Nick Knacks

Nick Knacks: Cubs Slowly Waking From Hibernation

Courtesy of Nick Schultz | The PHOENIXAssistant Sports Editor Nick Schultz has been a die-hard Cubs fan since he was 8 years old.

Welcome to my column. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share my opinions on the sports world with readers of The PHOENIX.

I grew up in the small town of Dwight, which is 75 miles south of Chicago off Interstate 55. Being so close to the city, I was exposed to the Chicago market and fell in love with the sports teams. My family and I would watch Cubs games on WGN, dedicate our Sundays to the Bears, catch the occasional Bulls game and witness the Blackhawks win three Stanley Cups when Rocky Wirtz brought them back to television.

Sorry White Sox, you drew the short straw. No matter how hard my dad tried to convert me, I’ve always been a die-hard Cubs fan.

I started seriously following the Cubs when I was 8 years old in 2006, back in the days of Derrek Lee, Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez. That year, they finished in last place. I had learned of the infamous World Series drought and vowed that I would see the Cubs win the World Series one day.

Ten years after my fandom began came the greatest day of my life: Nov. 2, 2016. After 108 years, the Cubs won the World Series!

I want to take this time to thank my sports editor and resident Cleveland Indians fan, Henry Redman, for putting up with me all offseason after the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series. There’s a saying I’ve become familiar with over the years: “there’s always next year.”

Now, after the celebration Joe Maddon dubbed “Cubstock 2016,” it’s time to look at the 2017 season. The Cubs — who were 34-14 on this date last season — currently sit at 25-25. Some fans are starting to panic.

There’s no need to freak out. The world champs are going to be fine.

The Cubs have two major problems, and they’ll be back to their winning ways if they solve them.

First, they don’t have a strong leadoff hitter. Seeing Dexter Fowler in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform hurts my eyes. His departure left a major hole at the top of the lineup. Kyle Schwarber hasn’t done the job, and Ben Zobrist may be the best fit to lead off instead. With Javier Báez taking over at second base and the need to have Jason Heyward and Ian Happ in the lineup, Zobrist should take left field and the leadoff spot from Schwarber.

But Schwarber still has a big bat. He came into the MLB as a catcher, and I think he belongs back there, platooned with Willson Contreras to save his knees. That makes Miguel Montero the odd man out. I don’t think Miggy will last through the Aug. 1 trade deadline. Once he’s off the roster, Maddon will have an easier time writing out a lineup.

The second issue is a starting pitcher. With Brett Anderson hurt — surprise, surprise — rookie Eddie Butler has filled the fifth spot in the rotation. While he’s done a solid job, the Cubs are attached to some big names on the trading block, specifically Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer and Oakland Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray. Acquiring one of them would allow Anderson to move to the bullpen and lower the risk of injury.

Theo Epstein has enough prospects to pull off one of those moves, and I would expect it to bring some stability to the rotation.

To the fans who are panicking, have patience. The North Siders will be fine. Just give it some time and allow Epstein to make some moves.

In Theo we trust.

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