Where They Stand: Chicago Cubs | Sharapova's Thigh

Rich Harden and the Cubs hope to have better luck this October.

Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the Chicago Cubs.

2008 Outcome: 97-64, 1st place in the NL Central, lost in the NLDS to the Dodgers.

What They've Lost: Kerry Wood (signed with Indians) Jim Edmonds (free agent) Daryle Ward (free agent) Mark DeRosa (traded to Indians) Jason Marquis (traded to Rockies) Henry Blanco (signed with Padres) Ronny Cedeno (traded to Mariners) Felix Pie (traded to Orioles) Michael Wuertz (traded to A's) Rich Hill (traded to Orioles) Bob Howry (signed with Giants).

What They've Added: Milton Bradley (signed as free agent), Aaron Miles (signed as free agent), Aaron Heilman (acquired from Mariners), Luis Vizcaino (acquired from Rockies), Joey Gathright (signed as free agent), David Patton (rule 5 draft pick), Kevin Gregg (acquired from Marlins), Jeff Stevens (acquired from Indians).

Needs: To remove their heads from their asses during October.

The Talk: Last season the Cubs had one of their best years in the past century. They led the NL central throughout nearly the entire season and finished with 97 wins most in the National League. It was also their most in over 60 years. However come playoff time, Cubs fans once again took a swift kick to the groin as the Cubs struggled mightily and were swept for the 2nd straight year in the NLDS. This led GM Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Piniella to try to make the offense more left-handed. Mark DeRosa was traded to Cleveland and Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles were given the 2nd base job. The cubs also signed switch hitting Milton Bradley to play right field to give them a left-handed middle of the order bat against right handed pitchers.

The Cubs starting rotation remains one of the best in all of baseball. Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden all return to the team after great 2008 campaigns. Sean Marshall will take over as the teams 5th starter after Jason Marquis was dealt to Colorado.

In the bullpen, Carlos Marmol returns as one of the very best setup men in the game. His whip and strikeout ratio last year were off the charts. 2008 closer Kerry Wood was allowed to walk as the Cubs did not want to pay a large contract. Former Marlins closer Kevin Gregg was acquired in December and will serve as the Cubs closer to start the year. Some feel Marmol may eventually take over the job. The Cubs also acquired Aaron Heilman for more late inning bullpen help and have a long list of other solid bullpen arms including youngster Jeff Samardzija.

The Cubs offense led the National league in runs last year and were 2nd in the majors only to the Rangers. You can expect much of the same this year as Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto return along with newcomer Milton Bradley and sleeper Mike Fontenot. The lineup is loaded and should produce a lot of runs. The Cubs offense is also very patient, leading the national league in on-base percentage last year for the first time in probably centuries. Adding Milton Bradley to the mix will only add to that. The cubs will move Kosuke Fukudome to CF this year to make room for Bradley, where he will split time with Reed Johnson. Ryan Theriot and Aaron Miles also will both help the Cubs score a lot of runs with their high batting average, high contact hitting approaches.

The Cubs bench also saw an overhaul as they elected not to bring back veterans Henry Blanco and Daryle Ward. Instead Koyie Hill, Hollywood Hoffpauir, and Joey Gathright will take over as Cubs reserves, along with whoever is sitting in the 2B and CF platoons on a given day. Overall the team has a lot of depth and is solid in every area. The real concern for the Cubs is showing up in October, something Lou Piniella has promised will happen this year if the Cubs can get back.

Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: The Cubs have been linked to Jake Peavy all offseason. There is talk he still may be on the trading block and when the Cubs ownership situation finally gets settled they may make another run at him this July. For now though, the Cubs team is set.

Young Player To Make 2009 Impact: Jeff Samardzija, RHP.

Shark came up last year in the 2nd half and impressed out of the bullpen. He has a fastball in the mid 90's and a two-seamer that has Greg Maddux-esque break. Eventually he is gonna be a good pitcher in this league. shark may start the year out in AAA as a starter and be used if the Cubs need for injuries or spot starts. however he has expressed a desire to stay with the big club as a reliever and that decision is yet to be made. Either way, you'll see Samardzija in blue pinstripes at some time this season.

2009 Outlook: The NL central is a fairly weak division from top to bottom. Last year the Brewers came on strong in the 2nd half and were able to secure the wildcard, but after losing their 2 aces, it may be tough to repeat. The Reds have a young talented team but are unlikely to contend this season and the divisions other 3 teams all went backwards. With the Cubs talent they should easily win their 3rd straight division title. What happens in October may be a different story.

Hottest Thigh Association: Marisa Miller.

The former SI swimsuit model has thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley field and has also sung the 7th inning stretch. There were photos all over the net of her last year in her Cubs jersey. She is a huge sports fan and has expressed interest in becoming a sportscaster. I'm not sure if she is an actual fan of the team or not, but she is hot, so check her out.

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