Many people are hating against the Chicago Cubs. Only three analysts out of 40 picked the Cubs to win the central division. Only three!
The Cubs get no love.
Yes, I understand they are a pretty good bet to lose. I understand they have gone over 100 years without a MLB Championship. That doesn't mean they aren't talented.
The Cubs deserve more love.
Don't deny it, the Cubs can pitch. Pitching has never been their fault.
The top three in their starting rotation are one of the best in the National League. Randy Wells is a solid No. 4 and Andrew Cashner has proved himself to be a decent fifth starter.
Ryan Dempster is always a solid bet to win 14 to 17 games. His ERA never gets above four—he averages in the lower threes—and he also is usually healthy. Every year as a starter, he has averaged around 200 innings.
Carlos Zambrano may be a head case, but he can pitch. If he stays healthy and finally gets his head leveled, watch out. He has the capability to win 18-plus games. He has way too much talent to not be able to do it.
Matt Garza is a lot like Big Z—he pitches like his hair is on fire. Already in the young 2011 season, he struck out 12 in his very first start as a Cub (a career high).
Randy Wells, in his first season as a Cub, put up rookie of the year-type numbers. He went through a bit of a sophomore slump but still had a decent 2010. He only won nine games but last year's Cubs team was very bad. He pitched almost 200 innings and struck out 144 batters. He is still young but has the potential to be great.
Andrew Cashner showed flashes of talent in his first major league start. He did leave with shoulder tightness but only gave up two hits and one earned run. In the AA and AAA last season, Cashner posted a 6-1 record with a 2.05 ERA. The kid has talent.
The bullpen is one of the best in the division.
The potential of a Marshall-Wood-Marmol backend of the 'pen is scary to think about.
Carlos Marmol is the real question in the bullpen. He is young and wild. Literally.
He still has control issues which can get him into trouble. He already has one blown save this year, but when Marmol is on, he is unhittable. When he's off, no one can hit him because he can't find the zone.
Kerry Wood is going to be the key in the bullpen. He still has talent and his veteran presence will be a key guide to the young guys like Jeff Samardzija and James Russell.
On paper, they should be scoring runs in bunches. But they're the Cubs so of course they can't.
Fukudome, Castro, Byrd, Ramirez, Pena, Soto, Soriano and Barney should be getting on base and driving runs in like it's nobody's business.
They have a deep bench too.
Colvin, Baker and DeWitt have showed flashes of being able to hit.
If the Cubs can put it together, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Their defense is an issue.
Starlin Castro is still young at shortstop. He has a tendency to make boneheaded decisions and his defense still has to catch up to his hitting.
Geovany Soto is also a question. He knows the pitching staff well and knows how to handle them. The question is, can he throw anyone out?
Alfonso Soriano is the biggest Achilles Heel in the outfield. When a $100 million player needs to be taken out for a defensive replacement in the ninth, you have problems.
If manager Mike Quade can teach this team to play slightly better defense, they will be okay.
Mike Quade might be the best offseason investment for this team. He is a new, fresh manager in the major leagues. He takes the red line to work and he does not have any marketing deals. He's down to earth and knows his players well.
What's the difference between Quade and Piniella? Fire and approachability.
Quade could be the difference maker. He understands what it takes to win. He went 24 and 13 as an interim manager last season. The players like him. If he keeps his feet on the ground and the Cubs' heads out of their asses, this team wins the division by at least five games.
If Mike Quade keeps this team together and doesn't lose control, the Cubs have the potential to make a deep run. Maybe I'm overly optimistic but I think this could be the year. The Cubs will win the division over the Reds by three games.