Friday, May 19, 2006

what a good team looks like

while many rote fantasists and the cubs management that deceitfully encourages them may continue to insist that there is some reason to think that this 2006 cub season is not as clearly lost as it is -- blindly clinging to a team with the worst offense in the national league and one of the worst pitching staffs, even after it has gone into a hole that now only a 73-49 (.598) run over the next four and a half months can hope to rectify -- this page has assiduously tried to point out the rational and statistical aspects of this undeniably dire situation.

sometimes, however, numbers aren't enough. sometimes a physical context or example is required in order to drive home points that to some seem terribly abstract when expressed in numbers.

this weekend will provide cub fans with a chance to gain that context. the southside ballclub is not just a good team -- it is a very good team, defending world champions and improved from last year's club thanks to the tireless machinations of general manager kenny williams.

williams brought home the hardware last year, and could easily have done what the cubs did following in 1998 -- resign everyone and hope for a repeat of the career years that aided them to glory. williams would have none of such passive thinking that has repeatedly caught the cubs out in the cold for years. he boldly traded aaron rowand, his starting centerfielder, for jim thome, a obp monster to replace the declining and out-of-favor frank thomas. even in a forgettable 2005, thome worked a .207 batting average into a .360 obp. that anomalous year now behind him, thome is crushing the american league to the tune of 292/431/679 with 16 homers and 40 rbi in 39 games.

williams then engineered a spectacular trade for front-line starter javier vazquez, who williams rightly speculated would be more effective once out of the desert air of arizona. vazquez is posting a 4:1 k:bb ratio, a 1.07 whip and .285 obpa, numbers indeed reminiscent of his stellar years with montreal.

much of williams' providential dealing is possible only because of the massive time and effort his team has sunk into player development, with spectacular results. chris young was key to acquiring vazquez, and williams can afford to part with a star centerfield prospect, his starting centerfielder and turn a third centerfielder into matt thornton because he also has brian anderson. he could add dan haigwood to seal the thome deal because he's sitting on a monstrous trove of pitching talent. the cubs haven't put together a steady and productive minor league player development organization of this quality at any point in their history. the sox have been fuelled to success from beneath since 1999 with no letup, as prospects have turned into productive players or essential bargaining chips.

as a result, this is a sox team so flush with talent that a player like brandon mccarthy -- who would probably be the cubs second or third starter were his side in this series juxtaposed -- cannot find a job in the rotation. and despite difficult beginnings by jon garland, juan uribe, brian anderson and the bullpen as a whole -- with dustin hermanson missing the year and ace jose contreras spending time on the disabled list to boot -- the white sox have run out to a 26-14 (.650) start anyway, scoring 226 and allowing 182 through 40 games.

that is the mark of a quality ballclub -- the ability to take poor performances and injuries with depth, flexibility and offsetting quality in other areas to not "tread water" -- for treading water is how teams fail to make the playoffs -- but win in spite of it all. while the hopeless escapists that populate the ranks of the northside fanbase dream about the pathetic cubs of this lost year playing .600 baseball, the good team in chicago is doing it.

meanwhile, the cubs are picking useless parts like tony womack off the baseball scrap heap and inventing new and infuriating ways to negate their modest efforts.

and here is where some context might arrive. even a club as good as this did last year, on their march to 99 wins and a world title, played .611 baseball -- and indeed, in only three of their six months did they exceed a .600 winning percentage.

study for a moment as you enjoy your weekend, dear reader, the immense gulf in talent and ability between the southside sox and our northside cubs -- and work to remember it. closing that gap and assembling something like this sox juggernaut is what one would have to see in order to have legitimate, rational hope for bringing a world title back to wrigley field.

do you think andy macfail, jim hendry and dusty baker are capable of that? in this year? in any year?

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