I realize that the title sounds a little arrogant, but it's true. Allow me to explain to you how/why it's going to happen.
The first reason is very simple: we have an easy starting schedule. Of the first 39 games we play, only six come against teams that had a winning record last year. We open the season with a three game series at Atlanta, and then host the Marlins for a three game series early in May.
That's it. Of the 33 games we play against losing teams, 21 are against division opponents. We have an amazing opportunity to get out of the gates quickly and open up a lead in the NL central.
The team that is to be feared the most in the division is the Cardinals, who we don't play until late May. The first series we play in St. Louis isn't until mid August. If we can beat the Cardinals at home and take care of business against sub .500 teams, we should be able to build an insurmountable lead in the division.
The second reason is our pitching. Both our starting pitching and relief pitching have improved since last year. Carlos Zambrano's record of 9-7 last year didn't properly reflect how well he actually pitched. His ERA was down from the 2008 and 2007 seasons.
This year he came to Arizona 15 pounds lighter than he did last year and with a big chip on his shoulder. He has something to prove this year, and has the ability to do it. Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster will continue to be solid starters and should anchor the top half of our rotation.
The bottom of the rotation will be filled most likely with Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny, at least to start the season. Both Wells and Gorzelanny have shown promise and won't be a liability on the mound.
Our bullpen this year is a classic case of addition by subtraction. The bullpen lost the likes of Kevin Gregg and Neil Cotts, who performed poorly last year. Carlos Marmol moves in as the new closer, while Angel Guzman slides into the set up role.
Guzman had a career low 2.95 ERA last year and will continue to improve with the increase in playing time. He is currently injured with torn ligaments in his throwing arm, but he should return to pitching in 4-6 weeks. John Grabow is solid veteran who can step into Guzman's place while he rehabs. The 2010 pitching staff will be better than the 2009 squad, which was fifth in the league in ERA and second in strikeouts.
The third reason is our hitting. Remember in 2008 when it seemed like we could outscore any team? Well, get ready for that feeling again. We were first in the league in runs scored in 2008, and dropped to 10th last year due to the addition of Milton Bradley and a slew of injuries.
Well, this year we dropped Bradley and added hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Never underestimate what a quality hitting coach can do for a veteran baseball team. Jaramillo is considered to be one of the best hitting coaches around the league and is widely respected among the players. He has developed several hall of fame players, including Jeff Bagwell, Pudge Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to name a few.
Of course, even a great hitting coach needs players to produce; the Cubs have these players. The opening day lineup of Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Theriot, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Giovanni Soto, and Mike Fontenot can do some serious damage.
This is the same lineup as the 2008 team, with Bird replacing Mark DeRosa. Byrd will be a big contributor right away for the Cubs because he brings power to our lineup. He had 20 home runs and 89 RBI last year while facing AL pitching, numbers that will go up this year in the NL. Byrd also has three years experience with Jaramillo, which can't be overlooked. Barring injury, our lineup has a chance to be one of the best in the NL.
Lastly, we have been there before. The opening day lineup will have eight guys who went to the playoffs with us in 2008. This team knows how to win, and have the tools to do it.
Lou Piniella knows how to manage winning teams. With the loss of Bradley, this team now has a collection of clubhouse guys who will put the team first. The bottom line is, this is the year where we bounce back in the NL Central and make a comeback.