Saturday, September 04, 2004  
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Surprises of 2004

If you're like most Cubs fans, the 2004 season is not exactly what you expected. Lets face it, we all thought the Cubs would be in a more comfortable spot come September. After coming within 5 outs of the World Series in 2003, the Cubs made several acquisitions that they hoped would help them close the deal. Derrek Lee, Greg Maddux, LaTroy Hawkins - to name a few. But after injuries, and many disappointments, the Cubs have found themselves out of the division race, and fighting for their lives in the Wild Card as we head into the final month. But they should consider themselves lucky, because several players who weren't expected to hold the team together have helped to keep them from faltering. With that said, I present to you the Surprises of the 2004 Cubs..

The Good

In general, it's the bolstered bench that has stepped up and playing good ball when the starters were injured.

Michael Barrett, C
In 2003, Damian Miller and Paul Bako combined for a .232 average for the season. After last season, it was clear the Catcher's spot was the biggest offensive weakness. Michael Barrett, who had spent his entire career with the Montreal Expos, hit .208 in an injury-burdened 2003 season. The Cubs had actually pursued him in trade talks last season, but the Expos were reluctant to move him. Montreal dealt him to Oakland in December, and the following day he was sent to the Cubs for Damian Miller and cash. The Cubs were sure Michael Barrett would improve from 2003, but probably did not expect him to be a key producer. Barrett has hit .295 this season with 13 homers and 57 driven in, and finally, the Cubs have a catcher who can get the job done with the bat.

Glendon Rusch, LHP
In 2003, Glendon Rusch had an amazing season - 1-12 record, 6.42 ERA. In late April, the Cubs signed Rusch to a minor league contract, and on by the end of the month, he was on the big league club. Glendon Rusch performed very well when the Cubs needed him to step in during the duration of injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. It is very fair to assume, the Cubs wouldn't even be in this race without the consistency of Glendon this season. There have also been a few games that come to mind since Prior and Wood have returned, that Rusch came in when the pitcher was injured or simply didn't have it, and the shut down the opponent so the Cubs could come back and win it - or at least make a game of it.

Todd Hollandsworth, 1B/OF
One of two members of the Cubs who spent 2003 with the Marlins, Todd has been very productive off the bench, and filled in for Sammy Sosa very well during his sneeze made his back go out. Hollandsworth is another play who is very much responsible for the Cubs staying the race. You can never get the offensive numbers of your injured slugger from the bench, but Hollandsworth did everything possible to keep the Cubs afloat while they were burdened with injuries. He hasn't been seen since the White Sox-Cubs series, when he fouled a ball of his leg. The Cubs hope to get him back sometime in September. His role on this team is "nothing to sneeze at".

Todd Walker, 2B
Alright, we had an idea of what to expect from Todd. He was a career .290 hitter, who came and signed with the Cubs as a backup instead of signing with a losing club who guaranteed him a starting job. We knew all this, but when Grudzielanek was injured in April, Walker stepped up and didn't miss a beat. During the significant time Mark missed, Walker was able to make a big enough impression that hes been sharing time with Grudzielanek all season long.

Nomar Garciaparra, SS
This is a different kind of surprise. Maybe I should have said Jim Hendry instead. But it was quite a surprise, the Cubs were able to get one of the best hitting shortstops in the game without trading Matt Clement or giving anything worthwhile in the system. Hendry has been very good with his decisions in his tenure as the Cubs general manager, and has made two big deals in his two seasons that the Cubs had never seen the likes of before.

The Bad

Although, it wasn't my intention, the bad has been the bullpen - the severe weakness on this club that I think could undermine the 2004 effort.

Joe Borowski, RHP
I won't be too hard on Joe, because I know not to the extent of his injuries while he was pitching. To be honest, I preferred him on the mound to close the game. His ERA was horrible, and he looked like crap, but until the last couple outings - he would just be able to get by and get the save (while scaring Cub Nation to death), but he got the job done. Hawkins has been more effective, but it seems like hes on and off - he'll blow the game entirely, or he'll knock 'em out.

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP
After he struggled in April, Farnsworth found May, June, and especially July favorable, and was a very consistent part of the Cubs bullpen. But as quickly as he had a dominant July, he had an absolutely horrid August. Usually you can't blame a player for having a bad month, but this was excessive - and it cost the Cubs several games. Kyle allowed 17 runs (2 of them unearned) in 7 August innings. He has hurt his leg after kicking an electric fan after a disappointing outing - when comes back in late September, if he fails to perform, he may help the Cubs kick the bucket.

LaTroy Hawkins, RHP
Overall, LaTroy has been a lift to the bullpen. He was shutting down the hitters in the setup role at the beginning of the year, and I've truly believed he is one of the best, if not the best setup man in baseball. But lets face it, in the closer role LaTroy has not gotten the job done. The question mark is, though, who do you put there? The hot hand? And what if they fail as LaTroy has done? It's a tough spot, but disappointing nonetheless.

Mark Prior, RHP
As much as I hate to, Prior hasn't been able to get back to the level hes able to play at. It may not happen this season, and I think it's very likely that he won't turn it on until 2005. I think 2005, if injury free, could be a phenomenal year for Prior. But whether it's preparation, the fact hes still out of the swing of it or the possibility that something is still bothering him, it's a bad sign for the staff. I hope he can come back and have a strong September and postseason - if he doesn't, it could be very difficult to keep pondering World Series dreams.

The Ugly

I could say other names, but this is one thing that has been really disappointing. He is not going to hit 60, that I do understand. But sometimes, you need to see that old flare - that one hot streak where you can say, he still can put up numbers during one stretch or another.

Sammy Sosa, RF
Feel free to blast me for this. Sammy Sosa has disappointed me, I understand he's still productive - he's going to get his 30-35 home runs, but we need more hits from Sammy - we need to see a little bit of old Sammy Sosa or we could be in trouble. Sosa has failed to hit .275 in all but one month (May). April and May, I give him is props - but since his injury, Sammy has looked a lot different at the plate, and has really struggled. Sosa told off his critics after July, saying that since he hit 10 homers, that he's back to old Sammy - but he only hit .265, and then followed up with a .218 average in August and 7 homers. Sure, there are players not hitting 30 homers on this team, but there are some guys you have to expect a little bit more from.

Note:This article written by future writer of TVFTB, Anthony Odarczenko. Please post some comments and let him know what you think.

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