Thursday, April 08, 2004
The Thoughts From Waveland
The Season: Looking Forward
Once again, we look to the upcoming season. Only this year, even more than last year, the highlight of Wrigley won't be the beer prices (though they are high on the list), the hot dogs, or the hefty, bare chested fans screaming from the outfield. This year, the highlight will be the Chicago Cubs.
In what is shaping up to be the best race in the major leagues since before I was born (don't ask. It was a heckuva long time ago), the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros are trying to pull an Atlanta and win the division with pitching. The Cubs have the best rotation in baseball with Mark Prior. There is no question about it. The only problem is that Houston is very close. And the Astros have considerably better offense. Chicago has not been known for their offense, and it is only thanks to the sacrifice of starting pitchers. They worked their butts off, and now we're paying for it with Prior on the DL. Yes, Dusty tends to leave his starters in for a long time. However, he is being compared to Jimy quick-hook Williams. The Astros manager has been notorious for impatience with his starters. Lost in the middle of all of this are Tony LaRussa, and the St. Louis Cardinals. LaRussa has been given the gift of offense, but his pitching is suspect at best. Frankly, the talent that LaRussa has on the mound is comparable to that of the little league team that practices in my backyard. Matt Morris has talent, but is more than injury prone. Woody Williams was overworked last year and Tony is struggling. Last year, in a crucial part of the stretch run, St. Louis led the Cubs in the seventh inning, but Chicago had two on and one out. Tony LaRussa went from his bullpen to one of his aces. He put Woody Williams in, and he promptly allowed three runs. The Cardinals will hang around, but they will not be close enough, young enough, or deep enough to the Cubs and the Astros to make a run at the title.
Most people have put the Cubs and the Astros interchangeably in the NL division champs and wildcard position. The fact is that Philadelphia will win a lot of games. Atlanta will still win a lot of games. San Francisco and Arizona will win quite a few games. Houston and Chicago, quite frankly will win about 90 games. I don't see either of the teams winning more than 95 games, certainly not 100, like I have heard the extremists (some people call them diehards) say. I must point out that pitching wins championships, but you have to score sometime. The biggest problem last year was that the starters felt they had to throw eight innings of shut-out ball to win. This year, they should not feel that way. The offense hasn't been revamped, but it has been improved. Houston doesn't really have many positions that they can successfully upgrade at (without sacrificing defense or leadership). The Cubs need some kind of a catalyst. Some people have said that because Dusty has not been ejected for arguing, he is not energetic and into the game. Some people are fools. The Cubs have the best manager in the business, they will win the NL Central, and they will go the extra mile and get into the World Series. The Astros will be caught on the outside looking in again. They will not win the wildcard, but several of their players will be spotted in October doing Hoveround commercials. That's my story and I'm sticking to it, for now!