The 2012 baseball season has finally arrived and the Chicago Cubs will play their first game of the season tomorrow when they host the Washington Nationals for a three game set! While tomorrow is officially opening day for the Cubs, the 2012 season is already a week old because the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics played two games over in Japan. Unfortunately, when the Cubs take the field tomorrow for their opening day, they will not be playing the first game in the United States this season either. That honor goes to the St. Louis Cardinals who will be playing the Miami Marlins in a one game series in the first official game of their new stadium. Speaking of the Cardinals and Marlins game, can you honestly call what they are playing a series when they are only playing one game? I didn’t think so.
With Cubs baseball back on the air, the time has come for me to make my official prediction for how I believe the team will do in the up coming season. I have made a few comments on where I think the team will finish and how many wins they could possibly get, but none of that is official and still subject to change until this blog has been posted.
I will be looking at the starting rotation, the starting lineup, the bench and the bullpen in order to determine where I think the team will finish the year. I have been wrong before and likely will again, so here is my disclaimer. I am not an expert, so please do not run off to Las Vegas to place a bet on anything that I say here. However, if you do and you lose, I can not be held responsible. But, if you win on my thoughts, I ask for 10% of all your winnings. With that being said, let’s get the ball rolling.
Heading into Spring Training, the Cubs had three spots in the rotation locked up. There was no question that Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm would be three of the five starters. But there were a number of pitchers in camp vying for the final two spots. Chris Volstad and Jeff Samardzija beat out new comer Travis Wood as well as hold over pitchers Randy Wells and Rodrigo Lopez. While this starting rotation likely will not strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, as a whole things are not as bad as they may appear,
We all know what Garza is capable of, and how talented he is. Why he was not named the opening starter instead of Dempster is anyone’s guess, though the likely reason is Dempster is the veteran starter on the Cubs as he has the longest tenure. Coming off a bad year, Dempster has a lot to prove if he wants to win back some love from the Cub fans who wrote him off and started referring to him by their old nickname for him. He likely will not have a great season, as the offense is rather shaky, so wins could very well be limited.
We know what Garza is, and he will be the teams second starter in the rotation. In his first season with the Cubs, he quickly became a fan favorite, and we have to hope that the Cubs do something with him soon. Either trade him for a boat load of talent or sign him to an extension. I am sure one of the two will happen at some point this year. While the Cubs did not do too much to help him last year, he had one hell of a season winning numerous games on pure grit and will. He needed a lot of that because the team refused to score runs for him on a consistent basis. I hope that he got used to that last year, because I am not so sure things will really change too much for him this season with an offense which is a large question mark.
The number three starter might be one of the most frustrating pitchers on the team, He would be the most frustrating if there was not for Carlos Marmol. I digress, up until last year he had never was able to show potential to be a major league player anywhere but in the minor leagues. Every time he was called up to the big leagues, he fell flat on his face and put the Cubs behind the figurative eight-ball. Last year however, he had a career year and looked to have finally put things together and became a tremendous setup man. This spring however, he had one goal, and that was to win a spot in the starting rotation, and he did so with apparent ease. No one knows what to expect from him, or how well he will do with the opportunity that he deserved, but fans are hopeful, and a bit nervous. I can not blame them for that, as every year you never knew what to expect out of him. Perhaps he will be able to carry over the success he had last year, or maybe he will turn back into the pumpkin that he was before last year.
The fourth starter will be Volstad, and he may be the starter most fans are worried about. He has gotten knocked around the past three years with the Marlins after having a respectable first year with the team. Obviously, when the Cubs traded Carlos Zambrano for him, the hope was that all he needed was a change of scenery and he would be able to become a good pitcher. That is the hope of everyone in the Cubs organization from owner Tom Ricketts and President Theo Epstein to the manager of the team Dale Sveum and the entire fan base. If I was being overly optimistic, I would say he is due for a rebound and a solid season, but realistically I am not sure how much we will be able to depend on him to win us a lot of games,
Maholm rounds out the rotation as the teams anchor, also known as the fifth starter. The reason being floated for his being sent to the fifth spot was due to missing time in camp with an illness that set him back and pushed his starts back a few days. Maholm is easily the third best starter on the staff, but how much does that really mean? This team is not exactly loaded with pitching talent, but he should have a respectable season and has a chance to lead the team in wins, or at least have the second most.
With the potential of a stumbling and bumbling offense, the starting rotation might be lucky to win 57 games between the five of them. That is an average of just over 11 games per starter. Not exactly a great way to start a playoff contending team.
The opening day lineup is another problem with the team. I am not sure how they are going to score runs. As things stand, the lineup looks like this.
