Friday, February 25, 2005

the central crown? a forecast

i like rozner as much as the next guy, but i have to say that he is out in left field right now on the cubs -- and it's better him than jerry hairston.

i have no argument with the pitching staff. they endured some injuries last year and still allowed only 665 runs, good for second-best (to the cardinals) in the majors. but, in fairness, they got amazing production from glendon rusch for 130 innings that they have no right to expect this year -- and, worse, they let matt clement go. the very tough spot lefty mercker is gone, replaced with questionable stephen randolph. farnsworth may well not be missed, though i doubt roberto novoa is any better than he was.

in short, the pitching might be in for a bit of a letdown, even if it is still very good. the problem is that this was a third-place club in 2004 with a very average offense. and the offense is likely to get significantly worse.

the infield should be okay for so long as it is healthy. that can be a question with nomar, but not unduly so -- for all the reputation he may have, he played 156 games in both 2002 and 2003. but i think one has to expect aramis to come back to earth a bit. his numbers last season (.318/.373/.578) were far out of line, and a reasonable expectation would be closer to his career averages (.273/.324/.467) if not a total regression. similarly, barrett hit extremely well last year, and can't be expected to hit .287 again. lee and walker round out an infield that can hit if not field.

the real problem is on the grass. the outfield may the the worst in baseball -- yep, you heard it here. the corners have been a team strength for the better part of a decade with sammy a stalwart in right and the waveland end filled by alou, rondell white, henry rodriguez, glenallen hill, luis gonzalez and even doug glanville (who at least hit .308 playing 120 games in left on the horrid 1997 team).

all that is done. some combination of burnitz, hairston, hollandsworth and patterson will torture cubs fans beginning april 4, turning the bleachers into an abu ghraib redux. unless dreams of aubrey huff suddenly materialize, or jason dubois transmogrifies into billy williams (or even makes the team), it's going to be a very trying season.

what's the significance? i'd expect the cubs run production to drop possibly into the lower third of baseball -- and no team that has that much trouble scoring is getting anywhere near the cardinals. barring dramatic moves to improve left field (and center and right) -- and this is already close to the highest-paid team in the NL, so you can't expect just too much -- i would not be surprised to see the cubs hover near .500 and third or fourth place. as terrible a disappointment as that might be for many, 82 wins looks pretty realistic.

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