The Cubs just completed a sweep of the Pirates. Ho hum. They just finished a 4-2 road trip. Ho hum.
At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Cubs would three-peat in the NL Central. I was wrong. MANY people were wrong. The underachievements of the 2009 Chicago Cubs are too long to get into, and while they are not officially eliminated just yet, I'm not seeing a 20-4 finish that would likely be needed to even consider landing a playoff spot. It has been a sad season, and even though many self obsessed, arrogant Cardinal fans are laying claim to the Cubs' bad season (not to mention the Cardinals great season), it was the lack of production from the offense and the wrong call at closer that doomed this team.
Alfonso Soriano had the worst season of his career. Geovany Soto fell victim to the "sophomore slump." Mike Fontenot is not an every day player. Closing games for the Cubs is different than closing games for the Marlins. Milton Bradley - do I even need to go there? These guys just could not get it done this year. So what were the high points? I mean, this team is still likely to finish above .500 for the third straight season, so some things went well, right? Let's see ...
Derrek Lee It looks like the power is back. Lee has carried this offense all season. Unfortunately he had little support. With Aramis Ramirez going down with a two-month injury, nobody else stepped up to help Lee. He will finish with great numbers this year and is truly the team's MVP this season.
Starting Pitching Currently ranked fifth in the National League, the Cubs pitching staff has been very good this year - with the exception of the disasterous Kevin Gregg experiment. Rich Harden's arm held up, Randy Wells is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, Ted Lilly had another strong season, Carlos Marmol has taken hold of the closer's role for the next several years (likely), and the addition of John Grabow gave the team a true late inning lefty. Pitching was stellar this season.
Jake Fox We knew he could hit. But how was he to get any playing time when he is blocked at every position he knows? The Cubs blew it by not having Fox paractice at third while at Iowa IMMEDIATELY after Ramirez went down. After working his ass off, Fox eventually became the everyday third baseman until A-Ram returned. The guy has some SICK power, but again, going forward, how can Lou get him in the lineup every day? With Soriano out (likely for the year), I hope he gets put out there every game going forward (no offense to Bobby Scales and Sam Fuld).
Looking at next season, there are many things that CAN be done to attempt to right the ship, but WILL anything be done? Will Jim Hendry try and deal one of his high priced veterans? Will re-signing Rich Harden be the top priority? (Personally, I hope they try and bring him back.) As far as the other free agents go, Grabow and Reed Johnson should be retained if possible. I believe the Cubs have control over Jeff Stevens, Koyie Hill and Aaron Heilman next year, unless they are non-tendered. With the exception of Heilman, I think all should be brought back in 2010. Heilman needs to go, and Gregg, another free agent, should be uncerimoniously shown the door.
There is also the players set to leave after 2010 (Lee, Lilly, Ramirez - should he opt out). Will they be extended? I don't want to see D-Lee go. He still has several good years left, as does A-Ram. Lilly has been the Cubs' best pitcher over the last three years, but he's no spring chicken anymore. In any event, I think extensions to all three should be attempted in the off-season. I also think it's time to put Soriano back at second base and give Fox the opportunity in left field. Let's face it, folks, Fonzie's contract makes him untradeable, and if this is how to add Fox's bat to the lineup, I say why not try it.
All I can hope for now is that the Cardinals fail in the playoffs. I just don't think I could handle the already swollen heads of Cardinal fans getting even bigger with another World Championship. I do like the idea of Albert Pujols becoming a free agent after 2011, though. Can anyone else see Big Albert in blue pinstripes???