Day by day, the Major League Baseball season gets closer. The Chicago Cubs have had two consecutive disappointing seasons. Now, with a new manager at the helm, the Cubbies are looking to start anew in 2011.
Many people are pessimistic about the upcoming season. Even though they may not have reason to be optimistic, I think it's time to be more ambitious.
As a result, I have compiled 10 bold predictions for the Cubs' season. Some are bolder than others, but I think all are possible—even though they are not necessarily plausible. Keep in mind, these are BOLD predictions regarding the Cubs. That being said, let me know what you think, and feel free to offer any useful advice.
None of these guys hit 30 home runs last year, but that won't stop them this year.
Pena didn't hit 30 last year, but he did in each of the three seasons before that. Playing against weaker opponents (31 combined games against the Astros and Pirates, instead of the Red Sox and Yankees, should help) and a homer-friendly park (instead of the pitchers' fortress that is Tropicana Field) should help out the power-hitting first baseman.
Ramirez led the Cubbies in home runs last season. Unfortunately, he only hit 25 home runs. He is capable of hitting 40 (like he almost did in 2006), and Pena's presence should help. If he is able to stay healthy, Ramirez should easily top the 30 home run mark.
Three seasons ago, Soriano had five more home runs than he did last year. That's fine, except he played in 38 fewer games. He did not hit well last year, and the team suffered. I expect the 136-million-dollar-man to live up to the big money the Cubs gave him. He finally stayed healthy as a Cub; now, he needs to perform as a Cub.
The bottom line is this: these guys are too talented to under-perform again. They are all due for big seasons, and they should all benefit from each others' presence in the Cubs' lineup.
It doesn't matter who it is. The Cubs have plenty of options to find a sufficient catcher.
Geovany Soto won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, which proves he has the ability to be successful in the Bigs. Unfortunately, he has been unable to live up to the ensuing hype. Many believe this will be his last shot in a Cubs uniform. Hopefully, he can succeed.
Koyie Hill has not been good. His fielding and hitting have been poor. The Cubs can only hope he pushes Soto to improve his game.
If neither of these guys pan out, Mike Quade is going to have to turn to Welington Castillo. At one time, he was the No. 3 prospect in the Cubs' system, and he may be needed this season. Although he is relatively young (turning 24 in April), a lot may be expected of him.
To be honest, I don't think Castillo will be needed. In his rookie season, Soto proved that he has the intangibles to be a full-time major league catcher. Last year, his batting average climbed back to .280, and his on-base percentage was a career-high .393. Both of those increases indicate that he is ready for a break-out year, and the Cubs can expect big things form the catcher position.
It is an old saying in baseball: "Good pitching beats good hitting." Whether or not you agree with that, good teams always have a good rotation. While the Cubs do not have a Phillies-esque rotation, they do have a good core of guys. If they perform, the Cubs have a chance to contend in the National League.
The main three guys, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Carlos Zambrano, are all due for a big season.
Dempster, the opening day starter, has won at least 15 games in two of his three seasons as a Cubs' starter. Last year, his K/nine innings was the highest of his career. Although his ERA and WHIP climbed a little bit, his run support should also be up. If his stats are similar to last year, his win total should climb.
Garza, the newcomer, has the highest expectations of the three. Although he has never had a breakout season, the National League could be a breath of fresh air. Many good pitchers have come to the NL and put up better numbers (Arroyo, Sabathia, Lee, Halladay), and Garza should be able to do the same. This season, he won't see the Red Sox or Yankees multiple times, which should help him improve his numbers. If his numbers drop, I wouldn't be surprised to see 18-21 wins from him.
Zambrano, a former ace, is looking to return to his 2003-2007 form. Each of those seasons, either his ERA was under 3.30 or he accumulated more than 15 wins. Assuming the offense is improved, if he keeps his ERA under 3.30, he should easily win 15 games. Even if he can't keep such an impressive ERA, he should be able pitch well enough to win 15 games.
Although the Cubs may not have a true "ace," all three of these guys are capable of dominating for weeks at a time. Consequently, all three of them are going to collect 15 wins.
First, I would like to say how excited I am to see Kerry Wood back in Cubbie blue. He is a class act, and the Cubs are lucky that he took a hometown discount to return to the North Side.
Right now, it's looking like Marmol will be closing games and Wood will be setting him up. Although that is a little scary for most Cubs fans, Marmol has some of the most electrifying stuff in baseball. He was able to cut back on his walks last year, which made him even more effective.
In a disappointing season, Marmol was still able to tally 38 saves. If the Cubs improve this year, he has a chance to eclipse the 40-save mark. Still, he can't be expected to close every close game. This is where Kerry Wood comes in. He has been successful in the ninth inning before, and I expect him to save at least 10 games this season.
