It is very well known that the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, by far the longest drought in any of the four major sports, and while the Cubs have had some teams since then that many believed would be the team to break that drought (2003 immediately comes to mind), they haven’t even made the World Series since 1945. While Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a plan to finally bring a championship to the North side, it is highly unlikely that plan will be accomplished this year. The Cubs lost more than 90 games for the third consecutive season in 2013, a season that saw them trade away veterans Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza in favor of young talent. The Cubs enter this season with lots of question marks. Starlin Castro was supposed to be the shortstop of the future, being selected to two all-star games before he turned 22, but he struggled mightily last season, hitting just .245. Anthony Rizzo had a very good first season with the Cubs, and while he still hit for decent power numbers last year (23 homeruns and 80 RBI), he hit .233. Not to mention that both are just starting their respective 7-year deals with the Cubs, the pressure is on both of them to perform. Junior Lake played well after Soriano was dealt to the Yankees, but the question is if he can repeat his performance from last season in his second season. The one thing to watch out for are the young players that could make a splash for the Cubs later in the summer.
Javier Baez is the most highly touted prospect the Cubs have had in a long time and for good reason, Baez hit 37 homeruns and drove in 111 runs in 130 combined games between Single-A and Double-A last season. If all goes according to plan, expect Baez to join the Cubs shortly before the all-star break. A couple other young players to watch out for are outfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs 6th overall pick in 2012, who hit .329 in Single-A last year as well as infielder Arismendy Alcantara, outfielder Jorge Soler, and starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks.
The other question mark is the pitching, specifically the starting rotation. Jeff Samardzija has had an up and down journey the last two seasons as a starter. He has certainly had outings that showed why the Cubs view him as their ace of the future, unfortunately, far too often, he will also have clunkers that make fans wonder if Samardzija really is the ace that people project him to be. Samardzija will need to be more consistent if he is going to receive that big time contract he was looking for. Travis Wood was the Cubs most consistent starter last season and although his record was just 9-12, he finished with an ERA of 3.11, never getting much run support and often getting his potential wins taken away from the atrocious bullpen last season. Edwin Jackson signed a big deal last season, but he had a rough go if it in his first season in Chicago, going 8-18 with an ERA of 4.98. If Jackson can return to his true form and go about 12-12, that will greatly help a Cubs rotation that aside from those three have many question marks. Jake Arrieta performed pretty well after being dealt from Baltimore last season, Jason Hammel was signed shortly before spring training and even Chris Rusin has an outside chance to make the rotation. If Samardzija and Jackson can perform better than they did in 2012, and Travis Wood can pitch like an all-star, the Cubs rotation should be better off than it was last season.
The bullpen was the biggest issue with last year’s team. Carlos Marmol was a fiasco at the beginning of the season, and for the first two months of the season, it was more surprising when the Cubs were able to hang on to a lead than it was to see them blow a lead. James Russell was solid for most of the year, but as the lone lefty out of the ‘pen, became overworked, and did not pitch well towards the end of the year. One of the lone bright spots was Pedro Strop, who pitched great with the Cubs after being acquired with Arrieta from the Orioles. In the offseason, General manager Jed Hoyer saw a need, and signed a couple veterans to help out the bullpen. He acquired lefty Wesley Wright, who had spent his first six seasons with the Astros to help take some of the burden off James Russell. The Cubs also acquired Jose Veras, who began last season as the Astros closer, but was traded to Detroit at the trade deadline. Veras is expected to be the Cubs closer at the start of the season, but don’t be surprised if he is on a different team come August, as he is a valuable piece to a contending team and the Cubs may want to get Pedro Strop a shot at closer. While the bullpen was the weak link last year for the Cubs, thanks to a couple offseason moves, it looks like the end of games should go much more smoothly for the Cubs this season.
Coming off a 66-96 season, it would be considered a failure if the Cubs cannot improve on that record, and if players like Castro, Rizzo, and Samardzija can perform to their capabilities, the Cubs should eclipse the 70-win mark in 2014. I don’t see any way the Cubs can get into the playoffs, especially given that they play in arguably the toughest division in baseball, one that had three playoff teams last year, and it doesn’t look like those teams will be going anywhere anytime soon. The most exciting thing for Cubs fans should be watching the progression of the young players in the minor leagues because those players are likely the ones that can finally help get the Cubs back to relevance.