The good news for the 2013 Chicago Cubs is they had a better record than the 2012 Cubs did. The bad news, however, is with the Houston Astros moving to the AL West, the Cubbies had its first last place finish since 2006. With a ballpark colloquially known as the Friendly Confines, the North Siders lost 50 games at Wrigley Field last season. A Sept. 25 ESPN article reported attendance was the lowest at the iconic stadium in 15 years. Only five teams in the game had a higher bullpen ERA than the Cubs did in 2013, and this season looks to be another year of rebuilding and developing young talent, while a serious run at the postseason looks highly unlikely. Still, even the teams with the worst records have its bright spots.
Best Case Scenario
Last season’s Cubs team was 66-96. The closest to them in the NL Central was the 74-88 Milwaukee Brewers. Going off of this, getting out of the cellar may not be out of the question for the 2014 Cubs. Yes, the Brew Crew did add former Cubs right hander Matt Garza in the offseason and it’ll be interesting to see how Jean Segura could build off of last season’s campaign. That said, the Cubs may not have gone on a binge spending trip like the New York Yankees did this offseason, but that’s not to say they didn’t make moves either. Let’s face it: This squad needed bullpen help. Therefore, they inked Jose Veras to a one-year deal with a club option for 2015. He isn’t the most proven reliever, but certainly had a very nice 2013 while splitting time between the Astros and Detroit Tigers. With him likely getting a shot at the closer role, here is one aspect in which the Cubs can improve if he does as well or better than he did last year.
The team’s rotation ERA wasn’t too much better last season – 4.00. It looks like Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta are going to have spots in the rotation. Samardzija allowed more home runs and served up more walks than he ever before last year, but there is the bad and the good. He also exceeded 200 innings and punched out more than 200 batters in 2013. Wood was the Cubs’ lone All Star representative last year and certainly a tough luck pitcher. Arrieta struggled with the Baltimore Orioles last season, but seemed to find new life once in a Chicago uniform. Jackson simply needs to have a better year, but more on him later.
Most Important Cubs
There should little to no dispute that just like last season, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are the team’s building blocks heading into the team’s 142nd season. Just like Jackson, there’s going to be more featured on Castro and Rizzo later in the article. Nobody makes the All-Star team two years in a row and ends up leading the National League in hits like Castro has in his career without being pretty good at the game of baseball. Regardless how one feels about the soon-to-be 24-year-old Castro, it’s hard to find somebody who has been a better player for the Cubs as a whole from 2010 until now.
Rizzo is already 24 and appears to be the Cubs’ first baseman of the future. 23 home runs and 80 RBI’s last season is a good start for his first full year. The July 2012 NL Rookie of the Month still could use some growth, but that’s not to say he can’t hit cleanup for this squad for the rest of the decade and possibly into the next. He can definitely be that go-to person in the lineup to hit balls out and bring men home. Expectations were sky high for him, now it’s up to him to meet and ultimately exceed them.
Potential Breakout Players
It looks like Welington Castillo is once again going to be the man behind the plate for this Cubs club. He wasn’t Buster Posey or Yadier Molina with the bat last season, but he can only get better the more he matures. He wasn’t too awful, either, batting. 274 in 113 games. Certainly, seeing more action behind the plate this year is going to be important if he wants to have a breakout season. Castillo had a 4.4 WAR last season, according to Baseball Reference. He also improved his defense from 2012. He’s going to be 27 in April and who is to say he can’t become a really solid catcher on the North Side of Chicago in the years that follow?
Defensively speaking, Junior Lake was much more sound in left field than in center last year. Like Castro, he’s turning 24 in March and is only three days younger than Chicago’s shortstop. He seems like he can find the gap, with 16 doubles in 64 games last season. He was able to bat .284 as a rookie in 2013. Now entering his first full season, can he expand on what was a pretty good small sample size from a year ago? Better plate discipline, complemented with an improved glove, could really go a long way for him.
Worst Case Scenario
The Cubs have a highly touted farm system and Castro and Rizzo have been hailed as part of the Cubs’ future, but what if they don’t bounce back? Castro had far and away his worst season at the plate a year ago. Based on his current track record, he won’t be winning a Gold Glove anytime soon, even though he can have his moments of stellar plays. He does make mental errors and sometimes has been benched with the accusation of his head not being in the game. Having these prospects and young players with tons of potential is all fine and good, but if they don’t pan out, the Cubbies are only going to witness even more disappointment.
Areas of Concern
Samardzija is 29 and with the team avoiding arbitration with him, it seems likely he could be dealt in July. Is he going to be able to give up fewer home runs and issue fewer walks? 200 innings and 200 strikeouts ought to show what he is capable of. The Cubs have been able to get some really good right-handed prospects in Kyle Hendricks and CJ Edwards from the Texas Rangers in 2012 and 2013, respectively. This is in large part to how well Ryan Dempster and Garza pitched before being dealt. One ought to ask themselves if Samardzija can be for the Cubs in 2014 what Dempster was in 2012 and Garza was last season, or if his trade value is going to plummet.
Who Needs Bounce Back From a Down 2013
It should seem rather rhetorical that Edwin Jackson must show more this season than he did the previous year. The Cubs inked the 30-year-old righty to a 4-year, $52 million contract, and he hardly earned his money in his first season with the team. He posted a 79 ERA+ and 1.460 WHIP. Here is a club with a rotation which struggled last season, and Jackson looked like a burden. For him to pitch the way he did while signing for that match money seems absolutely inexcusable. He has three more seasons to wash away a down 2013. Starting in 2014, he can improve himself.
Anthony Rizzo also hit 40 doubles last season in addition to 23 home runs and 80 RBI. He still needs work though. He batted .233 in 160 games, struck out 127 times and needs to do a better job at getting on base. He can absolutely be that .300 batting average, .400 on base percentage and .500 slugging percentage person for the Cubs. It’s up to him now to make his second full season a better one and build on the positives from his first full year.
With everything Starlin Castro has accomplished in his young career, there is no way he should’ve had the season he had last year at only 23. Maybe he won’t be a 30/30 shortstop, though it’s possible. He had a career year in 2011 and his numbers also improved in some aspects in 2012. 2013, in short, was not a good year at all for him. He had a career high in strikeouts, career low in batting average, career low in OPS+. He played in 161 games last season compared to 125 games in his rookie season in 2010. He drew only one more walk last season than he did as a rookie. He stole the fewest bases of his career with nine, when he swiped 10 in 2010. He drove in 44 runs, only three more than his rookie campaign and that was way down from his career high of 78 RBI’s in 2012. If he were a 20-year-old rookie again last season, it would be much easier to have more patience with him. People ought to know what the man is capable of, and an improvement this season is imminent. Otherwise, the Cubs should look to other players to be its franchise.
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