Sunday, October 02, 2005

2005 season, a final take (PART 1)

Usually when the Cub season ends I find myself sad. This year I don't feel that way at all, come to think of it I didn't feel that way last year either. There is some form of relief that I feel when I realize I won't waste any more time on the addictive hobby that is Cubs baseball. Over the next month we will have the good fortune of watching the best baseball has to offer--the Playoffs. But before we get into that and before the hot stove heats up I'd like to take one last look back at a season that had many Cub fans scratching their heads.

Last offseason was very bizzarre for the Cubs. Although the Northsiders were rumored to be in the running for Carlos Beltran they never made a serious run at the outfielder. The look of the 2005 team began to finally unfold when Jim Hendry dealt Sammy Sosa to the Orioles for Jerry Hairston and two minor leaguers.

After months of doing nothing Hendry had to make some moves. He soon added Jeromy Burnitz and Todd Hollandsworth inherited the everyday left field spot. Along with Patterson these three would make up the worst Opening Day outfield in the NL. Still the Cubs had hope with an infield of Lee, Walker, Nomar and Ramirez.

Spring Training
Spring Training brought us the annual questions about the health of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Both would only pitch a combined 12 innings in the Cactus League play.

Neither of the Cubs aces would be on the mound on Opening Day. It didn't matter as the Cubs destroyed the D-Backs at the BOB(or whatever it's called) 16-5. The home opener was fun until LaTroy Hawkins entered. Still Optimism, Beer and Jager ruled the day:

We will have the remainder of 2005 to bitch and moan about LaTroy Hawkins, Corey Patterson and the rest of the Cubs mistaken ballplayers. Friday was a day to enjoy being a Cub fan. LaTroy Hawkins tried to be the Grinch and steal Opening Day. My hangover tells me he failed.

As April moved on the injuries came fast and furious. Todd Walker, Nomar, and of course our favorite fragile phenom Kerry Wood went down. Super-sub Neifi Perez would find himself a starter for the Cubs most of the year. The Cubs finished April 12-11, they were already 3.5 games behind the front running Redbirds.

By May 5th 1060west's guru Gaius Marius was telling us all what we had:

this is your 2005 chicago cubs. they were never going to be great, and they aren't. i don't think one can expect radically more than what we've seen -- and shouldn't have to begin with, so any disappointment is limited only to whatever
irrational optimism you adopted before april began. 82 wins remains a reasonable target for this team to hit -- but playoffs seem a distant possibility, more distant than the prospect of a deeper slide into the second half of the NL.

Truer words were never spoken. Still you have to play the games and the Northsiders did. On May 6th I saw the Cubs lose to the Phillies on one of the weirdest plays I have ever seen. With a one run lead and one out, the bases were loaded in the top of the ninth. Polanco hit a line drive back to Hawkins. LaTroy fired to DLee to double up Jose Offerman, but the ball hit Offerman's helmet and went into the stands. 2 runs scored and the Phillies led 3-2, which would be the final. Yeah, this team was inventing ways to lose ballgames. By the end of the first week in May the Cubs would already have their first seven game losing streak.

By mid-May Dusty had finally decided to try Ryan Dempster as his closer and a new star player was emerging at first base. When the Cubs and Sox met May 20-22 it was a battle of two teams going in different directions. Mark Prior made sure the Cubs didn't get swept at home throwing a complete game on Sunday the 22nd. Our frustration with Dusty continued to boil.

Then on May 27th the unthinkable happened. Mark Prior was hit in his right elbow by a line drive off the bat of Brad Hawpe. An MRI showed that Prior had a compress fracture. Before May would end Hawkins would be gone and speculation about dismantling the team had already started. Even with all of this the Cubs finished May on a 5 game winning streak. They finished the month of May at 26-24 in second place, now 6-1/2 games behind the Cardinals.

On paper the June schedule looked like it would very difficult. The Cubs returned from the West Coast going 6 and 1 on the trip. They salvaged a game with the Blue Jays. On the second weekend in June the Cubs would play their most hyped series of the year. The World Champion Boston Red Sox came to the Northside. Red Sox Nation invaded with them. The Cubs took the first game 14-6 behind Greg Maddux. Maddog homered in the ballgame. I'll vote the Friday game my favorite game of the season! On Saturday it was a little closer but the Cubs prevailed 7-6. On Sunday a BoSox fan actually told me he thought this was the Cubs year. I laughed, next Manny hit a BOMB onto Waveland. It was a fun party weekend in Wrigleyville and the Cubs had taken 2 of 3 from the Mighty Red Sox. It wouldn't get much better than this.

Following the Red Sox series the Cubs lost 5 of 6, including a sweep in the Bronx by the Yankees. The Cub had landed pretty hard. Korey Patterson's struggles continued. GM labeled Korey the least productive player in the NL for June. He was right (by July 7 Korey would be sent to Triple A). During the last weekend of June the Northsiders took two of three from the best team in the AL the White Sox at U.S. Cellular. Sunday was a dramatic 2-0 shutout by Mark Prior pitching his first game in a month. The June Roller Coaster would end with the Cubs going 14-13. The Cubs record stood at 40-37 they were 8.5 games behind the Cards, but they were right in the middle of the NL Wild Card race just two games behind the Braves.

Reality hit the Cubs and us fans early in July. The Cubs lost their first seven games in July. Add the loss on the last day of June and they had an 8 game losing streak. To end the streak Hendry sent Korey and Jason Dubois to Iowa. Matt Murton and Adam Greenburg showed up and the Cubs swept the Fish in Miami playing some of the best ball they had played all year. The Cubs went to the All-Star break 43-44.

Lee and Ramirez represented the Northsiders in Detroit at the midsummer classic.

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