Where have I been lately, aside from disappointing everyone? It's a mystery to me, much like the 4 consecutive CGs by the Pale Hose, but it will not last. I do have some thoughts on the postseason so far, despite one of my WS horses falling in the final furlong, but the 'Stros should see me good on Wednesday. Their rotation is the stuff of dreams, and wet ones at that. Let's hope the White Sox bring their galoshes.
But retrospectively, I've put together a little Cubs countdown, some of it factual, most of it complete bullshit, and a tiny bit possibly true. Enjoy it over the rest of the week, and there will be more postseason reflections this week (sorry to be an absentee blogger lately), especially if those fucking Cardinals tie up the series tomorrow night.
CUBS COUNTDOWN -- PART ONE5 things the Cubs did well in 20051. Derrek Lee
MVLee showed the kind of form that has silently been expected of him since he joined. With indisputed career highs in almost every offensive category, Lee was the glue that held this shaky, injury-ravaged squad together. Without Lee, our team would have challenged for the worst in the NL, without doubt. I’ve gushed about him enough this year, so in this instance, I shall revert to silent, unspoken reverence of his achievements. However, I will say this: DO NOT EXPECT THE SAME AGAIN NEXT YEAR, AS THAT’S NOT HOW TEAMS WIN PENNANTS.2. Ryan Dempster
Dempster did whatever was asked of him in any situation. 5-3, 33 SV, 3.13 ERA: without these juicy stats, our season could well have ended 15-18 wins short of where we finished up. It was nice to see him blossom into the utility man he perhaps always dreamed of being, and it helps us greatly in the long run. If we snag him into a longer contract, come Free Agency time, we have the flexibility to chase top SPs or a stud closer if one is available, safe in the knowledge that whichever one we don’t pick, Dempster can play the role. His pitches were on point this year, and his reliability was a huge cornerstone of the little success that we found. His last ER was given up on August 12, his last BSV was July 24, and with a run of 19 straight saves to round out his season, this man deserves a diamond-encrusted locker in the clubhouse.3. One-Run Rags to Riches
Our Cubs managed to reach dizzying heights in the fingernail-chewers this year. We posted a reasonable, perhaps statistically fair 26-20 mark in 2005, good enough for best in the NL Central and 3rd-ish overall in the National League. This marks a welcome change from seasons past where the Cubs were frequently falling to the 9th inning blowup (Are you listening LaTroy? Farns? Joe-Bo?), and shows a sign that our team does have some fight after all. When your season ends up where it almost always does – undeniable mediocrity – you have to take the bright spots where you can find them, and if we come back with a similar bite next year, who knows where we could end up.4. Redbird Beatdowns
The Cubbies managed to outwit the Cards in the season series, 10-6, and it’s this kind of performance against the perennial NL Central winners that continues to give us hope. It’s not often that Dusty Baker outsmarts his opponents, but that record represents the best against the Cards by any team in 2005. That’s right folks, just wallow in that for a moment: the Cardinals’ worst record this year came against the Cubs. Delicious. I can smell La Russa’s hair burning.5. Starting Pitching
The trio of Maddux, Zambrano and Prior, while not as dominant as other NL threesomes, went 38-28 with solid ERAs and control (4.24, 3.26 and 3.81 respectively). Goddamn, where did we fail them? If they all show up for work next year, we should be sitting well with a good up-down top 3, and considering what we wasted from them this season past, I would imagine that the loss column from MZP will greatly diminish in 2006. Let's not all forget just how close we were this year, optimistically speaking, and little things like I'm pointing out might in this next segment can easily translate to 15 more wins if we fix them and fix them properly.4 things the Cubs did badly in 20051. Wasting Quality Starts
Without counting, I can think of at least 15 starts by Maddux, Zambrano, Prior and Williams where the pitcher in question went at least 7 1/3 innings, giving up 3 runs or less in their outing, and losing or getting the dreaded ND. When your guys are throwing like that, make it count. Zambrano had 2 CG NDs this year, which is just mind-blowing. I call it the “Clemens Effect” – pitching like an All-Star and taking the loss. If, and the “if” is huge by the way, the Cubs convert ¾ of those quality starts to wins, we’re looking at the Wild Card. Criminal ineffective offense in those clutch situations was what really put the dampener on 2005.2. Kerry Wood
Again, KW had more expectations foisted upon his weary shoulders than Neil Young, post-Harvest. Again, he failed to achieve. The hard-throwing lugnut managed just 10 starts, and his substantial DL trips really ruined our rotation and the efforts to replace him with any pick ‘em lying around in our minor league system (Mitre, Koronka, Hill) was never going to be a solid fix. Wood’s injury woes continued in 2005, and with average stats in the few appearances he did make (21 G, 1o GS, 66 IP, 3-4, 4.23 ERA), whether in the bullpen or in the rotation, didn’t make the grade. He’s never won more than 14 games in a season, and despite insane strikeout numbers, early-career wear ‘n tear means his best years are realistically behind him.3. Scoring Position Blues
As a team, the Cubs batted a measly .257 with RISP. While our opponents all season long only fared slightly better at .264, that translates to a lot. With RISPs and 2 outs, the definition of our year is cleared. The Cubs batted .227 with 2-out RISPs, scoring an additional 196 runs. Our opponents hit .273 with 2-out RISP opportunities, translating to an extra 363 runs hung on our weary pitching staff. That alone will swing 12-15 games away from you over the course of a year, if not more.4. Front Office F-ups
Despite poring over mounds of statistics and footage, I still cannot figure out our trading and transaction strategy in 2005. Perhaps the best I can do is “What the F*ck?!?!”, surely the Cubs Front Office mantra all season long. With the stupefying moves we did make (you know what they say, sometimes it’s what you don’t do that defines you), trading away misunderstood journeyman OF Todd Hollandsworth (I know, I know, I beat him to a bloody pulp all year long and yet I miss him), essentially swapping Jason Dubois for Matt Lawton (who played 18 games before heading to the Yankees for 2 scrub bush league players), not to mention the endless up-down-up-down trips for several fragile minor league egos – it all adds up to a day late and a dollar short in any pennant race. Executive decisions ended up ruling our team; the constant uncertainty about our everyday OF (Players who tasted the OF in 2005 for a significant period of time: Lawton, Hollandsworth, Patterson, JHJr., Burnitz, Neifi, Macias, Dubois) killed any chance of continuity, making it no surprise that we kept batting guys on cold streaks because there was little hope of finding an everyday rhythm. At the end of the day, you can make all the moves, shuffles, transactions and activations you want, but you need to let the players play. Dusty’s unwillingness to let certain guys play over others, for whatever reason (#1 reason = BLIND LOYALTY!), was more hindrance than tactical genius, and we can only hope next season is different.