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At the break: Five things we should have known about the Cubs
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Geovany Soto is a big-league catcher. All-Star voters seem to concur.

 

Associated Press

Not only was Ryan Dempster good enough to win a spot in the rotation, he's on pace for a 20-win season.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Carlos Marmol got more hittable as the season wore on. Is he worn out?

 

Daniel White | Staff Photographer

Kosuke Fukudome: Mortal.

 

George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

The Kerry Wood as Closer experiment has gone pretty well.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 7/14/2008 4:46 PM | Updated: 7/14/200 4:59 PM

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It's always fun to look back at spring-training stories.

Back in March, the questions, concerns and prognostications for the Cubs were these:

• Can Ryan Dempster crack the starting rotation against the likes of Jon Lieber, and if not, could he work as a middle reliever?

• Bob Howry had the inside edge as closer because of his "experience," with the big question being whether Kerry Wood could work on back-to-back days.

• Geovany Soto had a nice September, and the Cubs handed him the starting job at catcher. Is he for real? What about his weight, which looks to be a little high? And what do the Cubs do if he can't play?

Funny how things turn out.

As the Cubs take an all-star break, with seven of eight selections going to the All-Star Game in New York (Wood has a blister on his finger), it's easy to play hindsight. So with 20-20 vision guiding us, let's take a look at the five things we couldn't have known but should have:

1. Dempster was right

While the media and fans speculated whether Dempster could really go from closer to starter, Dempster just kept going out this spring and pitching well.

It shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. First, Dempster was in the best physical shape of his life. Despite his fun-loving persona, he was dead serious about making the transition.

The projected stats said one thing. The human spirit, personified in Dempster, said another.

Besides that, Dempster is a better and more knowledgeable pitcher now than when he was a starter years ago.

2. Yes, Kerry can

Howry was out of the picture soon enough in spring training, but Carlos Marmol was the big temptation as closer.

But Wood overcame a minor back issue in Mesa and won the closer's job. Things didn't start to well, as Wood hit the first batter he faced on Opening Day on the way to giving up 3 runs to the Brewers.

But Wood has been as good as any closer in the NL, with only that blister on his index finger is keeping him out of the All-Star Game. The fastball again is tickling the upper 90s, and the slider has rivaled Marmol's in nastiness at times.

3. Catch this

Backup catcher Henry Blanco said he had to get on Soto about his weight this spring, but compared with past years, that was a minor issue.

Not wanting to spend a third year at Class AAA Iowa, a determined Soto eliminated all doubts about whether he was ready to open the season as the No. 1 catcher.

When you tune in Tuesday, you'll see him behind the plate.

4. Fukudome is human after all

Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome doubled in his first Cubs at-bat and hit a game-tying 3-run homer on Opening Day. His patient approach seemed to have a big effect on this previously free-swinging team, which found itself atop the National League in on-base percentage and runs scored, a correlation Cubs critics had been trying to make for years.

But as April and May turned to June and July, Fukudome began to fade. Maybe it was the North American schedule catching up with him, or maybe it was the pitchers making adjustments.

Either way, Fukudome wasn't nearly as effective, and manager Lou Piniella noticed, giving all-star Fukudome two of three starts off this past weekend. Fukudome still has an OBP of. 383, and maybe the all-star break will do him good.

5. Marmol can't pitch every day

Reliever Carlos Marmol, whom many thought could have been the opening-day closer, was nearly unhittable in April and May, with a 1.69 ERA over the first month and a 1.93 ERA in May.

Piniella had a penchant for using Marmol in blowout games early in the season, and maybe all that work caught up with Marmol in June and July, causing his problems. The Cubs had their own concerns about Marmol tipping his pitches, but they quickly ruled that out.

So maybe the best thing Piniella can do as he sits next to NL manager Clint Hurdle tonight at Yankee Stadium is tell Hurdle that Marmol not available.

Cubs fans may thank Piniella for that in September and October.