The regular season is right around the corner, but don't expect Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster to make a World Series prediction for 2010.
It was just three years ago when Zambrano declared himself the best pitcher in the National League and forecasted a Series victory for the Cubs. Dempster took over as prognosticator in ‘08, stating the team would end their 100-year wait between championships.
Last season’s hiatus of fearless forecasting came as no surprise, as the Cubs were knocked out of the playoffs with three-game sweeps by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers in ’07 and ’08, respectively.
Sports Illustrated’s Ted Keith filled the void in ’09 and boldly proclaimed that the North Siders would play in their first Fall Classic since 1945 and win it. He also predicted that Manny Ramirez would win the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Time to give your crystal ball a little wipe down, Keith.
Buzz for the 2010 season should be much quieter, and that is probably a good thing for these Cubbies. Jim Hendry’s budget was limited, and his big splash of Marlon Byrd was more like the trickling of tap water from a loose faucet.
Who knows? If Kevin Millar makes the team, maybe he can bring along some of that magic from the ‘04 Red Sox, but I am guessing the man who referred to his team as “a bunch of idiots” six years ago might actually think his new team is run by idiots. Millar, 38, hit .223 in 78 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season. Enough said.
I am not going to be naïve enough to predict big things for the ‘10 Cubs, but I will be daring enough to offer some of my own bold predictions for the upcoming season. Just don’t let Ted Keith see ‘em.
5. Top-prospect Starlin Castro will be called up well before September.
It is not like the highly-touted prospect has a ton of competition in the middle of the infield. Ryan Theriot is the starter, no doubt, but Castro will have a chance to show why he belongs in the big leagues by mid-to-late season.
Not exactly bold, I know, but given that Piniella still has his guys in Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot currently on the roster, it is going to be hard to convince Lou to give another middle infielder a shot. Castro’s got the talent to do it.
4. Carlos Zambrano will lead the Cubs in wins.
Zambrano only won nine games last season, marking the first time since 2002 that he did not win 13-plus games.
Carlos said he would not be back next year if he does not have a better season than in ’09, and it is hard to imagine things could get any worse.
Zambrano was in great shape for spring training, and with Ted Lilly possibly being sidelined up to a month, Big Z needs to step up and earn the ace money ($91.5 million over five years) he was signed to in 2007.
3. The Cubs will have a mini fire sale by the trade deadline.
Jim Hendry has gotten accustomed to making significant deals in July, but the ’10 season might be a little different. New ownership has stifled Hendry’s attempts to acquire big-money players in the offseason, and I do not expect him to get the green light in the heat of the summer.
Derrek Lee turns 35 in September, and the first base slugger will garner plenty of attention if he can perform close to his gaudy numbers (.306, 35 HR, 111 RBI) of last season. Other potential trade candidates include Jeff Baker, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow, Micah Hoffpauir, Sean Marshall, Lilly and even Zambrano.
2. Kosuke Fukudome will finish the season as the Cubs’ second leading hitter (behind D-Lee), and replace Theriot in the leadoff spot.
Fukudome is not my homey, but I see big things for Kosuke in ’10. In my opinion, he is the no-brains option batting leadoff, and the numbers agree.
Fukudome had a .404 OBP as a leadoff hitter in 34 starts, and hit .333 as the first batter of the game. Theriot hit .250 leading off a game, and had a .354 OBP in 41 starts as the team’s No. 1 hitter.
Kosuke only hit .259 last season, but in Japan’s highest level of baseball in ‘06, he hit .351 with 31 home runs and 104 RBIs to earn MVP honors. Not too shabby.
1. The Cubs will not see first place in the NL Central the entire year.
It is not that I think the Cubs have no shot in the NL Central this year, I just think the Cardinals are that much better than everyone else in the division.
It would not surprise me if the Cubs were in first place after the first two weeks of April, but with St. Louis throwing out Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright every fifth day, and the fact that Albert Pujols will have the protection of Matt Holliday for an entire year, things do not bode well for the Cubbies as late season contenders.
No worries Cubs fans. This is the reason Bud Selig invented the Wild Card.