrilled to once again be rooting for one of their own.  Go Cubs Go!

“Ker-ry! Ker-ry! Ker-ry!”/Let’s Say They’re Right part 2

As much as I am a fan of Alyssa Milano, I must say, I am thoroughly enjoying watching my Cubs beat up on her Dodgers.  Two back-to-back 3-1 wins kicking off this three game series…good times.  The Dodgers are no slouches this year either, 3.5 games back in the West behind the Dbacks, a decent measure of how the Cubs are doing in playing such a talented squad.  And judging by the results, we are doing REALLY well.

Fukudome was amazing again this evening and on his Bobblehead Night, mind you.  Kosuke may be the most impressive signing by any ballclub in a LONG time.  Fukudome had two terrific plays in the outfield tonight and a key double in tonight’s victory, but think about what a huge impact he has had on this ballclub this year.  Unbelievable.  And between Fukudome, Ramirez and Wood tonight…the Cubs were awesome.  I was initially concerned about how signing Edmonds was going to effect the overall chemistry of the ballclub.  I must say, I’m glad to have his bat and ability in the clubhouse.  Granted, his bat has been less present than his ability lately, but I’m sure it will come around.  In the meantime, we have Johnson.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t even miss Pie.  I was perhaps his biggest supporter in the land of the MLBlogs and now…well, first place in the Central at the end of May at 31-21 speaks for itself.  Edmonds better start hitting though, otherwise, I’m sure my tune will change once more.

Soriano continues to be a factor with his occasional home run leading off and seeing that he hasn’t hurt himself jumping around in left field, he’s back to helping make this lineup a big threat against all opponents once again.  I haven’t had a chance to read Derosa’s blog where he and Theriot do their teammate Q&A but I’m looking forward to it.  This team is full of a bunch of good guys who try night in and night out, day in and day out where its nearly impossible to not root for each and every one of them with all your heart. 

Chris Berman made a comment tonight about what a big story it would be if the Cubs were to do the unthinkable and end the 100 year championship drought this year with Wood, the once ‘ace starter’ as their now ‘ace closer’.  I believe that’s true and appropriate seeing that we’re in the 10 year anniversary month of his 20 K game…but the same could be said for Dempster.  What a great experiment he’s turned out to be so far this year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them are playing in Yankee Stadium come July over the All-Star break.  I wonder how many Cubs will be representing Chicago on the National League team.  You could make a case for a lot of them…Lee, Zambrano, Soriano, Fukudome, Dempster, Wood.  Could be a big year for the Cubs in the off, regular, mid, and postseason this year.

Tomorrow night’s game is on ESPN 2 for all of you who only catch them when they’re on national television and it should a great pitchers’ duel between Lowe and Zambrano at Wrigley.  

Anyone else surprised our biggest competition for the Central so far has been the Cardinals and the Astros?  I am.  Before the season I figured it would be the Brewers and the Reds…so far…not so much.  Not that I’m complaining mind you, just surprised.

I haven’t been able to blog in a while as things have been pretty crazy with a number of stand up dates and a couple of television and film productions.  One thing I was starting to have some fun with was the idea of the most appealing aspect of facing any of the teams in the AL in the World Series this year and why any of them would be fun to face (and let’s face it, what would we care who we face?)  Last time I did so, I wrote the aspects of the AL East.  Since it’s been a while, here is my take on why I’d be psyched to face anyone in:

The AL Central

White Sox: Seriously.  Crosstown rivals.  What could be more fun than this matchup?  The White Sox are currently in first place in the AL Central and have put a huge push on to get there lately going 8-2 in their last 10 games.  Bring it on ChiSox.  Bring it on.

Twins:  No Santana?  No Problem.  Santana’s in NY and while he won tonight, that team is a disaster.  Meanwhile, the team he left is thriving with their young talent.  A Series featuring the young talent of the Twins in ‘Sota against the young talent here in Chicago…that definitely sounds like a good time to me.

Indians:  These fans think they’ve waited a long time since the last time they won a Championship.  Puh-lease!  It would be a big story though and only one could end the streak.  100 years.  Chicago Wins.  Better story, better team, better outcome (if you ask me that is).

Tigers: The way they started their season, the fans in Detroit are probably feeling like they’ve been waiting forever to see a winner.  If the Tigers do in fact turn this thing around and show up in the postseason at all, that momentum would be pretty scary.  Then again, if the Cubs are there as well that means they did it all year long.  Now that’s momentum and no matter how much Pudge, Cabrera and Willis you throw it at…forget the Dtrain, this team’s momentum would be too much for Detroit to handle.  A great Series though with great storylines too.  Fun, fun, fun…indeed.

Royals: 7 games back on May 27th.  If they end up in the World Series you can bet the stories won’t be about KC or the Chicago Cubs.  It will be about 80% of the AL’s managers being fired after letting the ROYALS tear up the league with their ridiculous payroll and low expectations.  Teams like this that have a magical year are normally scary to play against.  But please…low expectations…magical years…wrap it altogether and we’re talking 100 seasons of Cubbie history.  I don’t care what kind of voodoo KC has going on.  The Cubs/Royals would probably go seven games just to drive us all crazy too…now that would definitely be interesting.

Get out there and do your thing tomorrow night Zambrano and sweep these Dodgers.  It’s the least you guys can do after letting Pittsburgh steal a few from us. I guess I spoke to soon a few weeks back, huh? 

Felt good to get another posting up here again.  Will try to avoid such a delay again anytime soon.  GO CUBS GO!
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