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Cubs Pitching staff elite?

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  • Cubs Pitching staff elite?

    Cubs managing to blow another opportunity to the WS this year will be all the more sweeter.

    We may not go, but I'm betting they don't either.

    Friday, February 20, 2004

    By Phil Rogers
    Special to

    MESA, Ariz. -- Like three aces and a pair of kings, the Chicago Cubs' powerful hand was there for all to see in the first practice of the spring.

    Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement, Mark Prior and Greg Maddux threw simultaneously off practice mounds. The only interloper breaking up the view of baseball's deepest rotation was reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who throws harder than any of the starters.

    Gary Hughes, a top adviser for general manager Jim Hendry, pointed to the group. "You might want to tell people you were here to see this,'' he said. "Like Aristotle said, 'You can never have too much pitching.' ''

    Greg Maddux, right, is now the senior member of the Cubs' starting rotation.

    Nobody has more this spring than the franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 96 years. This is not lost on anyone in this camp, especially not Wood, who is in his seventh season.

    "The difference is night and day,'' Wood said after Thursday's workout. "When I got here, we didn't win a whole lot of games. It was an organization that didn't have the opportunity to go out and get players. Now we're moving in that direction. It's like night and day. I don't know any other way to put it.''

    Paul Bako, who once caught Atlanta's trio of Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz, says he has never seen anything like the collection of pitchers that has been assembled by Hendry and his predecessors, Andy MacPhail and Ed Lynch. Neither has anybody else, either.

    Riding the arms of Prior, Wood, Zambrano, Clement and blue-collar closer Joe Borowski, the Cubs took the express lane from 95 losses in 2002 to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series a year ago. Hendry has since added a future Hall of Famer in Maddux and arguably the best set-up man in the majors, LaTroy Hawkins, along with veteran lefty Kent Mercker.

    For perhaps the first time since player-manager Frank Chance did business with Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, success is breeding success for the Lovable Losers. More so than sentiment or money, it was the chance to win and pitch alongside other top starters that lured Maddux back to Chicago, where his major league career began in 1986.

    "Any time one of those guys steps on the mound, you have a chance to see something special," Maddux said.

    With the 22-year-old Zambrano coming from nowhere to take his place alongside Wood, Prior and Clement a year ago, all five men in the Cubs' projected rotation are coming off seasons in which they had at least 13 wins and 201 2/3 innings pitched.

    The Cubs' five-man staff was 75-51 with a 3.36 earned run average while piling up more strikeouts (974) than hits allowed (917) over 1,056 1/3 innings. Those numbers are more impressive than the totals put up by the top five starters with Oakland and Houston, who had a slight edge over the Cubs before Maddux agreed to a two-year, $15-million deal.

    (Agent Scott Boras succeeded in getting the contract widely reported as three years, $24 million, but Maddux gets the $9 million in 2006 only if he works 400 innings over the next two years.)

    Aside from the show of force atop the practice mound, there was nothing particularly special about the first day Maddux had his No. 31 jersey in a shade of Cubbie blue.

    Murderers' Row
    How the projected starting rotation for the Cubs in 2004 fared last season:
    Pitcher IP W-L BB SO ERA
    Prior 211.1 18-6 50 245 2.43
    Zambrano 214.0 13-11 94 168 3.11
    Wood 211.0 14-11 100 266 3.20
    Maddux* 218.1 16-11 33 124 3.96
    Clement 201.2 14-12 79 171 4.11
    * Pitched for the Braves last season.

    "We all did the same thing we've been doing for years,'' said Wood, who is closing in on a contract extension to keep him in Chicago through at least 2007. "It's the first day of spring training. There wasn't a whole lot of talking. Everybody was just trying to do what we always do.''

    Rest assured that in time Maddux's wicked sense of humor will come out of the closet. While he has a choirboy image, his former teammates describe him as a twisted practical joker who always gets the last laugh.

    For instance, Maddux played it straight when he filled out a questionnaire for a Cubs' staffer that asked, among other things, for his hobbies. But once she had left the room, Maddux cracked, "She probably didn't want me to list farting.''

    There will be plenty of time for guys like Wood and Prior to learn to appreciate the cultured side of the 289-game winner.

    For now, the Cubs continue to pinch themselves about signing Maddux to fill the rotation spot that where Shawn Estes went 8-11 with a 5.73 ERA a year ago.

