Five Forgotten Chicago Cubs Who Were Important to Division Titles in the 2000s

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Chicago Cubs won three division titles in the 2000s -- 2003, 2007, 2008. By the Cubs' standards, this decade was a resounding success marred only by the lack of a World Series championship.

Along the way, the Cubs had big-name contributors -- Sammy Sosa, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez -- but they also had a number of players who were integral to the team's success and haven't been remembered as often by history.

Joe Borowski - Closer (2003)

The Cubs needed every single one of their 88 wins to snatch the division title from the Houston Astros, so having a stable closer was direly important. He was 33-for-37 on saves and posted a 2.63 ERA. The emergence of Borowski was a welcome surprise since the Cubs were coming off an adventurous season with Antonio Alfonseca closing games when he blew nine saves (19-for-28). Without Borowski, there's almost no way the Cubs would have held off the Astros down the stretch.

Carlos Zambrano - Starting Pitcher (2003)

Since the right-hander more or less lost his mind in subsequent years -- marred by temper tantrums, suspensions, and poor performance -- it's easy to forget that Zambrano was a major contributor to the 2003 campaign.

While Prior undeniably stole the pitching show (18-6, 2.43 ERA), Zambrano was arguably the second-best pitcher in the rotation at times. That recognition normally goes to Kerry Wood, but Zambrano pitched more innings and had a lower ERA. Wood had more dominant stretches, but Zambrano had three complete games and not to mention a .240 batting average. Prior and Wood rightfully get high marks for the 2003 campaign, but Zambrano was right there with them most of the way.

Mark DeRosa - Utility (2007)

DeRosa was part of the Cubs' offseason spending spree following the 2006 season and, at least for 2007, was possibly the best signing the Cubs inked.

While playing every position except center field, catcher and pitcher, DeRosa hit .293 in 149 games. The signings of Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly created more buzz, but DeRosa was every bit the contributor that they were. During DeRosa's stint in Chicago (2007-08), he was arguably the most valuable player the Cubs had -- maybe not in run production, but in his overall value he added to two division title teams.

Carlos Marmol - Relief Pitcher (2007-08)

Believe it or not, these were two years when no one in the league wanted to face Carlos Marmol. He was one of the most electric relievers in the game.

He stayed slightly under the radar during these seasons because he wasn't closing games yet (Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood in 2007 and 2008 respectively), but his numbers were outrageous: 2.13 ERA, 81 hits and 210 strikeouts in 156-plus innings. In 2007, the Cubs needed every game to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers. Everyone seemed to perform in 2008, but Marmol was right in the center of both.

Geovany Soto - Catcher (2008)

There was a short window when Soto appeared to be heading for the elite class of catchers. The 2008 season was his opening salvo: .285 AVG, 23 HRs, 86 RBIs. He was also well-regarded in how he handled the Cubs' pitching staff.

Good performances in 2008 can easily get overlooked around the Cubs, because it seemed like just about everyone on the team was having a career year -- resulting in a dominant 97-65 regular season. But at only 25 (and being named Rookie of the Year), no one thought 2008 was going to be Soto's career year, but it was. He a had a decent campaign in 2010, but he never came close to his rookie season.

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Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Sports. He is also a senior in college majoring in English and Creative Writing.

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