Tuesday, January 27, 2004
He argues that the Cubs basically had no business even being in the race last year, so why should they be expected to win this year?
Good question, professor! And I have a good answer: Because the Cubs did most of their improving BEFORE the end of the year. That's why they won the division, remember? Because they added Aramis Ramirez (one of the three or four best hitting third basmen around) and replaced the underperforming Hee Seop Choi with a platoon of Eric Karros and Randall Simon. I was watching all year, and after those trades, the Cubs were a completely different team.
But don't take my word for it. Just check the run differentials before the All-Star break and after.
(Before Break, After Break)
Cubs: (-2, +43)
Astros: (+70, +58)
The Cubs didn't improve on the AVERAGE of these two teams, they improved on the second-half team. And frankly, I don't know what makes Neyer think the Astros have improved more. They lost Billy Wagner, for heavens sake! The Cubs lost nothing but dead weight (ooh, that's a burn, Randall Simon!). The Astros have added two solid starting pitchers. They have also gotten older the old-fashioned way, by aging. The Cubs, on the other hand, have replaced the squeaky old Karros / Simon platoon with Derek Lee, the Scott Rolen of first basemen. They added Latroy Hawkins to a bullpen that was already very good. Then they added Todd Walker, just because it's always nice to have one great ballplayer you can't fit in the starting lineup (though it seems likely to me that Grudzielanek, not Walker, will be the McLemore).
Just because the Cubs haven't done anything too splashy (yet!) doesn't mean they haven't improved substantially.