Joe Girardi, Fred McGriff, and Corey Patterson. Those are a few members of the 2002 Chicago Cubs; yes, another bad team in the franchise's history. So why bring up a team that is completely irrelevent to the team today? Well, actually, if you look closely you can see they are very similar to the team we see on the field now. So if the Cubs keep on pace with this 2002 team, they will be in the playoffs next year. Wait, what?
Let me explain.
At 13-26, the Cubs are off to their worst start since 2002. People thought it couldn’t get any worse than it was under Dale Sveum, but it has. The lovable losers are well on their way to a 100-loss season and it has most fans confused. It’s now Epstein’s third year and wins have not shown up on the major league level yet. If the Cubs start out this way next year, you should be officially worried. For now though, everything is okay.
Back to the 2002 team. That team finished the year with a record of 67-95. So maybe we won’t see a 100 loss season, whew. Now, let’s go back in time to another summer of crushed hopes and dreams.
2002 was Jim Hendry’s first year as General Manager. The team didn’t have much talent, much like the 2014 team, but there were some players to be excited about. The 2014 Cubs have their talent in the infield with Rizzo, Castro, and Olt, with a farm system that many are counting on to end the curse in the near future. The 2002 Cubs were built a little differently; their strength was the pitching staff: Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano. Oh the glory days.
Mark Prior was the source of what little pride fans held onto that year. The 22-year-old from San Diego showed promise, finishing the year with a 3.32 era in 19 appearances. The numbers aren’t dazzling, but he soon turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball. He never amounted to what the Cubs thought he would be, but if somebody told you that after two seasons in Chicago you would have laughed in their face.
The Cubs had another hurler who had already established himself as a strikeout guy: Kerry Wood. Ever heard of him? Yes, one of the most lovable Cubs of all time was in his 4th year in the majors. The 2014 Cubs have their own version of Wood in Jeff Samardzija. Both have had success in their time in the majors and don’t pitch to contact. Will Samardzija be another Kerry Wood or could he be better? I think he can have a more consistent career but it may have to be with another team.
And then there was Carlos Zambrano. A 21-year-old Venezuelan rookie with a huge frame and tremendous upside; even at 21 he had a ton of movement on his fastball. With Wood and Prior on the team, nobody really paid too much attention to Carlos. That year he appeared in 32 games with an ERA of 3.66 and a 4-8 record. Even with all the issues he caused the team, he ended up being one of the most productive pitchers for the Cubs in the past decade.
The Cubs also had some young talent in the outfield; Corey Patterson was a prospect the Cubs were very excited about. A young, speedy outfielder who could get on base and play a great center field, Patterson played in 153 games during the year, hitting .253. Not the most impressive stats but it conjures images of Junior Lake right now. Lake has the same high ceiling as Patterson, but possesses more power. It will be interesting to see if he can reach his potential, something Patterson never did.
The 2002 team finished badly and this year’s team will likely do the same. So what exactly is my point? In 2003, the Cubs came closer to the World Series than they had since 1945, only five outs away. Marlins infielder Luis Castillo hits a foul ball towards the left field wall…sound familiar?
I am not saying that history will repeat itself, but I am saying that teams can turn it around in one season if the right pieces are in place. The Cubs aren’t supposed to start winning until 2016, but maybe 2015 will be a magical summer. Then again, maybe it won’t.
We can only hope.
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