1 Chicago Cubs

March 30, 2008

IT'S VERYeasy," said Lou Piniella, the Cubs' second-year manager, who paused andgrinned before dispensing a little baseball wisdom. "But if you don't seeit, you might have a problem." He wasn't talking about hitting aknuckleball or fielding a comebacker but pronouncing the labyrinthine name ofhis starting rightfielder. "KOH-skay foo-koo-DOUGH-may," Piniellacarefully enunciated, delighting the crush of Japanese media that had descendedupon Mesa, Ariz., this spring to chronicle the every move of 30-year-oldoutfielder Kosuke Fukudome. "Is that hard?"

Here's the hardpart: 1) figuring out where to bat Fukudome in the lineup; he has hit second,third and fifth this spring; and 2) remaining patient (never the hallmark ofPiniella) as Fukudome makes the transition to the majors. His defense appearsto be as good as advertised: His laserlike throws from rightfield had theCactus League buzzing, and his range makes him a fill-in candidate incenter—which, along with second base, are the team's two biggest weak spots.But he looked timid at the plate in exhibition games, nothing like the fleeton-base machine with good gap power that drew comparisons with Bobby Abreu whenFukudome played for the Chunichi Dragons. Nonetheless, says lefthander TedLilly, "he does a lot of things well, though he may not do any one thingthe best on the team."

One thing thatFukudome may do best is work a count (he had a .437 OBP over the last threeseasons), and his lefthanded bat is a welcome addition to a lineup in whichlefties had a .667 OPS last season, a staggering 131 points lower than therighthanders. Though the Cubs sank nearly a quarter-billion dollars into newcontracts for every-day players last season, the hitting was middle of theroad.

Instead, a deep andbalanced pitching staff carried the team most of last season, leading theleague in strikeouts and finishing second in ERA—and there should be more ofthe same in 2008. Two power lefties, Lilly and Rich Hill, complementrighthanded ace Carlos Zambrano, who still won 18 games and had a 3.95 ERA inhis worst full season. (Big Z will need to cut down on his 101 walks.) Thoughhe gave up 28 homers last year, Lilly improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio bymore than 50% and won 15 games. And with his downhill, low-90s fastball and alate-breaking curve that reliever Kerry Wood describes as "unhittable,"Hill has arguably the most upside of any of the starters.

Piniella tooknearly the entire spring to mull Ryan Dempster's replacement as closer beforesettling on Wood, who had a good spring and still hits the mid-90s. But hisinjury history, which included a recent bout with back spasms, can't beignored. Piniella has other, capable replacements in Bob Howry, who has themost experience in the closer's role (65 career saves, including 28 with the1999 White Sox) and Carlos Marmol (1.43 ERA, 96 strikeouts in 69 1/3 inningslast year), who has the most potential. "He's got the arm strength, thebreaking ball, and I think he has the mentality to [be the closer]," saysBoston scout Keith Champion of Marmol. "He can be the guy down the road,but I think you have to give it to the veteran first."

Despite severallingering concerns—the franchise's impending sale, a lineup that's still alittle too righthanded and free-swinging, and two voids up the middle (atsecond base and in centerfield)—the Cubs remain the class of the division.

CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...

The Cubs don't havea leadoff hitter, which explains the four months of trade rumors surroundingthe Orioles' Brian Roberts. In the absence of one, shortstop and fan favoriteRyan Theriot steps into the role. Theriot is an efficient base stealer (28 of32 last season), but his low on-base percentage in '07 (.326 in 537 at bats)makes him better suited to the bottom of the order. Instead, the Cubs shouldsplit the leadoff spot between centerfielder Felix Pie (.466 OBP againstrighthanded pitchers at Triple A Iowa last year) and second baseman Mark DeRosa(career .367 OBP against lefties). Manager Lou Piniella has wisely avoided theurge to restore Alfonso Soriano (left) to the top of the order, where hisexcellent power is wasted and his OBP shortcomings are exposed. The two hole isa better fit, though the third or fourth spots would be ideal.

NOW AT SI.COM

EXCERPTED FROMSI
AUG. 22, 1994

THE CITY of Chicagois ecstatic. So is the rest of the nation. All of baseball history is invokedin a Chicago-Boston World Series matchup. The O.J. Simpson trial is suspendedfor the duration of this Fall Classic, even though the Nick at Nite man is inthe middle of his testimony. David Letterman moves his show to Boston for twoweeks; Jay Leno takes his to Chicago. There is only one thing on the country'smind: baseball.

SI.com/vault
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THE NUMBERS

LIE

7

Consecutive seasonsthat the Cubs' pitching staff has led the NL in strikeouts. During that timeChicago also gave up the fewest hits (9,490) and held opponents to amajor-league-low .248 batting average. Yet the team's 562 wins since the startof the 2001 season ranked in a tie for 16th in the majors. Why the discrepancy?Cubs pitchers have also issued an NL-worst 4,154 walks over those sevenseasons.

THE LINEUP
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2007 STATISTICS

MANAGER LOUPINIELLA SECOND SEASON WITH CHICAGO

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

RYAN THERIOT   SS  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 180 .266 3 45 28
ALFONSO SORIANO   LF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 6 .299 33 70 19
DERREK LEE   1B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 34 .317 22 82 6
ARAMIS RAMIREZ   3B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 28 .310 26 101 0
KOSUKE FUKUDOME (R)*   RF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 95 .294 13 48 5
MARK DEROSA   2B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 193 .293 10 72 1
GEOVANY SOTO (R)   C  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 112 .389 3 8 0
FELIX PIE   CF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 198 .215 2 20 8

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

BENCH
DARYLE WARD   OF-1B  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 300 .327 3 19 0
MATT MURTON   OF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 302 .281 8 22 1
MIKE FONTENOT   IF  
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 362 .278 3 29 5

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Carlos Zambrano 27 18 13 7.4 1.33 3.95
LH Ted Lilly 50 15 8 7.6 1.14 3.83
RH Ryan Dempster 141 2 7 7.4 1.34 4.73
LH Rich Hill 43 11 8 8.5 1.20 3.92
RH Jason Marquis 267 12 9 5.1 1.39 4.60

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Kerry Wood 82 1 0 8.9 1.27 3.33
RH Carlos Marmol 88 5 1 12.5 1.10 1.43
RH Bobby Howry 133 6 8 8.0 1.17 3.32

New acquisition(R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
*Japanese league stats
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 62)

"HERE'S THE HARD PART: REMAINING PATIENT AS KOSUKEFUKUDOME TRANSITIONS TO THE MAJORS."

PHOTOJOHN BIEVERBANG FOR THE BIG BUCKS Fukudome looked tentative at the plate in the spring, but scouts believe that he could be another Bobby Abreu. PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (SORIANO) PHOTOV.J. LOVERO, TOM LYNN (COVER)

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)