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Cubs Tue Feb 10 2009

101 Times a Charm? Cubs Looking for a World Series in 2009

If championships are won in October, then someone forgot to tell the Cubs. Despite being one of the National League's top tier regular season teams in 2007 and 2008, they were swept each year in the first round of the playoffs. But in 2009, the Cubs will attempt something they've never done: win three straight NL Central Division Titles.

Recognizing the enormous task ahead, the Cubs went out and had one of the most active off-seasons in recent memory. After releasing relief pitcher Kerry Wood, center fielder Jim Edmonds, and trading away second baseman Mark DeRosa for three minor league pitchers, the off-season looked gloomy. But as January faded into February, things began to pick up.

The Cubs signed former St. Louis Cardinal second baseman Aaron Miles to replace Mark DeRosa, and then made one of the more surprising moves in the baseball off-season by acquiring former Texas Ranger Milton Bradley. Following the blockbuster Bradley acquisition, the North Siders went into a trading frenzy by dealing pitcher Jason Marquis for pitcher Luis Vizcaino, gave up on former five-star prospect Felix Pie by trading him to Baltimore for pitcher Garret Olson, then they shipped Olson and Ronny Cedeno right to Seattle for pitcher Aaron Heilman. To cap off the off-season Chicago shipped pitcher Michael Wuertz out to Baltimore and pitcher Rich Hill to Oakland for minor leaguers Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers.

As Spring Training begins to transition into Opening Day, there are still questions skewed all over the Cubs' roster. First off, their shiny new All-Star outfielder Milton Bradley brings a big bat into the Cubs lineup with a career .321 batting average and an unheard-of .999 OPS in the 2008 season. However, in Bradley's eight years as a major leaguer, he's proven himself to be unreliable. Through the entire 2007 and 2008 seasons, he's only appeared in 187 games, which accounts for just over 50 percent of the time served had he been healthy. He's battled injury after injury that have ranged from back spasms to broken arms. But the Cubs do have a back-up plan in center fielder Reed Johnson, who proved he can be a fantastic back up for Jim Edmonds last season. But what's most puzzling about Bradley is he was ejected from three games last season after arguing with umpires. Former teammates of Bradley have hailed him as a "spark in the locker room," saying he inspired many players to overachieve. Hopefully he doesn't lose that spark when he puts on the red Cubs "C" for the first time.

Another question asked is how the Cubs will replace Mark DeRosa. Jim Hendry has said over and over how Aaron Miles is an adequate addition to replace the aging DeRosa, but I do think DeRosa's long-ball bat will be incredibly missed. DeRosa slugged 21 homers last year, as opposed to Miles' measly four homers, however Miles posted a much higher batting average than De-Ro's. That said, Miles will be able to produce more base hits, whereas DeRosa was more likely to knock the ball out of the park. But, you can leave the big bats to first baseman Derrek Lee, outfielder Alfonso Soriano and third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who combined for 76 dingers last season.

For the pitching rotation, I like what I see. Last season Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly combined for 48 wins; good enough for top five in the National League. Sean Marshall and Rich Harden will join the trio to round out the rotation. Harden was phenomenal in Cubby blue, going 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA after coming over to Chicago from Oakland mid-season. I can see Chicago's pitching staff being a force to be reckoned with this season once again. Also, be on the lookout for the Cubs to make a move for San Diego Padre superstar pitcher Jake Peavy. If this were to occur, the Cubs are a sure lock for the MLB's best pitching rotation.

But how will the Cubs fare as a team this year? The National League Central looks to be a bit watered down, as the Astros, Pirates and Reds have become the laughing stock of the National League. Arch rivals St. Louis is a crapshoot every year, as they're the only team in the National League Central to decline this off-season, losing key players in their rotation.

Milwaukee is perhaps the only team that I see giving the Cubs any major headaches. Their pitching is looking deadly as they've signed all-time career saves leader Trevor Hoffman, and are closing in on a deal with pitcher Braden Looper. They've also got one of the better hitting cores in all of baseball with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. I say the Brewers are the best bet to give the Cubs a run for their money when we play ball in April.

In case you haven't been keeping track, this year marks the 101st anniversary since a World Series banner flew on the North Side. Though I won't go as far as saying the Cubs will win it all in 2009, but I say their a sure lock for the division, and I got to say they at least get past the first round. We can only hope.

Here's to hopefully a great year to our beloved Cubs!

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