Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chicago Cubs 2009 in Review: Part 1 of 3

Cubs fans woke up on January 1, 2009 ready to start a new year. The day prior, Cubs GM Jim Hendry had ended 2008 with a boom, trading fan favorite second baseman Mark DeRosa to Cleveland for 3 minor league pitchers, and signing infielder Aaron Miles to a 2 year deal. So the new year started with talk that these moves could be leading up to something big, possibly the Jake Peavy trade that Cubs fans had been hearing about all offseason, or maybe the Brian Roberts deal that had been talked about since 2007. New Years Day also meant a few more things to Cubs fans: the launch of the MLB Network and the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field. On January 6 the Cubs made another surprising move trading Jason Marquis to the Rockies in exchange for reliever Luis Vizcaino. Luis didn't seem to be a fit with the Cubs, so we thought once again that Jim had some kind of Peavy trade on the horizon. On January 8 outfielder Milton Bradley signed with the Chicago Cubs. Bradley was coming off a strong season with Texas. Some questioned this signing, because Bradley had a bad reputation and an injury history. The Cubs assured everyone that they had heard nothing but good things about Milton from former teammates and coaches, and that Bradley was injury free. Cubs legend Andre Dawson fell short of the needed 75% to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on January 12. The Hawk received 67%, while Lee Smith also came up short getting just 44.5% of the vote. The Cubs Convention and Cubs Caravan gave fans a little taste of some baseball during the cold winter in Chicago. Coming off a 97 win season, everyone expected 2009 to be a 3rd straight first place finish for the Chicago Cubs. On January 18, the Cubs sent struggling outfielder Felix Pie to the Baltimore Orioles for lefty Garrett Olson, who they ended up trading to Seattle on January 28 along with Ronny Cedeno in return for Aaron Heilman, who was expected to be a big part of the cubs' bullpen. On January 30 the Cubs signed Paul Bako to compete with Koyie Hill for the backup catcher's job in Spring Training.

When the calendar turned to February, Cubs fans began (if they already hadn't) counting the days until pitcher and catchers report. In the mean time, Jim Hendry was still wheeling and dealing as his busy winter continued. On February 2, the Cubs made a pair of deals, sending Rich Hill to Baltimore and Mike Wuertz to Oakland. Minor leaguers Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers came over in the Wuertz trade, and Baltimore sent a Player to Be Named Later. On Friday the 13th (perhaps that's what went wrong for the 2009 Cubs) pitchers and catchers reported to Fitch Park. Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gregg, Kevin Hart, Rich Harden, Geovany Soto, Koyie Hill, Randy Wells, Jake Fox, and Wellington Castillo all reported to camp a day early. Jobs up for grabs going into camp included the closer, 5th starter, center fielder, the backup catcher, and roles in the bullpen. On Thursday February 19, Cubs fans toasted to Haray Caray on the 11th anniversary of the legendary broadcaster's death. Other early spring headlines include the Cubs inviting President Obama to their camp, lots of talk of Soriano moving from the leadoff spot, Rick Sutcliffe at Cubs camp, and Lee and Ramirez deciding not to play in the WBC. Jeff Samardzija stared the Cactus league opener at Fitch Park on February 25. The Cubs and Dodger met in a rematch of the 2008 NLDS. The Cubs came out on top this time around by a score of 5-3. Carlos Marmol was hesitant to leave the team because he was competing for the closer's job, but he ended up deciding to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. The Cubs ended the month with a 13-0 rout of the White Sox on February 28, to improve their Cactus league record to a perfect 4-0.

The Cubs started the month of March with a thud, losing 8 of the first 9 Cactus League games in the month. Aramis Ramirez had no backup third baseman since DeRosa was traded, so the Cubs signed Corey Koskie and had Fontenot and Miles take ground balls at third base. Later in the spring Hendry inked Esteban German to compete for a roster spot. In the mean time, Ted Lilly, Geovany Soto, Kosuke, and Carlos Marmol all missed a lot of Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic. Kosuke's team Japan ended up winning the event. On March 12, Lou Piniella made up his mind giving Carlos Zambrano his 5th straight Opening Day assignment. Z had struggled in previous Opening Day starts, so Piniella considered letting Dempster start the opener. The Cubs saw a lot of good things out of the young guys in camp, but of course, roster cuts were made through out the month. On St. Patrick's Day, the Cubs trimmed 9 players off: Jeff Stevens, Mitch Atkins, Justin Berg, Marcos Mateo, Welington Castillo, Darwin Barney, Luis Rivas, Doug Deeds, and Jason Dubois. A day later, Esmalin Caridad and Ken Kadokura were sent to minor league camp. Mark Johnson, Andres Blanco, Esteban German, Brad Snyder, and So Taguchi were cut on March 29. Other March headlines included the announcement that the Cubs would retire the number 31 on May 3 in honor of Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins, Rich Harden catching the flu, Mike Fontenot appearing in an episode of "My Boys", and the deaths of Ernie Banks' mother, Whitey Lockman, and Herman Franks. On March 30, the Cubs finalized the Opening Day roster as far as position players. Koyie Hill was named the backup catcher, Micah Hoffpauir won the final bench spot, while Paul Bako and Mike Stanton were both released. Going in to the final few days of camp in April, Chad Gaudin, Angel Guzman, Jeff Samardzija, and David Patton were all still looking for spots in the bullpen.


