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Is This The Cubs' Year?
by Tom Stryker - 06/23/2008
Later this week Major League Baseball will reach the halfway mark of the 2008 season. And many eyes continue to focus on the surprising Chicago Cubs, who, at 46-28, own the best record in the Majors.
Stop laughing. Can this be the year? Can the Cubs finally break the 100-year drought since their last World Series championship? Shoot, it has been 63 years since the Cubs even reached the World Series.
There are plenty of signs â€“ both good and bad. Do you want the cup to be half empty or half full?
Letâ€™s look at the good signs first.
The Cubs rank fourth in ERA among all Major League teams (3.67). The Cubs to date have the highest team batting average in both leagues (.283). So they are taking care of business both offensively and defensively.
The Cubs, entering Tuesdayâ€™s series against the Baltimore Orioles, have won 14 straight home games and are an incredible 32-8 at home.
Chicago has a blend of power and speed, a bench that continues to produce and a bullpen that features one-time strikeout master Kerry Wood, who has notched 19 saves through the first half.
All of the above canâ€™t be fashioned by a flash-in-the-pan ballclub over a stretch of 76 games. But there is some bad news too.
The Cubs are only 16-20 on the road and have to bolster that mark if they are going to stay ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, who currently only trail the Cubs by 4 Â½ and 6 Â½ games respectively.
After a 3-game home series with Baltimore, the Cubs play 10 straight on the road and have only 10 home games the entire month of July.
Two of the Cubs biggest stars are injured â€“ outfielder Alfonso Soriano and All-Star pitcher Carlos Zambrano. (There is some good news here, however. Zambrano had no structural damage to his injured throwing shoulder and is only expected to miss a couple of starts. Soriano, similarly will be back not long after the All-Star break).
Sometime baffling reliever Carlos Marmol has lost his touch of late. After posting an ERA of 1.69 in April and 1.93 in May, Marmolâ€™s ERA in June is 9.00. He will have to regain his form if the Cubs want to hang on.
Ryan Dempster, an amazing story with his 9-2 record as a starter after spending last year in the bullpen, has already thrown more than 100 innings. How much will he have left in September?
The Cubs have plenty of young talent, enough that good to be trade bait for another solid starter in case Zambrano or Dempster flounder. C.C. Sabathia or Rich Harden seems to be on the Cubs wish list.
Despite the 100-year drought, the jinxes, all the ghostly stories, etc., there is reason for optimism.
Derek Lee at first and Aramis Ramirez at third give the Cubs proven power and experience at the corners. After a weekend sweep of the Chicago White Sox, Lee was hitting 294 with 15 homers and 48 rbi, while Ramirez was at .299 with 14 homers and a team-leading 53 rbi.
Second-baseman Ryan Theriot leads the regulars with a .310 average and â€œrookieâ€쳌 Kosuke Fukodome is at 297. Even catcher Geovany Soto, in his first full season, has been a force with his .274 average, 12 homers and 43 rbi.
Manager Lou Piniella also can be considered on the plus side of the Cubsâ€™ ledger. The once volatile, seasoned leader, has been pushing all the right buttons so far.
Just keep an eye out for black cats, billy goats and an assortment of other potential jinxes.
The year of the Cub? Could be.