Going for all the ivy.
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The Cubs’ fortunes began to turn late in the 2010 season when they promoted third base coach Mike Quade their interim manager following Lou Piniella’s abrupt departure from the club in late August. I have been an admirer of Quade since 1993 when he managed the Ottawa Lynx (the Triple-A affiliate of the Montreal Expos). Quade’s low-key approach was a welcome contrast to Piniella’s volatile temper. The Cubs went 24-13 over the last six weeks of the season. Cubs’ management was sufficiently impressed with Quade’s stewardship to give him a two-year contract with a club option for 2013.
The Cubs have also made a number of off-season improvements. They have added ex-Tampa Bay Rays Carlos Pena and Matt Garza. Pena gives the Cubs some much needed left-handed power in the middle of the lineup. And don’t expect him to hit .196 in 2011. Meanwhile, Garza adds depth to a starting rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells. Garza and Zambrano are arguably the most intense pitchers in baseball. Once Quade took over, Zambrano was able to channel his intensity and did his best pitching of the season. I see Garza similarly thriving under Quade’s quiet leadership.
Meanwhile, the bullpen has added a familiar face in Kerry Wood, who will be closer Carlos Marmol’s eighth inning set up man. I also expect rebound years from Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez as well as a breakout season for Kosuke Fukudome. Look for both Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro to avoid the sophomore jinx and for Marlon Byrd to have another solid season in centerfield. The returning Reed Johnson gives the Cubs additional depth in the outfield.
Now the Cubs aren’t exactly speed demons and more than a third of the roster is over the age of 30. But Quade is ideally suited for a veteran team that needs a manager who can stay at arm’s length and let them play. I have a feeling this is the Cubs team that will make history.