At approximately 11:54 p.m. CST, on August 17th, the Cubs 2009 baseball season came to a tragic and premature end. With the Cubs taking a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth in San Diego, closer Kevin Gregg blew the save and gave up a walk-off 3-run home run to rookie Padre Kyle Blanks. It was Gregg’s sixth blown save of the year and it resulted in the Cubs falling six games behind the first-place Cardinals, ending the Cubs season. There was still forty-six games left to be played. In a cruel irony, while the Cubs season dies, Kevin Gregg’s season continues.
You could argue the Cubs 2009 season began at various points: on Opening Day, when pitchers and catchers reported to Mesa, AZ, for spring training, or soon after their 2008 season ended at the hand of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. I will argue for the last possibility.
The Cubs had just been swept by the Dodgers, and barely even put up a fight after being the class of the NL all season. Convinced they needed to get more left-handed in their lineup, Cubs GM Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Piniella began thinking about roster moves the team could make to address that need and put the Cubs “over the top”.
That thinking led the Cubs to trade away a key component of their team, utility-man Mark DeRosa, and sign Aaron Miles to play second base. This was not a popular move among Cubs nation. The club also traded away long-time Cub Kerry Wood, one of the most (if not THE most) popular Cubs players of this generation. To fill in the gap left by the Wood trade, the Cubs signed the aforementioned Kevin Gregg, who just the year before, had blown nine saves to lead the majors. To add more left-hand punch to the lineup, the Cubs signed free-agent outfielder Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract.
From the start of the regular season, it became clear that this year would not be the cake-walk it was the year before. The team struggled offensively, and succumbed to the injury bug, as well. The biggest blow came when All-Star third baseman and the team’s best hitter, Aramis Ramirez, separated his shoulder in a game in Milwaukee on May 8th. He would not return to the lineup until July 6th, and he returned to one of the worst offensive clubs in the league. In 2008, the Cubs scored the most runs in the NL.
While Derrek Lee returned to his 2005 form, Alfonso Soriano (.243,19,51,.304,.427), Mike Fontenot (.225,9,36,.293,.380), Geovony Soto (.222,9,29,.330,.391), Aaron Miles (.182,0,5,.220,.245) and Milton Bradley (.263,8,30,.392,.394) all struggled or dealt with injuries of their own during Ramirez’s absence. The Cubs simply could not score runs on a consistent basis, which called into question the various off-season moves the club made and made Cubs fans long for Mark DeRosa. To add insult to injury, the Cubs biggest rival ,the St. Louis Cardinals, traded for Mark DeRosa before the July 31st trade-deadline, crushing the already fragile Cubs spirit.
The Cubs pitching staff, on the other hand, was a relative bright spot for the club. Especially the starting pitching. Cubs starters are second in the league in quality starts and the team’s ERA of 3.92 is good enough for 5th in the league. The bullpen has been somewhat of a different story. Gregg won the closer’s role in spring training and Carlos Marmol, arguably the team’s best reliever, settled back into the setup role. It has been an up-and-down season for both pitchers. Gregg struggled early before settling into a nice grove in June and July. Meanwhile, Marmol has struggled with his command all year, and though his strikeouts are high, his walks are high, too. And Gregg has simply self-destructed in the last couple of weeks and has given up more home runs (13) than some of the Cubs starting pitchers, in a fraction of the innings.
The tragic story of the Cubs can be attributed to many factors: injuries, bad luck, or questionable roster moves. But the bottom line is the team simply did not perform on the field and quite possibly, did not mesh in the clubhouse. All year long, players, Piniella, and fans alike all stated the club would get on a roll once the guys who were struggling started playing to their potential. For the most part, we are all still waiting. That pretty much sums up what it is to be a Cubs fan.
The Cubs are mourned by the city of Chicago, Wrigleyville, Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, Jim Belushi, Billy Corgan, John Cusack, millions of other Cubs fans throughout the country, and of course, yours truly.
For the 100th consecutive year it will be said: “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”