Final Pre-Season ThoughtsPosted: April 5, 2012
“We don’t choose to be Cubs fans. The only way to describe it is a birth defect.”
As we look towards the start of the season on Thursday (EDIT: Cubs lost 2-1, more on that to come), we are only forced to reflect on just how (terrible) it feels to be a Cubs fan. We are all full of hope and excitement for the season ahead because of course, “THIS is the year!” We find reasons to get excited about the team. We make excuses for the poor offseason moves, the less-than-encouraging spring training performances, and the general miscues by players and management alike. We talk our friends’ and coworkers’ ears off about how the Cubs are going to be so much better than the experts predict because everyone else has already written them off. Most of all, we spend our time convincing ourselves that when (not if), the Cubs clinch that World Series berth, we will go as far as quitting our jobs, getting expelled from school, or ending our relationships to be in Wrigleyville for that magical moment (see below) [Note from Kevin: I can't watch this all the way through without wanting to puke].
As much as we’d all like to believe that THIS is the year, deep down all of us know that we will be disappointed yet again. These are the Cubs of course, and the Cubs are in the business of breaking our hearts. After all, being a Cubs fan is full of painful torture that we don’t choose for ourselves; we’re just stuck with it. We are drawn by some mysterious power to our Cubbies, and we keep coming back for more even though we’ve been heartbroken countless times.
However, things are changing on the North Side, and the Cubs appear to be in the business of winning for the long haul. While this year is certainly a “rebuilding year” and we should not expect a playoff contender, there is still reason to have hope for the 2012 Cubbies. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are bringing a culture change to the Cubs, and we have already seen a change in the front office philosophy. So, how do we evaluate the Cubs in a year in which the typical standards (wins, playoffs, etc.) aren’t ideal? Below, we’ve tried to outline a list of our goals for the Cubs in 2012. These are not necessarily how Theo is evaluating the team, but rather would we (as diehard Cubs fans) would like to see happen before the end of the 2012 season.
- The emergence of a long-term big run producer. Right now, the Cubs lack the power and RBIs needed to be a serious
contender. Looking up and down at this lineup, the Cubs lack any serious clutch hitters. Hopefully, the Cubs already have the pieces in place and just need them to develop. We’d like to see Bryan LaHair step up his game this year and turn into a consistent, ever day big leaguer. Even though he’s a little older for a rookie(29 years old), but he still has the chance to contribute to a winning team for at least 5 years. We’d also like to see Anthony Rizzo called up by midseason, and hopefully he’ll turn into the power hitter Theo and Hoyer think he can be. If Rizzo and LaHair can both bat close to .300, hit for some power (20 HRs for LaHair, 10 or more for Rizzo depending on the timing of his callup), and drive in runs in clutch situations, we will have some hope for the offense of the future.
- The emergence of a real ace. Just as the Cubs really don’t have a true run-producer at the moment, they also lack the dominant stopper in their rotation. As of now, their top starter is Matt Garza, but we’re not quite sure if he is the ace of a playoff contender. We’d love to see Garza turn into our rotation’s ace (sub-3.50 ERA, 200+ innings, 7 or 8 starts that go 8+ innings) this season, but if not Theo needs to make a move to get one. Hopefully, the Cubs can make a deal to land some top young pitching. Whether those deals include shipping off Garza or not… only Theo will know.
- Fundamentals. In 2011, the Cubs led all of baseball with 134 errors. The pitching staff led all of baseball with 580 total walks. Cubs hitters were second to last in drawing walks with only 425. These numbers are unacceptable, and in the world of baseball it’s generally accepted that a team that makes few mistakes will win games. Hopefully, Dale Sveum and his emphasis on fundamental baseball will translate into fewer erros in the field, more strikes from the arms of Cubs pitchers, more selective hitters, and smarter baserunning. The Cubs can make large strides immediately if they just eliminate some mental mistakes (and usually, errors and walks are mental mistakes).
- Smart trades. As soon as Theo took over, analysts and fans believed that no player on the roster was safe and were sure that players like Zambrano and Soriano would be unloaded immediately. Following the winter meetings, guys like Matt Garza and Sean Marshall were rumored to be on the trading block. Z and Marshall are gone, but Theo didn’t get the offers he wanted for Garza or Sori. We we want the front office to build the team how they want. The Cubs are in no rush to trade players, and fans should not demand trading a veteran just to trade him. Theo won’t pull the trigger on a trade unless he is receiving a next major league ready prospect, and he has no reason to accept anything less. That said, don’t get especially attached to anyone on this team, because they could be out the door at the blink of an eye. We at TCARS believe that a young pitcher or two in the minors would make us much more comfortable.
- Marlon Byrd writes on how “there is nothing like being a Cub”
- What some of Chicago’s top bloggers are looking forward to this year
- 670 the Score’s Dan Bernstein on why this season feels strange in Chicago
- A tremendous reflection on how being a Cubs fan is part of the fabric of our lives
An excerpt from the last link (courtesy of Bleacher Nation) really stuck out to me:
“There are two hourglasses counting down for each of us: one marks the time we’ve got left, and one marks the time until the Cubs win it all. I hope the upper chamber of the former is more full of sand than the latter.”
On the other hand, it’s okay to get frustrated with the team every now and then. Hell, I found myself with the same anxiety in the 9th inning of today’s Opener as I would have in important games of the past. It’s natural to want to see a team you pour so much into win games in a convincing manner. Any smart Cubs fan knows that the Cubs have their sights set on the future. That doesn’t make the losses hurt any less. But the losses now will make a World Series all the sweeter. The Cubs have a plan and a direction for the first time in my memory, and probably the memories of those much older than I.
Most importantly, remember that even though the Cubs likely won’t win that World Series in 2012, things will get better. Theo is our man, and sabremetrics are what we live by. The Cubs will show signs of improvement, and they will definitely be built to last in coming years. Just wait a few more years before you quit your job and book those October flights back to Chicago.