Baseball Notes: Cubbies Convo

And I've done it! Here is the last team profile, the Chicago Cubs in a very special posting. I talk with my friend Sean Davis, a lifelong Cubs fan, about the Cubs of today and yester-todays.

Sean:

I was always a football kid, when I got to AZ my friend Mike was big into baseball so choosing the Cubs was just a natural selection, then 2003 cemented them for me. Loved Aramis Ramirez (15 homers in 63 games with the Cubs); he had a walk off in a division race, think 2006, against MIL when they had Francisco Cordero, who was having a great year, that one stuck with me. Derrek Lee (331 career homers), Carlos Zambrano (3.31 ERA in 32 stars in ‘03), I loved those guys

Pete:

That's funny, I was just saying to Marty that one of my favorite Pirates moments was seeing Derrek Lee have a big game for them against the DBacks in his half a season he was in Pittsburgh. Around 2003 was your formative Cubs year?

Sean:

I'd say so, I remember the big rush here when Arizona won it all, so I probably tried keeping up with the Cubs in 2002 and then 2003 was great, until the end of course.

Pete:

Taking a little look back at their '03 roster, the Cubs were stacked with players I liked... they had a couple guys from my very first game I saw in Montreal, too… 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.314 AVG in 121 games in ‘03) and LFMoises Alou (.280, 35 doubles, 22 homers in ‘03) played for the Expos in the first game I ever saw.

Sean:

Nice, Moises was fun.

Pete:

And they also had 1B Hee-Seop Choi (15 homers each in ‘04 and ‘05), CF Kenny Lofton (622 SB’s over 17 years), LF Troy O'Leary (.280 AVG and 28 homers, 103 RBI in ‘99 with the Red Sox), 2B Tony Womack (lead the NL in SB’s from ‘97-’99)… those are some nice bench players.

Sean:

For sure.

Pete:

That was also a Sammy Sosa team. I'm sure at the time he was Babe Ruth to you but he's gone through some scandal and weirdness since. How do you remember him now?

Sean:

He made the game fun. You didn't want to miss a Sammy AB, that was for sure (609 homers over 18 years, four season with 50+ homers, three of those were 60+). But he's definitely soured his legacy with the corked bat, links to steroids and strange bleached skin thing.

Pete:

I think even with the things that land in the enhancing his performance area, there was so much going on, I'm not sure his stats should be discounted as much as they are... although maybe he should get a weirdly colored asterisk. I'm kind of willing to accept that he did stuff no one else... almost no one else... has done and place him high-ish on the list of baseball achievements because he and Babe Ruth (714 homers over 22 years, 4 seasons with 50+ homers) are both 600+ home run guys and no one besides them has done that with the number of huge seasons they have… even Barry Bonds (762 homers over 22 years, one season with more than 50 homers, 73 homers in ‘01) who is thought of as the guy who pumped himself up to huge seasons, he only has one season with more than 50 homers, but Sosa had three years with more than 60.

Sean:

I was at his 600 when he was a Ranger; hit it off Jason Marquis, over the right field wall into the Rangers bullpen.

Pete:

They're both very tainted, Bonds and Sosa, but they're also the only guys in our lives to duplicated Hank Aaron (755 homers over 23 years, no seasons with 50+ homers) and Babe Ruth. Maybe it counts like seeing hologram Tupac.

Sean:

And before the scandal, the Sosa/McGwire home run battle "saved" baseball (1999: McGwire breaks Maris’s home run record with 70 homers, Sosa had the second best home run season at that time with 66 homers).

Pete:

it did... although this year there's the whole thing with the tightly wound balls resulting in more homers, but I don't think that's saving baseball. I do think the fact the Cubs are making a run could do something for ratings though. What do you make of the Cubs this year?

Sean:

It's a good mix of a sprinkle of veterans but mostly the young guys all hitting a stride at the same time.

Pete:

They really are.

Sean:

That's the key, Rizzo, Bryant, SS Russell (21 homers, 95 RBI), SS/3B Baez (.273 AVG, 14 homers over 450 PA), that's what makes this team go. Contreras was a nice surprise, Hendricks elevating his game, Lester and Lackey (3.35 ERA over 29 starts) being reliable, Jake is actually the only one who seems to not have had as strong a year as the others. And not to be overlooked, but CF Fowler really had a nice year in the lead off spot (.393 OBP, 13 homers).

Pete:

But's that's what's crazy. They've been playing Baez at 3B, and Bryant in LF. They are able to move their stars around to get the right guys in the game.

Sean:

Yep.

Pete:

Speaking of batting order, 2B Zobrist hit a lot of clean up this year (.386 OBP, 18 homers, 31 doubles, 76 RBI). He's a 35 year old super utility player and it shouldn't have worked. He and Fowler had really similar seasons, and I'm not very literate about WAR, but they both seemed like guys that were perfectly placed.

Sean:

Yeah. Those guys benefit from so much of the team being led by young guys, they aren't being asked to pull extra weight, just play their game.

Pete:

Back to C Willson Contreras, I don't think I've seen him but his half a season's worth of stats are really good and he's also listed as a utility player and not just a catcher (12 homers, .282 AVG over 76 games).. What kind of a player is he?

Sean:

He's got a high ceiling, sort of small for a catcher, pretty disciplined hitter, handles the staff pretty well, strong accurate arm. Best thing about him is dude clearly has a lot of fun playing baseball.