Spring Training was extended because of the World Baseball Classic. This year, Opening Day was not until April 6, so the Cubs started the month with 4 more exhibition games. The Cubs finished their Cactus League slate with a win against the Indians in Mesa on April 2 to finish with a record of 18-16. Then the Cubs traveled to New York for two exhibition games to open the New Yankee Stadium. Aaron Miles got his one moment of fame for 2009 getting the first hit and run scored at the new park. The Cubs lost the first game on April 3 7-4, and then they were destroyed 10-1 on Saturday. Sunday, April 5, was an off day for the Chicago Cubs before opening the season on Monday in Houston. The Cubs final bullpen decision came down to the wire, and the Cubs ended up sending Jeff Samardzija to AAA and releasing Chad Gaudin. Rule 5 Pick David Patton, and Angel Guzman, who was out of options, won the final two spots in the pen. April 6 was the day Cub fans had been waiting for all offseason. Opening Day. The Cubs were in Houston, Carlos Zambrano against the Astros for the first time since the no hitter in September of 2008. Big Z did not throw a no hitter this time. This is the Opening Day lineup that the Cubs sent out behind Zambrano:
1. Soriano, LF
2. Kosuke, CF
3. Lee, 1B
4. Bradley, RF
5. Ramirez, 3B
6. Fontenot, 2B
7. Soto, C
8. Theriot, SS

Alfonso Soriano got the Cubs off to a promising start nailing a lead-off solo homer against Houston starter Roy Oswalt on the second pitch of the season. Aramis Ramirez homered in the second and Ryan Theriot and Micah Hoffpauir both drove in runs to lead the Cubs to a 4-2 Opening Day win. Kevin Gregg made things interesting in the 9th allowing 1 run on 2 hits, but he got out of it to get the save. Big Z got his first Opening Day win tossing 6 strong. The Cubs hopes ofa perfect season were shot down in game two, when they suffered the first lost of the year 3-2. They beat the Astros 11-6 on Wednesday to take two out of three. On April 8 Geovany Soto suffered the first injury of the Cubs season. After winning 2 out of 3 at Miller Park (in the one game the Cubs lost Kevin Gregg recorded his first blown save of the year), the Cubs came home for the home opener against Colorado on Monday April 13th. Ted Lilly struck out 8 over 6.2 scoreless frames to get his second win of the season by a final score of 4-0. "The Bulldog" took a no hitter in to the seventh inning, but it was broken up by Garrett Atkins with two out in the 7th. Lee, Hill, and Kosuke all had their 5th RBI of the season in that game. The rest of the month was not too great as the Cubs went 5-9 over the next 14 games. The highlight was on April 17 at Wrigley when Alfonso Soriano launched an 8th inning 2 run blast to lift the Cubs over the rival Cardinals 8-7. A day later, Aramis Ramirez delivered an 11th inning walk off jack. Reed Johnson's April 12 catch was the top defensive play of the entire season for the Cubbies. Milton Bradley left that game with a groin injury by the way. Another moment we all remember from April was the Milton Bradley "ump bump" that ended up getting Milton suspended. Luis Vizcaino became the first bust of Jim Hendry's offseason acquisitions (the Cubs got Luis in a trade that sent Jason Marquis to the Rockies) when he was DFA to make room for Jeff Samardzija on April 22. Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Marmol, Derrek Lee, Bradley, and Soto all spent time out with injuries, but the Cubs thought it was smart to "avoid using the DL". Injuries hindered the team from start to finish in 2009, but by the end of April they thought they were getting healthy. They were wrong.

Up Next- Part 2: May, June, July, and August

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