3 Chicago Cubs Everything could finally fall into place here if the pitchers throw the way they ought to

March 31, 2003

This spring training Cubs Fever raged like never before. From
Eric Karros to Corey Patterson to Sammy Sosa to Charles Gipson,
with each passing day another player was overcome. Cubs Fever was
back, and you couldn't help but catch it.

That's right, over a two-week span beginning in late February, 10
Cubs were zapped by a bronchitis-related virus. (Karros missed
three days of workouts.) Every cough or sniffle sent players
rushing to the clubhouse to wash their hands. Some even blew
their noses into tissues!

Through it all, righthander Matt Clement smiled and went about
his business. Why? Because he knows a thing or two about
sickening springs and, as far as he was concerned, this wasn't
one of them. Two years ago Clement was happily preparing for his
fourth season with the Padres when he was suddenly traded to the
Marlins. Last March he was preparing for his second season with
the Marlins when he was unexpectedly shipped to the Cubs.
"Nothing fazes me anymore," says Clement. "Last year my wife was
pregnant and we'd moved into a place in Florida. I was
comfortable, and then I was gone. That sucked. So the flu? Big
deal. I've got bigger things to worry about."

Those who should be worried are National League hitters. With the
young, hard-throwing righthanded foursome of Clement, 28; Kerry
Wood, 25; Mark Prior, 22; and Carlos Zambrano, 21, new manager
Dusty Baker has a dazzling rotation that, barring injury, should
lift his club to the top of the NL Central and into the playoffs
for the first time in five years.

Until last season, dazzling and Matt Clement fit together like
tasteful and Christina Aguilera. Although he was the most gifted
member of the San Diego staff, Clement was inconsistent and
sometimes had difficulty maintaining command of his pitches,
going 23--29 with a 4.84 ERA in his two full seasons with the
team. His performance was no better with Florida: Clement's 5.05
ERA in 2001 was the NL's sixth-worst for pitchers who started 30
or more games.

Then, under the tutelage of Chicago pitching coach Larry
Rothschild, Clement put it all together last year. He stopped
throwing across his body, switching to a top-to-bottom motion.
Suddenly, Clement's sinking fastball, which he threw in the
low-to mid-90s, stopped dropping out of the strike zone. His
biting slider made righthanded hitters look like fools. He walked
only 85 batters, 40 fewer than he had in 2000. Opponents batted
just .215 against him, third-best in the league and sixth-best in
the majors. For the first time in his career Clement was heading
into the late innings feeling strong. "I became much more
efficient and smooth," he says. "It did wonders."

Clement spent last winter content with the knowledge that he
would be a Cub on Opening Day. Instead of fretting about his
future, he enjoyed downtime in his Butler, Pa., home, with his
wife, Heather, changing diapers and caring for their first child,
Mattix, a boy who was born in October.

"Matt has always had excellent stuff," says Baker. "I never
understood why the Padres traded him, and I can't understand why
Florida did, either. But the Mets traded Nolan Ryan, the
Cardinals traded Steve Carlton and the Dodgers traded Dave
Stewart. A lot of the great ones have been traded before they
became great. Maybe this guy will be the next one."

One thing that will help everyone in the rotation is a revamped
and improved bullpen. Not one to rip teammates, Clement does say
that leaving a game with a lead last season "was not always the
most comfortable feeling." If it wasn't closer Antonio Alfonseca
blowing nine of 28 save chances, it was setup man Kyle Farnsworth
faltering (7.33 ERA while opponents had a .558 slugging
percentage against him). Cubs general manager Jim Hendry wisely
signed veteran free-agent lefthanders Mike Remlinger and Mark
Guthrie as well as righthander Dave Veres, giving Chicago a
playoff-tested relief corps. "We're deep and experienced there,"
Clement says of the bullpen. "As a starter who pitched his butt
off, it makes a huge difference. It makes me very happy."

Sounds like the kind of Cubs Fever you wouldn't mind
catching. --J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON CLEMENT TIME With help from pitching coach Rothschild, Clement refined his delivery and started dominating hitters. COLOR PHOTO: JEFF GROSS/GETTY IMAGES CHOI

IN FACT

Sammy Sosa had 108 RBIs in 2002, the eighth straight year he
drove in 100 or more runs. In doing so, he tied the NL record,
held by Willie Mays (1959--66) and Mel Ott (1936--42).

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Cubs

"People are high on the Cubs, but I don't see it.... Kerry Wood
will not be the stud everyone has predicted. Before he got hurt,
his stuff was electrifying; now he's inconsistent. Mark Prior is
the better pitcher. He's the whole package--power, command, a
major league body. Matt Clement is a solid No. 3 guy. Shawn Estes
is a fine fourth starter but inconsistent. Carlos Zambrano is
pure power--a fastball that's not straight, and his ball is
heavy.... Antonio Alfonseca, who's out until May, is a
second-rate closer. Mike Remlinger gets out righties as well as
lefties. Kyle Farnsworth throws propane, but he can't miss a
bat.... Bobby Hill is not the answer at second; he's a little man
who doesn't know how to play little-man's ball. Hee Seop Choi
will put up good power numbers in a few years, but not this
season. Alex Gonzalez has great skills, but where's his heart?
He's a big underachiever. Mark Bellhorn is below average
defensively, but he's a home run threat.... Sammy Sosa is
incredible, but he's not patient. Moises Alou is one of the
smartest hitters, although he's lost a lot in the outfield. Once
Corey Patterson realizes he can go the other way when the
situation dictates, he'll be O.K.... I like Damian Miller behind
the plate."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2002 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Hill
CF Patterson
RF Sosa
LF Alou
1B Choi
3B Bellhorn
SS Gonzalez
C Miller

BOBBY HILL

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 259 .253 4 20 6

COREY PATTERSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 137 .253 14 54 18

SAMMY SOSA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 14 .288 49 108 2

MOISES ALOU

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 93 .275 15 61 8

HEE SEOP CHOI* (R)

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L 184 .287 26 97 3

MARK BELLHORN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

S-R 134 .258 27 56 7

ALEX GONZALEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 170 .248 18 61 5

DAMIAN MILLER [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 224 .249 11 42 0

BENCH

ERIC KARROS [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 257 .271 13 73 4

MARK GRUDZIELANEK [#]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 281 .271 9 50 4

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kerry Wood 30 12 11 6.5 1.24 3.66
RH Mark Prior 28 6 6 6.1 1.17 3.32
RH Matt Clement 49 12 11 6.4 1.20 3.60
LH Shawn Estes[#] 213 5 12 5.5 1.58 5.10
RH Carlos Zambrano 211 4 8 5.8 1.45 3.66

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Antonio Alfonseca 96 2 5 19 1.47 4.00
LH Mike Remlinger[#] 106 7 3 0 1.12 1.99
RH Dave Veres[#] 174 5 8 4 1.28 3.48

[#]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
*Triple A stats
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 157)

2002 RECORD

67--95
fifth in NL Central

MANAGER

Dusty Baker
first season with Chicago

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)