What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
“Wait ’til next year…”
It’s a refrain that’s beaten into your soul as a Cubs fan. Growing up in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, it’s one that I uttered many times as a child as I watched Kevin Orie boot ground balls, Mel Rojas blow saves, and the likes of Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith never reach their full potential. If you don’t know any of those names, I envy you.
Year in, year out, the Friendly Confines turn into a house of horrors more often than not once summer rolls around. Hot prospects like Corey Patterson and Hee Seop Choi wilt in the summer sun, inspiring more groans than cheers as they provide an unpleasant distraction at the world’s largest singles’ bar. 2011 was no different. Under Mike Quade’s direction, a team of overpriced veterans and underperforming prospects flopped and flailed their way to a 71-91 record. The fans booed, Ronnie Woo wooed, and come August there were nearly as many empty seats as filled ones.
Don’t believe me? Here’s exhibit A from a game I was at. Keep in mind, this photo was taken in the second inning of said game.
Fans began to tune out when it became clear that 2011 was a lost cause, and I wasn’t the only one taking note of all the empty seats or the losses piling up. Ownership cleaned house, firing GM Jim Hendry and then Quade not long after. Hendry of course was replaced with the dream team of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who have brought more excitement to the Chicago’s North side than we’ve seen since Alex Gonzalez booted that ground ball in the 2003 NLCS. Quade was replaced with Dale Sveum, who…well, he’s not as much a cause celebre as Theo but he did manage the Brewers in the 2008 NLCS after Ned Yost was fired late in the season.
Of course, the front office wasn’t the only place the organization saw change in. Gone are once-hot prospects Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner, overpriced 1B Carlos Pena, slugger Aramis Ramirez, who had been their only real consistent offensive force over the years, and . In their place are…well a bunch of no-names. to say it would take a miracle for this year’s Cubs team to compete would be an understatement.
The good news — back is most of last year’s rotation, which wasn’t altogether awful. Lead by Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, the Cubs have a strong core of starters at the front of the rotation. The question is at the back of the rotation. Is this the year that Jeff Samardzija finally gets his shot as a starter, or is he doomed to be an overpriced setup guy for the rest of his career? Can Randy Wells and Casey Coleman rebound from what can charitably be described as a mediocre 2011? Will Garza still be a Cub once the season starts? Chris Volstad should provide some degree of stability to help balance out the back end of the rotation. If nothing
The bad news — the bullpen is back nearly intact and the offense is lead by Alfonso Soriano, followed by a parade of unproven youngsters. Carlos Marmol and his 22 career blown saves (10 in 2011) anchor a bullpen featuring an aging Kerry Wood and a slew of unknowns. It’s enough to make even the most optimistic Cubs fan’s knees quake with anxiety. If guys like James Russell, Scott Maine and non-roster invitee Manny Corpas can keep games close, this team might have a chance in a watered-down NL Central.
That is, of course, if a very young offense lives up to the hype. Soriano’s been around the block a couple of times, as have Marlon Byrd and Jeff Baker. But, aside from Soriano, that trio isn’t going to be what counts in 2012. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo is going to have to live up to the hype if there’s going to be any merriment on the field in Wrigleyville this year. Darwin Barney, while solid defensively, will need to do more at the plate as will the newly-acquired David DeJesus.
A 2012 World Series champion at the corner of Clark and Addison? Well…I suppose stranger things HAVE happened…