Spring Postcard: Forget playoff flop -- Cubs are NL Central faves again
The Cubs need to remember their 97 wins in 2008, not their playoff loss
Cubs starters led the NL in ERA last year, and their pitching could be even better
Cubs hitters may get more rest this season to boost their power numbers
1. Forget about last year.
Even personnel from division rivals are conceding the NL Central is the Cubs' to lose, but Piniella cautions that nothing is guaranteed. "I wouldn't put the greatness label on this team just yet," he said. "Let's see it first. Let's see it."
2. Pitching in.
3. Powering down.
New face, new place
Milton Bradley. The Cubs offense was both dangerous and dangerously one-sided. Of their top 10 leaders in at-bats, eight of them were right-handed hitters, and one of the two lefties (Edmonds) was not brought back, leaving them with a lineup too easy for opposing teams to game plan against. "We needed some thunder from the left side to balance out all our righties," said Jim Hendry. The Cubs GM found just who he was looking for in Bradley, who led the AL in on-base percentage (.436) and ranked third in batting average (.321) with the Rangers last year and should represent a noticeable upgrade offensively from Edmonds. Bradley does not come without concerns, however. Primarily a designated hitter in Texas, he has not played a full-season in the outfield -- or been healthy enough for 500 at bats -- since 2004, and he'll be expected to stay healthy and productive long enough to protect righty sluggers Lee and Ramirez. More important, his notable temper tantrums required some frank questions from Hendry before he could sign Bradley this offseason. "I was very blunt and very honest with him when I met with him," said Hendry. "And I was very pleased with how honest he was with me. He admitted the mistakes he made to me right off the bat."
Prospect causing a buzz
None. A plaque outside the team's clubhouse at their training facility in Mesa lists recent winners of the Ron Santo and Billy Williams Rookie of the Spring award, which debuted in 2003. Either it hasn't been given out in recent years or no one has bothered to update the plaque, which lists Angel Pagan in 2006 as the most recent recipient. Laziness wouldn't be the only reason a new name may not be added this spring. "This is not the year for younger kids to come in here and win jobs," said Piniella. "This is a veteran ballcub that's ready to win now." Indeed, only one position battle is ongoing, and that one -- for backup catcher -- is likely to come down to one of two veterans: 30-year-old Koyie Hill and 36-year-old Paul Bako.
Aaron Heilman. Believe it, Mets fans: Heilman, the much-maligned middle reliever with the 5.21 ERA a year ago, has been turning heads in Mesa this spring. For all the criticism he received in New York, he always had his admirers from afar. Hendry had tried to pry him loose from New York on multiple occasions but couldn't get him until this winter, after the Mets had already shipped him to the Mariners. "Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need," said Hendry. "He's looked very good so far." Hendry praised the right-hander's ability to pitch as both a starter and reliever and is counting on his new acquisition to be able to handle either role when called upon this season.
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