1 Chicago Cubs Fortune will finally smile on a club that made all the right off-season moves

April 04, 2004

Like the rest of Cubs Nation, Jim Hendry was back at work the
morning after Chicago lost Game 7 of the NLCS. "I should have
stayed home," says the Chicago G.M. "I wasn't much good to anyone
for a few weeks." A short time later Hendry retreated to
Lafayette, La., where for four days he golfed with his brother,
John, and their friend former Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry. But the
getaway didn't soften the pain of the Cubs' failure to reach
their first World Series in 59 years, after they'd been five outs
away in Game 6. "I tried to shake it," Hendry says. "But it
lingered. It'll always linger."

The Cubs' faithful would like nothing more than to erase the
memory of that heartbreak, but the team's run deep into October
should serve notice that these Cubs are bona fide championship
contenders. Not since Teddy Roosevelt's presidency have the Cubs
played in two straight postseasons. They'll reach it again this
year, but they're thinking bigger. "On paper we're better than we
were last year," says Hendry, who strengthened the rotation, the
bullpen and the batting order over the winter. "We feel we're
ready to make the next step."

Sammy Sosa, 35, enters his 13th season at Wrigley, and he's
surrounded by the best supporting cast he's ever had. Hendry's
February signing of pitcher Greg Maddux grabbed the biggest
headlines, but the November trade with the Marlins for first
baseman Derrek Lee (for first baseman Hee Seop Choi and a minor
leaguer) could prove to be the most significant of Hendry's
moves. The Cubs have had four Opening Day first basemen in the
past four years, but in Lee they have a keeper. Signed to a
three-year, $22.5 million deal, he's quietly become one of the
best all-around players at his position: In addition to hitting
for power, he stole 21 bases last year and won his first Gold
Glove. At 6'5", Lee has a huge wingspan, which allows him to get
to a lot of balls. His power numbers should rise now that he's
free of Florida's cavernous Pro Player Stadium; 20 of his 31
homers last year came on the road, where he also batted .297, 55
points higher than at Pro Player.

The lineup has also been bolstered by the return of 24-year-old
centerfielder Corey Patterson. The Cubs' 1998 first-round draft
pick was on the verge of a breakout season (he had a robust .511
slugging percentage in his 83 games) when he tore his left ACL in
July. This spring hitting coach Gary Mathews tweaked Patterson's
batting stance so that he's more upright at the plate, a move to
relax him and address his tendency to be overly aggressive.

Sosa batted just .245 in the second half of 2003, and in response
he began weight training in December, a month earlier than he
usually does. He arrived at spring training noticeably larger in
his upper body, and he hopes the added bulk will improve his
endurance. Sosa is also counting on the added bulk in the roster.
"Those years we weren't winning, I was keeping Chicago very happy
with all those [home run] numbers," he says. "Now that we have a
team that can compete, I'm happier because I don't have to go out
there and kill myself."

The bullpen also figures to be better with the signing of
hard-throwing reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who rooted for the Cubs as
a kid in Gary, Ind. Chicago's biggest weakness last year was
middle relief, and Hendry's most urgent priority this winter was
to find an elite setup man for closer Joe Borowski. In Hawkins,
who allowed a mere three runs in 31 2/3 innings after the
All-Star break, he found the most dominant one in the American
League. An improved pen will take some of the load off aces Mark
Prior (who starts the season on the DL with an inflamed right
Achilles tendon) and Kerry Wood. The two ranked first and second,
respectively, in the majors in pitches per start. Says Prior of
his pen pals, "I think Dusty will have a lot more confidence in
them."

"Feel free to believe in us," reliever Mike Remlinger told fans
last season, as the Cubs, losers of 95 games in 2002, made their
playoff run. On the first day that 2004 tickets were available,
the Cubs sold 572,705, more than doubling baseball's previous
alltime record for one-day sales. Are Cubs fans being overly
optimistic in believing a world championship is in store in 2004?
"I don't think so," says Hendry. "In fact, I think we've got a
team that'll be right there for years to come." --Albert Chen

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN THE ANSWER Lee locks down the fickle first base spot, bringing lots of weapons to the offense--and a Gold Glove, too. COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES HAWKINS

IN FACT

Kerry Wood (6.48), Matt Clement (7.54) and Mark Prior (7.79) were
all in the NL's top 10 in fewest hits alllowed per nine innings.

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

"Expectations are so high that if they don't get to the World
Series their season will seem a failure, but ownership let G.M.
Jim Hendry go out and get what he needed.... Relievers LaTroy
Hawkins and Kent Mercker were key pickups. Mercker surprised me
with his fastball--I had him at 90-92 [mph] this spring....
Defensively, this team is weak. Centerfielder Corey Patterson is
going to do a lot of running because Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa
don't get to a lot of balls.... Todd Walker is a liability at
second--an AL player better suited to DH.... Catching is
Chicago's biggest concern. Why would they get an unproven guy
like Michael Barrett for such a great pitching staff? One day I
saw Maddux shake him off four times before throwing a pitch.
Barrett's not used to pressure situations.... Dusty Baker likes
Patterson second in the order--he thinks he'll get more fastballs
to hit with Sosa behind him--but his free-swinging style is
better suited to lower in the lineup.... This is a very good team,
but I also like what Houston has done. It should be a great race."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

2B Grudzielanek
CF Patterson
RF Sosa
LF Alou
3B Ramirez
1B Lee
SS Gonzalez
C Barrett

MOISES ALOU

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 77 .280 22 91 3

COREY PATTERSON

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 62 .298 13 55 16

SAMMY SOSA

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 14 .279 40 103 0

ARAMIS RAMIREZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 69 .272 27 106 2

ALEX S. GONZALEZ

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 167 .228 20 59 3

MARK GRUDZIELANEK

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 278 .314 3 38 6

DERREK LEE
[New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 26 .271 31 92 21

MICHAEL BARRETT
[New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

R 236 .208 10 30 0

BENCH

TODD WALKER
[New acquisition]

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 224 .283 13 85 1

TOM GOODWIN

B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

L-R 324 .287 1 12 19

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kerry Wood 4 14 11 6.6 1.19 3.20
RH Mark Prior 6 18 6 7.0 1.10 2.43
RH Greg Maddux 32 16 11 6.1 1.18 3.96
[New acquisition]
RH Carlos Zambrano 63 13 11 6.7 1.32 3.11
RH Matt Clement 67 14 12 6.3 1.23 4.11

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Joe Borowski 57 2 2 33 1.05 2.63
RH LaTroy Hawkins 126 9 3 2 1.09 1.86
[New acquisition]
LH Mike Remlinger 201 6 5 0 1.35 3.65

New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)

2003 RECORD
88-74
first in NL Central

MANAGER
Dusty Baker
second 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)