Cubs Decade in Review: 2001 Season
Previous Reviews: 2000
Coming off a second straight last place finish, Andy MacPhail had his first full offseason to try and rebuild the club after taking over for Ed Lynch.
Shane Andrews, Brant Brown, Willie Greene, Rick Aguilera and Mark Grace were allowed to leave via free agency. The overhaul began with signing Julian Tavarez in mid-November and later signings of Jeff Fassero, Jason Bere, and Tom Gordon revamped the rotation and the bullpen. A trade with the San Francisco Giants of Tim Worrell for Bill Mueller landed the Cubs their new third basemen. And on December 19th of 2000, MacPhail made his big splash in free agency, signing catcher Todd Hundley away from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hundley - a catcher turning 32 - had played in 53, 114 and 90 games over the last three seasons, but did hit over 20 HR's in each of the last two seasons even in limited playing time. The deal - for the 32 year old catcher - was for four years and $23.5M and SI.com thought he'd be a huge improvement.
The Cubs also got Matt Stairs from the Oakland Athletics for Eric Ireland and signed Ron Coomer from the Minnesota Twins as a possible first base platoon. They ended up releasing oft-injured pitcher Geremi Gonzalez, who would later lose the lightning lottery odds. They selected pitcher Scott Chiasson from the A's in the Rule 5 draft and then, before the end of spring training, traded eventual Rookie of the Year winner Eric Hinske to keep Chiasson's rights as well as getting infielder Miguel Cairo from the A's.
Sammy Sosa was in the final year of his contract and was shopped around earlier at the 2000 trade deadline, with a possible Alfonso Soriano for Sosa swap being one of the hot rumors. He finally signed an extension through 2005 during the middle of spring training.
The Cubs opened up at home against the Montreal Expos and dropped two of three including the first two games of the season. Opening Day lineup:
They went on to go 15-9 in April though and with Tom Gordon on the disabled list to start the season, Jeff Fassero was the surprise closer, starting the season with 6 straight successful conversions and 9/11 for the month. Gordon would come back in May and ended up with 27 saves on the year.
The team was up by one game by the end of the month over the Cincinnati Reds.
May went just as well and the team went 16-11 and finished two games up in the NL Central over the St. Louis Cardnals...the Reds dropped to 11.5 games back. Damon Buford was released in mid-May with Todd Dunwoody and Gary Matthews Jr. splitting center field duties. Bill Mueller tore up his kneecap in early May and Ron Coomer and Miguel Cairo did most of the fill-in work. Todd Hundley ended May with a .616 OPS and 4 home runs as a Cub to date. Sosa had 15 HR's through May and posted his second worst OPS by month - 1.060.
June rolled around and a pitcher from USC was receiving all the pre-draft buzz. The Cubs had the second pick in the draft, but the Minnesota Twins went with local high school catcher Joe Mauer instead. The Cubs were considered to have lucked into Mark Prior at the time. They also selected Andy Sisco, Ryan Theriot, Ricky Nolasco, Brendan Harris, Sergio Mitre, Geovany Soto, and Khalil Greene (unsigned) in the same draft and signed Jae-kuk Ryu a few days earlier.
The team went 15-13 in June with Sosa hitting 11 home runs and were up 4.5 games over the Houston Astros and 6 over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs began their pursuit of Fred "Crime Dog" McGriff as well. After a brief September call-up in 2000, Corey Patterson was called up near the end of June and started on June 30th, splitting time with Gary Matthews Jr. until the Cubs ended up trading for Michael Tucker in July. Todd Hundley went on the disabled list on June 19th with back problems and only started 26 games the rest of the season.
Felix Pie was signed as an amateur free agent on July 3rd. The Cubs signed Delino DeShields on July 7th after he was cut by the Baltimore Orioles. He had a .785 OPS the rest of the way while playing mostly left field and second base. Rondell White hit the disabled list at the beginning of the month, played two games in mid-July and then missed the rest of the month and all of August with a groin injury. Sammy Sosa and Jon Lieber were the Cubs representatives at the All-Star game. Fred McGriff finally waived his no-trade clause and was
acquired from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Manuel Aybar and a player to
be named later which ended up being infielder Jason Smith. McGriff had
a .942 OPS with the Cubs the rest of the way in 201 PA's and hit 12
home runs... as many as Todd Hundley hit all season. The Cubs traded Ruben Quevedo and Peter Zoccolillo to the Milwaukee Brewers for reliever David Weathers and Roberto Miniel. Sosa had 34 home runs by this point, 99 RBI's and 83 Runs Scored. The Cubs went 16-10 and remained 4.5 games up over the Astros and 8.5 games up on the Cardinals. The Cub Reporter was started by Christian Ruzich.
In August, the Cubs regulars were now:
Matt Stairs got a lot of fill-in work and Bill Mueller returned from the disabled list as well. Jon Lieber continued to be the Cubs best pitcher and finished the month at 17-5 and a 3.43 ERA. Kerry Wood was 10-6 with a 3.50 ERA up until he went on the disabled list on August 4th with shoulder tendonitis.
Gary Matthews Jr. and Miguel Cairo were put on waivers and selected by the Pirates and Cardinals respectively. Corey Patterson was recalled on August 15th after briefly being sent down at the end of July. Joe Borowski was outrighted on the same day. Carlos Zambrano was called up on August 20th to start the second game of a doubleheader versus the Milwaukee Brewers. He lost after going 4 innings and giving up 7 runs and was sent back down two days later in favor of Ron Mahay. Juan Cruz was called up on August 21st with Will Ohman being sent down. Cruz started that day and struck out 8, but was hung the loss in a 3-1 game. He ended up making 8 starts on the season and had a 3.22 ERA on the year. The Cubs signed Mark Prior on August 29th to a major league deal.
The team had its first losing month in August at 13-16 and were 75-59 on the year. They dropped 8.5 games in the standings and now trailed the Astros by 4 games and were 2 games in front of the Cardinals. Sosa hit 17 more home runs and had his best OPS month - 1.405.
Courtney Duncan, White, Wood and Felix Heredia returned from the disabled list at the beginning of the month and the team started 3-6 in September including a five game losing streak and dropped 6 games back of the Astros.
Then something terrible happened...
Major league baseball didn't resume for another week. When it did, the Cubs went 10-9 the rest of the season and finished five games out of first place in the Central and the wild card race. The Cardinals went 20-8 in September and October to tie the Astros, but were awarded the wild card due to a 7-9 head-to-head record versus the Astros.
Jon Lieber ended with 20 wins - the Cubs last 20-game winner - and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting. Kerry Wood struck out 217, even after missing a month, and finished 12-6 with a 3.33 ERA. Sosa tallied 64 Home Runs, an NL Leading 160 RBI's and 146 Runs Scored and was second in OPS at 1.174. He had 425 total bases and set the club records for extra-base hits (103) and slugging percentage (.737). He finished second in MVP voting to Barry Bonds who set the home run record with 73 and had a 1.379 OPS. The team set a major league record with 1,344 strikeouts by the pitching staff starting a run that lasted through 2008 in which they led the league. Mark Grace won his World Series title...with the Arizona Diamondbacks.