Much like the pitching staff, this will not strike fear into the hearts of our opponents. Our power threats are Castro, LaHair and Soriano, all three are suspect though. Castro has topped out at 10 home runs, and has a total of 13 in his two years in the majors. You can not expect him to jump up to the 20 homer mark, though that would not be impossible. LaHair suffered through a power outage in Spring Training where home runs come easily. Tony Campana even hit one over the wall in Arizona, and we all know how little power he actually has. Speaking of Campana, he may make the opening day roster after all. LaHair missed the last week of Spring Training with a sore back and may be placed on the disabled list. If that is the case, the Cubs have even less power potential. Soriano, sad to say, is the main source of power in this lineup. He will likely lead the team in homers, I guess he will top out at 25. If that is where the team tops out in the power category, the Cubs will be in trouble.
Looking at the rest of the lineup, all you can do is sit back and wait for something to happen. Soto is a question mark as every other season he surprises, and not always for the best. Looking at his rollercoaster of a career though, the good news is history says he should have a good year. But what about the rest? Can Byrd return to the player he was before a fast ball broke his face? Will Barney be able to put together a complete season? Can Stewart and DeJesus have a rebound season? There are just too many questions on this team in the starting lineup to be sure what you will get on a daily basis. They might be able to score about 540-600 runs, but I do not think that will be near enough to even begin dreaming of a playoff push.
Unfortunately I believe the bullpen will be used a lot. Today the final spots were finalized. As much as this will make fans groan, Marmol is still the team’s closer. The other spots were won by Kerry Wood, James Russell, Rafael Dolis, Sean Camp and rule five draft pick Lendy Castillo. Lopez was sent to the minors, but is expected to be called up soon. The bullpen has the potential to be very good, but also has a very good chance to be a bigger bust than Disco Demolition Night.
Last season was one to forget for Marmol, as he had the worst season of his career. This was on the heel of one of the greatest seasons a relief pitcher can have. One reason given for his poor season last year was he was using a cutter last year, and that was the main reason for his down fall. If that is true, then I have good news for you. He has removed that pitch from his selections. If he is able to revert to form, we could see the exciting Marmol again who set strike out records in 2010. However, even when he was good he has always given Cub fans reasons to panic late in games.
Wood is getting older and is sadly becoming less of an impact player and is less effective than most fans would like. He still has his fans, but most of them love him for what he has done in the past and not for the potential pitcher the hope he can be this season. I am not sure bringing him back was the wisest decision as the money could have been used elsewhere to give the team a better chance to compete. Though with as little as they paid him, I doubt they could have found a player who would have made a big enough impact to make much of a difference.
Russell is an interesting case going into the season. As a starting pitcher, fans wanted nothing to do with him. However, after he was put into the bullpen he took off and had one hell of a season, becoming one of our best pitchers in the bullpen. I know that is not saying much, but his season was seriously impressive when the Cubs finally figured out how to use him. A one or two inning stretch and he was able to dominate the other team, but that third inning was bad news. Was last year a flash in the pan, or is he as good as he looked after being removed from the rotation? For the sake of the Cubs and their fans, we should all hope last year was no fluke or this team is in big trouble.
The rest of the bullpen is a question mark as well though. Castillo and Dolis are both rookies and may not be able to hang at the big league level, while Camp is an aging veteran who may have seen his best days. After all, he was released my the Mariners. You have to be pretty bad to not make that team. These three are nothing more than a coin toss at this point in time. They could win you a lot of games, or lose you a lot of games.
Finally, we have the six man bench. You know what you will get from returning Cubs Reed Johnson, Blake DeWitt and Jeff Baker, but you also have outfielder Joe Mather, back up catcher Steve Clevenger and newly claimed infielder Luis Valbuena who was recently released by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Honestly, if you need to depend on any of these guys for a long period of time, you are in trouble. That may very well be what happens with LaHair potentially heading to the disabled list, DeWitt would be the teams starting first baseman. Feel free to start screaming and throwing objects now, I will wait for you.
None of these guys are impact players and none of them will strike fear into the opposing manager when they stop into the batters circle to pinch hit for the pitcher. They could have done so much more with the bench to give the Cubs some sort of a power threat off the bench. While the bench is not the most important part of a team, you still need a good one if you hope to compete.
Over all, this roster is not too impressive. I think the Iowa Cubs have a better offense than we have up north. Names like Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and Matthew Szczur, you would have a hard time arguing that. Add in Wellington Castillo and you may have a landslide. Nothing against Soto, but I am tied of wondering which version of him we are going to get.
Okay, here goes. Prediction time. For the 2012 season I see the Cubs finishing with a record of 75-87 while taking fourth place in the National League Central. I know that is not what many of you wanted to hear, but I am just being honest with where I feel the Cubs are at this year. I think the future is bright, especially with the young players I just mentioned, but sadly the future is not right now.
Enjoy the baseball that will be played, but the best thing to do is to try to take your heart out of the season and enjoy the games as just pure entertainment. Having too much hope for this year will only lead to yet another heart break. I am sorry Ronny, but this is simply not the year.