How Close Are They?

By JCB on Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Like a lot of Cubs fans, and especially like those who have had extra time to kill, I’ve spent a fair amount of time poring over the hot stove rumors and so on. Inevitably, many of the discussion threads turn to one topic: how close are the Cubs to making the playoffs, and will such-and-such get them closer, or make them good enough? I’ve been thinking: How close are they?

It’s November 16, not March 16, so of course this is early to ask the question. But on the other hand, this year more so than in recent years past, everyone seems almost over-anxious to analyze. There is a very heightened sense of urgency around the Chicago Cubs 2006 edition. Maybe it’s the White Sox, maybe it’s the disappointment of last year, maybe it’s the perception that Hendry & Baker have probably only got one more year to demonstrate their adequacy, maybe it’s all of this and more. Who knows. But the urgency is there, and it’s prompted me to do some analysis of my own.

We’ll start with a plausible worst-case scenario, which is:

  • The Cubs sign no other free agents or make no trades other than to get someone in RF.
  • Kerry Wood has injury problems by June
  • Maddux loses some of his effectiveness
  • Either Prior or Zambrano gets injured or suffers from a tired-arm stretch
  • Patterson is back in CF, and sucks
  • The bullpen gives up way too many walks and blows too many saves
  • Ramirez is struggling with nagging injuries, and plays at about 85%
  • RBIs from a less than marquis player in RF are way down


Let’s say that if 4 of those 8 things happen, the Cubs will be well under .500.

Although, if you look at the list, it’s also kind of exactly what happened for 2005, minus Nomar. So, in many ways, the Cubs in 2005 was a worst-case exercise, which is not the same thing as saying it was unlikely to happen. Many people looked things over and figured that the worst-case was also one of the more likely scenarios to play out, given especially the fragility of Wood & Nomar, and all the other doubts about the bullpen and the lack of a leadoff hitter and so on.

Next, we’ll try a plausible best-case scenario, minus marquis trades or signings, which is:
  • Wood, Zambrano and Prior are healthy all season, and each notch 14-20 wins
  • Someone comes in to play RF who doesn’t completely suck
  • Maddux gets on track early
  • Patterson has early success and confidence
  • Cedeno and Murton and Todd Walker all shine in Spring, and one of them bats an excellent leadoff
  • Aramis Ramirez is 100%, and puts up 120 RBIs
  • Derrek Lee hits over .320 again
  • Dempster saves better than 87% of his chances – 35 out of 40, or more.


Let’s say that if 4 of those 8 things happen, then the Cubs are probably an 88 win team, and will be in the hunt for the Wild Card. That is, unless Patterson, Cedeno, Murton and Walker all have banner seasons, in which case the Cubs could (by a very large stretch of imagination) be in contention for the division.

Still, as it stands, there are once again the questions of health for the pitching – a large question mark – and questions about the lineup. The lineup questions seem more pressing, because while maybe they’re willing to gamble one more year on Wood/Prior/Zambrano becoming a dominant pitching core for the entire season (rightly, I argue), are they willing to gamble on Patterson/Murton/Cedeno? Because with a player-to-be-named-later in RF, those 3 are all question marks as well, and for that matter, they’re question marks who have not yet demonstrated the stretches of brilliance that we’ve seen from the 3 pitchers. They’re not the only variables, but they’re the variables with – as of April 1, 2006 – greater risk for perhaps lesser reward. It’s not that any of those 3 could not become All-Stars sometime soon (even Patterson) but they have not yet played All-Star caliber baseball.

I’m not going to speculate too much on signing Furcal, or Nomar (who could very well come back if he determines that he is not going to be able to be guaranteed a spot at SS anywhere else, either), or a marquis RF signing / trade (like Brian Giles), or a trade for Pierre. Frankly, I’m in favor of any of those 4 things happening, and no 2 of them are mutually exclusive. That is, they could conceivably do 2 or even 3 of the 4. 2 would probably be enough though.

Certainly ditching Jon Leicester for a player-to-be-named-later isn’t going to be the difference-maker, though, so here’s how it probably shakes down:

With healthy pitching, and reasonable-expectation performances from the lineup they have, the Cubs are a .500 team.

With mostly healthy pitching and a few good signings/trades, the Cubs are probably a mid-80s win team.

With healthy pitching and a few good signings/trades, the Cubs are probably an upper-80s win team, if not more.

With healthy pitching and banner seasons from the lineup they have, the Cubs are a mid-80s to upper-80s win team, but not more.

Without at least mostly healthy pitching, Lord help them.

So, if the ultimate question is how close / how likely are the Cubs to winning the World Series, I figure it’ll take fully healthy pitching, great seasons from the stars like Lee and Ramirez, banner seasons from everyone else in the lineup and the bullpen, and probably at least 1 or 2 good trades or signings. You can decide for yourself at how likely any or all of that is. As for me, I’m thinking it’s possible enough to hope for without feeling like I’m delusional.
Posted Wednesday, November 16, 2005 by JCB
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Sorry for all the online-poker comments appearing; I think I've blocked them for now. Hopefully.

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