Chicago Cubs 2008 Season Preview

Leading up to the start of the 2008 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of MLB’s 32 teams. Teams will be rated on a 10-point scale in the following 5 areas: Lineup, Pitching, Manager, Intangibles/Chemistry, and Overall. Today’s team is the Chicago Cubs.

Diamond Hoggers Chicago Cubs Blog(s) of Choice: Bleed Cubbie Blue & Out of Right Field

This lineup is stacked, and when you figure in that they play in the launching pad that is named (for at least a minute longer) Wrigley Field, they could really have some fireworks on the south side of the Chi’ this season.

The Cubs will lead off with the most powerful lead-off hitter in all of baseball, Alfonso Soriano. This was evidenced by having 33 HR and 70 RBI last season while hitting .299 on the season. Soriano is a great guy from the lead off spot, but doesn’t have the opportunity to drive many people in. At 32, he should still be considered in his prime years for another season or so. He could still be among the league leaders in home runs, but he’s going to see a downslide shortly.

From there the Cubs will let Ryan Theriot hit 2nd and play 2nd base. The former LSU tiger product is a career .278 hitter with 6 HR and 61 RBI in parts of two seasons. He’s 28, and while he fits the role of a second hitter nicely, we should see whether or not he’s a big leaguer this season.

Everyone knows about the heart of the Cubbie order. Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. These two are household names by now in Chicago and if healthy they strike fear in the hearts of NL Central foes. Ramirez is 29 and should make a run at the finest season of his big league career. Derek Lee is 32, and has 238 career home runs. Lee could age well and make a run at 400 career long balls, easily. For at least this year, they should be formidable; although I don’t like players 32 or older a whole lot.

From there, Mark DeRosa will hit 5th or 6th and Matt Murton most likely 6th. Not extremely high on either of these guys but I think DeRosa has some quality pop in his bat. I am however, pretty high on the two young players that should follow in the order.

Felix Pie (pictured above) was the #1 rated prospect in the Cubs system before last season. He is battling a twisted testicle in spring training but I’ll tell you what, this guy is going to be a player. Think Juan Pierre speed, with Kenny Lofton in-his-prime power (12-18 HR). Geovanny Soto, the 25 year old catcher, will get his shot in 2008 to prove he’s the long term solution. Look for a .270 average with double digit homeruns and solid backstop defense from him.

Great amounts of speed and power. If healthy they’re trailing maybe only the Brewers in this department in the entire NL.

Rating: 8.7

Carlos Zambrano has had the big time ‘ace’ stuff to be an ace for a long time now. He’s just never went out and taken the bull by the balls and done it. I think this is the year that he does it, and if he does not–then he might never do it. 20 wins from ‘Z’ is a must if the Cubs are going to be World Series contenders. It’s a must if this rotation is going to get to the next level.

From there, the rotation is extremely solid but it doesn’t really strike me as a rotation that wins championships. After Zambrano, the team will look to two lefties to carry the load. Ted Lilly was pretty solid last season after signing a 4-year deal with the team coming from Toronto. Rich Hill is another lefty who showed much promise in parts of last season and the end of 2006. After Hill and Lilly, Jason Marquis and Ryan Dempster (returning to the rotation from the closers role) will be asked to be innings-eaters.

Jon Lieber could also be a factor.

The Cubs have a bullpen assembled with some guys that have nasty stuff. I’m high on Bob Howry and I think Carlos Marmol has nasty, lights out stuff. Scott Eyre, Kerry Wood, and Micheal Wuertz are all also high end relievers that could pitch for any team in the NL. Out of that mix, someone will emerge in the coming weeks as the closer, which could be the most vulnerable area on a very experienced and talented staff.

Rating: 8.5

We all know my respect for Lou Piniella. I love the guy. I absolutely fuckin’ love em’. He’s a big-time big league manager. He’s a bit of a riverboat gambler as well. I like that in a manager. He’s calmed in manner over the recent years although it hasn’t been talked about as much. This is a guy who typically adds 10-12 wins to an organization each year alone. One of the finest in the game despite only having 1 World Series Championship (1990 Reds).

Rating: 9.2

They’ve had this group together for a few years now when talking about the core of the team. Retaining veterans like Wood add to this rating. Piniella, although strict and harsh; you never hear his players state that they don’t like playing for him (clubhouse scuffle with Rob Dibble aside).

They play in one of the last remaining chapels of Wrigley Field. What an atmosphere to play 81 ballgames a year. Even as a fan of an NL Central team other than the Cubs, it’s hard to root against these guys. Them winning would be good for baseball.

I believe they’ve got a nice mix of intangibles and chemistry, and if they make a deal to get a player at the right time this season they might be put over the top.

Rating: 8.8

The Cubs will be in a dogfight all year long with the under-rated Brewers who are dangerous. The Cubs have high expectations now if they didn’t already because of the World Series buzz created by Ryan Dempster among others. While I don’t predict a World Series win (I
thought they’d get close last season); they should be among the toast of the National League.

Rating: 8.6