by Andy Paschen
General consensus around these parts says the Cubs are the odds on favorite to win the N.L. Central. At worst, they’ll be giving whoever steps up – be it pitching-deprived Milwaukee, talent-deprived St. Louis or one of the other three schlubs in the division – to challenge them for the crown. But after further examination, there seems to be one key problem with the Cubs.
Now, this kind of problem is a luxury to have: technically it doesn’t exist unless something goes wrong. But are the Cubs really the kind of franchise that can lay lady luck down for three full seasons in a row? Great franchises have strokes of terrible luck with injuries, etc., and battle through them. This team is not built for such things. Lets take a look behind the curtains and find out how many understudies can really be trusted to take the lead.
Catcher depth: Kiddie Pool
There’s Geovany Soto, then Paul Bako. The enormous gap between those two is normally reserved for Michael Strahan’s teeth. Granted, last year we were spoiled with Henry Blanco’s fantastic hitting, but Paul Bako has been the whore of the N.L. Central for years now — having played with the Brewers, Reds and Cubs. It’s a good thing he wears protection. Even worse, his real name is Gabor Paul Bako. How can you trust a man named Gabor? It’s always risky relying on a catcher for offensive production, and if Soto misses anytime this year the Cubs offense could suffer mightily.
1B depth: Lake Michigan
Derrek Lee is on the tail end of a respectable career. We will never see the 46 HR power that he showed in 2005 before the wrist injury, his Gold Glove defense has regressed (though he can still flash that leather) and that man loves grounding into double plays with regularity. At this point his back up, career minor-leaguer Micah Hoffpauir might have more pop in his bat (he’s leading the MLB with 18 RBI in spring training), and because of that the depth of 1B might be one of, if not the Cubs’ strongest positions. His defense is still suspect, but serviceable.
2B, SS depth: Nile River
There is sufficient depth up the middle with the three-headed midget monster of Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles at first glance, but similar to the African river that empties into the Mediterranean, that depth can dry up pretty quickly. Why? Because of what’s written just a few lines below this. (Segue!)
3B depth: Taking a shower with a closed drain
This is where the Cubs could get, ahem, fucked proper. If Ramirez goes down, your infield consists of Derrek Lee and the three dwarfs, with Aaron Miles taking over at the hot corner if the status quo holds. You have to wonder how long the Cubs would go with that lineup until giving either Hoffpauir a shot (though that’s more fantasy than reality — like your feelings toward Adrianna Lima) or try out a prospect like Tyler Colvin or Josh Vitters. So yeah, if you have any extra space in that nightly prayer, toss one up to the Big Guy with some combination of “please” “don’t” “Ramirez” and “injury.”
OF depth: An above-ground pool
Your opening day starts look to be Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley. In terms of consistency, both at the plate and in the trainer’s room, this is a very shaky outfield. Alfonso Soriano, who’s been busy this offseason making the greatest purchase of any human in history, hasn’t made more than 135 starts since joining the Cubs. Kosuke Fukudome went into a downward spiral of self-destruction that made Courtney Love jealous (and he hasn’t eased anyone’s worries after hitting .200 in the WBC with 7 hits and 7 singles). Milton Bradley has played in 358 games in the last 4 seasons — that’s 358 out of a possible 648, so suffice to say he might make a trip or two to the DL if for no other reason than the plain odds. Your backups look to be Hoffpauir, speed demon Joey Gathright and Reed Johnson. While not God-awful, that’s not great by any stretch of the imagination — especially backing up individuals who figure to miss considerable time between the three of them.
Pitching depth: The Wave Pool at Noah’s Ark
The rotation is deep. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Sean Marshall. That’s a rotation most N.L. teams would pine after like your secret high school crush. And even if we assume Rich Harden will miss time, there’s no reason to believe that Jeff Samardzija couldn’t get stretched out and make his rotational debut. Throw in another random injury, you still have a front three that can shoulder the weight of two injuries.
The bullpen? Not so much. Like I’ve said, again and again, they are not to be trusted this season. They should be watched like a 17-year-old daughter at a John Mayer afterparty. And if the Shark goes to the rotation, that hurts the pen.
The point of all this? Look at what the line up might be and what it could be and tell me you aren’t worried:
1. Alfonso Soriano/Reed Johnson
2. Ryan Theriot
3. Milton Bradley/Micah Hoffpauir
4. Aramis Ramirez/Aaron Miles
5. Derrek Lee
6. Geovany Soto/Gabor Paul Bako
7. Kosuke Fukudome/Joey Gathright
8. Mike Fontenot
Yikes. Be afraid Cubs fans, be very afraid.