    "This is a guy who's going to go down as one of the greatest pitchers of all time,'' manager Dusty Baker said. "I'm just glad he's on our team."

    Maddux's signing on the eve of spring training epitomizes the good fortune that has begun to fall toward the Cubs.

    Hendry and his franchise were in the right place at the right time, with a job open and bosses willing to seize the opportunity, just as they were when owner Peter Magowan allowed Baker to become a free agent after he took the San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

    Like Baker, Maddux had done exemplary work for so long in one place that his employers eventually paid more attention to his price tag than how he earned his money. The Braves decided they could be more successful spreading his $15 million around, and, as was true with Baker, the Cubs did not have to win a major bidding war to get him.

    They had to be patient. They had to be respectful. And they had to throw around two names: Wood and Prior, not necessarily in that order.

    Having already exhausted his budget by trading for Derrek Lee and signing Hawkins and Todd Walker, Hendry didn't think the Cubs could afford Maddux. But when he remained unsigned into January, he started kicking the tires.

    “ The difference is night and day. When I got here, we didn't win a whole lot of games. It was an organization that didn't have the opportunity to go out and get players. Now we're moving in that direction. It's like night and day. ”
    — Kerry Wood, Cubs pitcher

    MacPhail and Tribune chairman Dennis FitzSimons signed off on a late increase in the team's budget, in part because of a settlement with rooftop operators and approval to add 200 premium-priced seats behind home plate. But Hendry wasn't going to be able to go much beyond his original offer of two years, $12 million. He didn't think that would be enough for a guy who was 13-6 with a 3.31 ERA after May 20 last year. "I got in a little bit,'' Hendry said, "but I didn't know if it would be taken that seriously.''

    The Cubs dodged an early bullet when San Diego signed David Wells rather than enter the Maddux negotiations. Hendry kept waiting for a team like St. Louis, San Francisco or Los Angeles to make a big play -- he hoped it wouldn't be the Cardinals -- but it never happened.

    He still didn't believe it could happen until last Friday night, when Maddux and Boras met with MacPhail and him in Mesa. He believes it was important for Maddux to talk with MacPhail, the third-generation baseball man, to see that the Tribune Co. is running its team differently than in '92, when he left after the first of his four consecutive Cy Young seasons.

    In the end, the Cubs did better than just getting Maddux; they got him at a very reasonable price. No wonder Hendry can't stop smiling.

    "I'm a lucky guy,'' Hendry said. "I feel like I'm one of the luckiest guys in the game, to be honest.''

    Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at

    Sponsor of Alex Pieterangelo.

    ..."I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." George Best

  • #2
    If any team can fuck it up....its the Flubs.
    Go Cards ...12 in 13.


    • #3
      Wow! Homerism does exist outside of a one-paper town!

      Of course, the Trib owns the Cubs, so it's not all that shocking that they would "talk up" their pitching staff.

      Personally, I think Clemens and Pettitte will carve the Cubs hitting up anyway.


      • #4
        It is a nice staff.
        Be passionate about what you believe in, or why bother.


        • #5
          Originally posted by madyaks@Feb 20 2004, 08:43 PM
          It is a nice staff.
          Pujols likes that staff.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Iowa_Card+Feb 20 2004, 08:44 PM-->
            QUOTE(Iowa_Card @ Feb 20 2004, 08:44 PM)

          • #7
            Originally posted by Iowa_Card@Feb 20 2004, 07:54 PM
            Wow! Homerism does exist outside of a one-paper town!

            Of course, the Trib owns the Cubs, so it's not all that shocking that they would "talk up" their pitching staff.

            Personally, I think Clemens and Pettitte will carve the Cubs hitting up anyway.
            How is it homerism to make statements to the effect that the Cubs are well...the Cubs?

            Go Cards ...12 in 13.


            • #8
              Originally posted by TTB+Feb 20 2004, 09:28 PM-->
              QUOTE(TTB @ Feb 20 2004, 09:28 PM)

            • #9
              Originally posted by Iowa_Card+Feb 20 2004, 09:33 PM-->
              QUOTE(Iowa_Card @ Feb 20 2004, 09:33 PM)
              Originally posted by [email protected] 20 2004, 09:28 PM