Combining those two numbers, these guys should lock down the eighth and ninth innings. This is something the Cubs haven't had for a long while, but this year, things should change.
The MLB All-Star game is always tough to predict. There are usually multiple snubs coupled with multiple players on the team that shouldn't be there. That being said, the Cubs should still send three players to Arizona this year.
Last year, Marlon Byrd represented the Northsiders well, but I don't necessarily think he will go back. I'm not ruling it out, but I do think there are other players that are more likely to have All-Star seasons.
By coming to the National League, I think Matt Garza and Kerry Wood will make the All-Star team. Garza will have a big year, and if he gets started fast, he has a good chance to sneak on the team.
The NL has many good starters, but I think they will be reluctant to put only Phillies and Giants on the team, which will open the door for Garza. As a setup man, Kerry Wood will earn his third All-Star nod (second as a relief pitcher) after having a minuscule ERA through a cold April at Wrigley.
The third All-Star is going to be Aramis Ramirez. He was the most consistent Cub last season, and he will continue that play this season. Last year, the reserve third basemen weren't impressive (Infante and Rolen). With a good start, Ramirez should be able to get a nod onto the team.
Although these are my picks, I also think that Carlos Pena, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Carlos Zambrano, and Alfonso Soriano have chances to make the team.
Call me crazy, but if they are still in the race, the Cubs will get an outfielder. I think they will be in the race, prompting them to go and get an outfielder.
So, who do they get? Depending on what position they want, they could improve at all three outfield positions. As for the trades, I'm sticking to guys who will become free agents after the season (the most likely players to be traded).
Even though the Cubs should play Soriano ($136 million anyone?), they could obviously do better. I think he will return to form this year, but if he doesn't, the Cubs need a consistent left fielder. In my opinion, their best fit would be Lastings Milledge. He is an upgrade defensively, and he is dangerous on the base paths. Platooning him with Soriano would give both of them incentive to play better. In addition, Milledge could come on late in a game for pinch-running, and a double switch could put him out in left, improving the defense.
For right field, I really like Kosuke Fukudome. That being said, he is not a top-30 outfielder. The Cubs could go out and get David DeJesus. He consistently has a better batting average, and the rest of his stats are slightly better than Fukudome. He comes for slightly over a quarter of the price, but he gives the team a much better lead-off hitter.
Although Marlon Byrd had a good season for the Cubbies last year (unfortunately, he did tail off), he should not be much more than a platoon player. If the Cubs were aggressive, they could go out and get Grad Sizemore. He is probably going off at a bargain after his production has decreased recently. He is only 28, and he has plenty left in the tank. He has a club option for next year, but the Indians may want to get rid of him sooner rather than later. If the Cubs go out and get him, he could be a staple in their outfield for the next five to eight years.
All these moves are relatively tempting, but I think the Cubs realize they need to upgrade their outfield. Maybe Tyler Colvin is the answer, but I am always more willing to gamble on a proven veteran instead of an unproven kid. The best move would be to go get DeJesus. He could play right or center field, and he could lead off for the squad.
If the Cubs are still competitive in July, don't be surprised if a move similar to any of these actually happens.
I really like Mike Quade. I think he is a players-manager, and that is exactly what the Cubs need right now. He will be able to get the team energetic to play the game, and he should make Wrigley a fun place all summer.
Obviously, I don't think the team will be as successful as they were under Quade last year (although 105 wins would be nice), but he should lead the team all season. If the Cubs have a huge turnaround and make the playoffs, Quade will win the National League Manager of the Year, hands down.
Wrigley Field is one of the greatest sports venues in the world. Some people may not think so, but it truly is a unique, great place. Now, the Cubs just need to make it a tougher place to play.
They have only won 50 games at Wrigley once in the last decade. This year, however, they are built to win at home. The team can hit for power, can hit for average and has decent pitching. If that decent pitching becomes consistent, the Cubs should be extremely successful.
I anticipate the pitching to be consistent; accordingly, the Cubs should be able to secure at least 50 victories in the friendly confines.
Without an obvious favorite in the Central, why can't the Cubs win it? To me, Cincinnati still has to prove they're legit. Many teams tail off after a big year, and the young Reds could be susceptible to a let-down. If the Cubs play hard, they could catch the Reds.
As for the Cardinals, they will definitely miss Adam Wainwright. Despite his loss, they should still be a competitive team. Personally, I don't think they will have enough support around Pujols to score enough runs to be serious competition.
With both of those teams due for a downfall, this year is perfect for the Cubs to play hard, do well, and sneak to the top of the Central.
I'm not too ambitious.
Nevertheless, I do think that, depending on the match-up, the Cubs could win their first playoff series. Unfortunately, I don't think they will be able to defeat the Phillies in a series. Still, they should play well enough to claim a division title, and even win a playoff series, before falling short in the NLCS.
For this club and for its fans, that should be considered a successful season.