Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NL Central preview: Chicago Cubs

Today's National League Central preview features the "Lovable Losers" from the north side, the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs are unlikely to offer much competition to the Reds this season in terms of winning the NL Central title, and they definitely won't be breaking their 103-year-old championship drought. Cubs' fans may as well cling to the old adage, "there's always next year," while blaming that cursed billy goat, and accusing Steve Bartman, and not any of the actual players on the field, of costing them their last real shot in 2003. They've still got Wrigley Field, right?

The good news for Chicago is that if there is one man who has proven he can break a curse, it's the man whom they acquired on October 21, 2011 to become their new President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein. Epstein came from the Boston Red Sox where he was the General Manager who helped to break the "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004, as the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, and later followed it up with another in 2007. Epstein brought in his old buddy and former assistant, Jed Hoyer, to be his GM, which was the job he held with the San Diego Padres last year. He also fired Mike Quade and hired Dale Sveum to be the new manager. It took Epstein only two years to win a title in Boston, and Cubs' fans will surely expect quick success in similar fashion in today's results-driven age. Unfortunately, 2012 will not be the year they break the curse.

What should the Chicago Cubs expect this year? Turnover and probably not much as far as winning goes, but they should expect a more stable and sane clubhouse, as well as a slight injection of energy from the infusion of some of their younger talent while they rebuild. Heck, just getting rid of Carlos Zambrano should be enough to consider 2012 a success. Also, Epstein and Hoyer have been busy trying to build pitching depth in Chicago. Nevertheless, the games must be played, ultimately to determine on-the-field success, and from that standpoint, Cubs' fans should not hold their breath.

Notable Additions: The front office duo of Epstein and Hoyer, OF David DeJesus(signed as free agent on 12/1), 3B Ian Stewart (acquired via trade from COL 12/8), RHP Manny Corpas (signed as free agent 12/22), RHP Andy Sonnanstine (signed as free agent 12/26), LHP Travis Wood (acquired via trade from CIN 12/23), OF Dave Sappelt (acquired via trade from CIN 12/23), RHP Chris Volstad (acquired via trade from MIA 1/5), 1B Anthony Rizzo (acquired via trade SD 1/6), LHP Paul Maholm (signed as free agent 1/11), LHP Trever Miller (signed as free agent 1/30), C Jason Jaramillo (signed as free agent 1/18)

Notable Losses: OF Kosuke Fukudome (traded to CLE 7/29), OF Tyler Colvin (traded to COL 12/8), 3B Aramis Ramirez (signed as free agent with MIL 12/14), LHP John Grabow (signed as free agent with LAD 12/19), LHP Sean Marshall (traded to CIN 12/23), RHP Carlos Zambrano (traded to MIA 1/5), RHP Andrew Cashner (traded to SD 1/6), C Koyie Hill (signed as free agent with STL 1/10), 1B Carlos Pena (signed as free agent 1/24), RHP Ramon Ortiz (signed as free agent with SF 2/15)

Youngsters to watch: 1B Bryan LaHair, LHP Wood, 1B Rizzo, OF Sappelt, OF Brett Jackson, RHP Rafael Dolis

Manager: Dale Sveum (0-0, 1st season)
2011 payroll: $125.08M (6th in MLB)
Avg. home attendance: 37,259 (9th in MLB)

2011 records:
Overall: 71-91 (5th in NL Central)
Home: 39-42
Road: 32-49
Vs. NLC: 34-46

2012 Exp W/L: 70-92

Notable 2011 stat rankings:
Runs - 19th (654)
HR - 20th (148)
AVG - T-11th (.256)
SB - 28th (69)
ERA - 25th (4.33)
BAA - 22nd (.262)
WHIP - 25th (1.41)
Errors - 30th (134)

Projected lineup (per rotochamp.com):
OF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
OF Marlon Byrd
1B Bryan LaHair
OF Alfonso Soriano
C Geovany Soto
3B Ian Stewart
2B Darwin Barney

Projected rotation (per rotochamp.com):
RHP Matt Garza
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Paul Maholm
RHP Randy Wells
RHP Chris Volstad

Setup: RHP Kerry Wood
Setup: LHP James Russell
CL: RHP Carlos Marmol

Keep dreaming Cubbies fans

Best case scenario: Matt Garza contends for the Cy Young by turning in his best season yet, pitching 205-plus innings, while winning 18 games and sporting an ERA around 2.99. Ryan Dempster turns in a solid season, but more importantly provides all important veteran leadership around which the youngsters in the rotation rally, and with no Big Z on the roster anymore, there are no distracting teammates to pull them apart. Meanwhile, Starlin Castro continues to blossom into the star which the Cubs have been expecting, by constantly residing on the basepaths and patching up the hole in his glove (29 errors in 2011). Alfonso Soriano has a tremendous first half, and the 2012 All-Star is unloaded by Epstein to a contender desperate for a bat, in exchange for a couple nice prospects as he continues to overhaul and rebuild Chicago's roster for the future. Milwaukee is unable to recover from the loss of Prince Fielder, while neither Pittsburgh nor Houston makes any noise at all. Though, they are unable to keep pace with Cincinnati and St. Louis, the future looks bright for Chicago. Final record: 80-82 (3rd place in the NL Central)

The goat rears his ugly head again.
Worst case scenario: The rotation falters and ends up even worse than last year's staff which finished 25th in ERA. The loss of Aramis Ramirez's bat proves to be too much to overcome for the Cubs' offense, coupled with Soriano finally giving in to his age and having a career worst year. Castro continues to make error after error while deciding which flavor of sunflower seeds he wants to gnaw on and kicking dirt rather than paying attention to the batter and the game. Somehow Ozzie Guillen gets through to Carlos Zambrano who finishes in the top five for the Cy Young. Young righty Chris Carpenter who was sent to Boston as compensation for Epstein, makes the rotation as the fifth starter and has a solid season as the Red Sox win the American League Pennant. Somehow the Houston Astros win 63 games to edge out the Cubs for fifth place, as they post triple digits in the "L" column. Final record: 62-100 (Last place in the NL Central)

And in case you missed a preview from earlier this week...

NL Central preview schedule:
Monday: Houston Astros
Tuesday: Chicago Cubs
Today: Pittsburgh Pirates
Thursday: Milwaukee Brewers
Friday: St. Louis Cardinals

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