Pete:

And those pitchers, their rotation is five guys with 3.83 ERA's or lower in a year that the AL saw the ERA champion at 3.00. Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester were the top 2 in the majors and Hendricks blew everyone away with a 2.13 ERA (Hendricks 16 wins, 0.98 WHIP; Lester 19 wins, 2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 197 K’s). What were Hendricks' expectations coming into the year?

Sean:

I would say more of the same, being a bottom of the rotation guy. He really stepped up big.

Pete:

I think we talked before the season started saying that the rotation would be top heavy with Arrieta and Lester but it was nice they had a good #3 place holder with Lackey who has a history of eating innings and finding his teams winning. We really didn't expect Hendricks to be a Cy Young candidate with Arrieta and Lester (18 wins, 3.10 ERA, 190 K’s).

Sean:

You got it right. And that's dead on.

Pete:

Arrieta had a down year compared to last year (2015: NL Cy Young, 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 3 SHO, 0.87 WHIP, 236 K’s) but his ERA would have been 4th in the AL if he played for an AL team. (As another aside, if Paul Goldschmidt was in the AL he'd be second in stolen bases). If the Cubs didn't get Chapman (1.01 ERA, 16 SV’s 28 games, 15.5 K/9, all time fastest pitch thrown this season at 105 mph), do you think their pen would have been strong enough to have been so far ahead in the NL at the end of the year?

Sean:

I feel like Rondon could have got the job done (3.53 ERA, 18 SV’s), with Strop (2.85 ERA, 11.4 K/9), Grimm (4.10 ERA, 11.1 K/9) , Wood (2.95 ERA) setting him up. But Chapman is a great luxury to have.

Pete:

Okay, I'll let you go nuts. I'll just give you a wide open question, how about RIzzo and Bryant? Feel free to form your answer as a love poem.

Sean:

I'm not sure I can; I mean, you just sit back and appreciate how good these guys are, how they can make such a difference in the field and at the plate. I think every team hopes to have at least one super star, and we have two who are gonna be around a long time, it's just such a good feeling to have about your team (Anthony Rizzo .292 AVG, 32 homers, 109 RBI for 2nd in the NL; Kris Bryant .292 AVG 39 homers for 3rd in the NL, 102 RBI). Like when you guys had Manny and Papi (2004: Manny Ramirez, .308 AVG, 43 homers, 130 RBI; David Ortiz .301 AVG 41 homers, 139 RBI). Just minus the fielding thing for Papi at DH (Manny didn’t do any favors for himself in left field either).

Pete:

And to think the Cubs had to get a little lucky to get Rizzo bc he was in two other organizations before them... kind of like Papi getting released by the Twins as the ultimate lucky moment for the Red Sox.

Sean:

Exactly, I heard a story that I think the Dbacks scout went to watch Bryant hit, got up and left after a few swings, somebody asked why he was leaving, he said, no way he's around for us to get.

Pete:

And playing with Rizzo isn't even his most talented teammate Bryant has had due to playing with Harper in little league.

Sean:

Right.

Pete:

I think Ryne Sandberg is one of the most overlooked players ever for how much power he had for a 2B (1990: 40 homers, 100 RBI, .306 AVG. Career .285 AVG, 282 homers). It's so easy for 2B's to be forgotten since Dozier for the Twins broke the 2B record for homers in a season, I saw him play a lot this year and had no idea he was even close to the record (2016: 42 homers, 99 RBI and he batted leadoff in most games for the twins).

Sean:

I loved the aura of Ernie Banks and Ron Santo (342 career homers). Ron was such an unabashed homer on the radio it was great, and Ernie was pure class.

Pete:

This is a crazy thing to say, but it's almost a shame Ernie Banks is such an amazingly great guy because people forget how good of a player he was. He might be one of the best players ever (512, career homers, two time league leader in homers, two time league MVP).

Sean:

That's a great point. Certainly one of the greatest shortstops ever.

Pete:

Yeah. I think because of the position that gives him a bump in his offensive stats, too. I think a lot of people would say Jeter is the best SS ever (never lead the league in HR, RBI, SB or AVG, never an MVP, 260 career homers), but he's garbage compared to Banks.

Sean:

Truth.

Pete:

ARod and Ripken are the closest, but it took 40 or 50 years for them to come around.

Sean:

I can appreciate what Sandberg and even Gracie meant to fans of that time, Andre Dawson, too (438 career homers, league leader in HR and RBI in 1987, MVP on the last place Cubs).

Pete:

Yeah, Sandberg and Dawson were great JUST before I got really into baseball so looking at their stats always surprises me. I think I figured Andre Dawson was just an old man his whole career because when I saw him he seemed like he could barely bend his knees.

Sean:

And I think Mark Grace had the most doubles in the 90s, something like that (511 career doubles over 16 years, lead the league in strike shortened ‘95 with 51. Career .303 AVG).

Pete:

Yeah, he was an actually good player but he didnt' have a big stature like a lot of 1B's of his time but he was pretty good. His DUI's as an announcer really make it weird that they use his foam head in the DBacks race.

To get it on the record, they have to change that race to finding 4 college kids in the stands, getting them liquored up and making them race for a Dave and Busters gift card.

Are you going to be able to enjoy the postseason this year or are you going to be too on edge? Have the Blackhawks taught you anything about how to enjoy the playoffs?

Sean:

They have, for sure. I was saying to my dad the other day that the Blackhawks earned my trust of being the hunted team in the postseason, so good all year they're expected to win. The Cubs haven't, but I'm gonna believe they will earn that trust.

I'm enjoying it, it's nerve wracking for sure, but it's always better to be in the dance than not.

More team profiles here.

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