When there is a discussion about the 2014 Chicago Cubs the first place most people go to is directly to what’s happening in the organizations minor leagues as opposed to their big league club. Well there is a chance that could change this season provided certain factors come together. Of course the same can be said about almost every team in the league, but in this case let’s focus on the Chicago Cubs circa 2014 edition.
The first and most obvious reason for a possible surprise is the bounce back seasons of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and shortstop Starlin Castro. It would seem too many people are willing to right them off, (as well as the team) because one of the big reasons the Cubs are not expected to do a whole lot this coming season is due to a lack of offense. Cubs were near the very bottom in runs scored in all of major league baseball. Both Rizzo, and especially Castro were both abysmal by their standards. Both have the pedigree, and have had success at the major league level especially in Castro’s case who is already a two time all star at the tender age of 24. It would be hard to believe both regressing to the same level they had in 2013. Expect both to contend for the come back player of the year award, and a very possible return to the all star game for Castro.
Another reason for optimism is the depth in their pitching staff, and power arms added to the bullpen. Starting pitching has not been an issue the last two seasons with the Cubs.
In fact it’s been among the league leaders in most of the major categories before they were dismantled at the trade deadline in both 2012, and 2013. With a more talented bullpen with the promotions of some of their system arms, and a couple veteran additions those blown save and hold situations could be less frequent, and possibly keep them in contention till the all star break.
Culture change is another reason to be optimistic. It appears first year manager Rick Renteria seems to be a better communicator with the young players, and has infused an enthusiasm that has spread throughout the team.
It appears that contrasting style from that of ex manager Dale Svuem has the teams attention, and hopefully with it better focus to improve performance.
The Cubs don’t have a star in the outfield, but they do have more athleticism, and the ability to mix and match to put together a lineup based on match ups. With Renteria in place the club is more savvy on the analytic side of things, so the new Cub manager would be able to properly use the numbers from the teams own metric data, and put the best players in the best spot to succeed based on that days opponents starting pitcher, and than be able to substitute based on situation once the bullpen enters the equation. It would also help position the defense based on their spray charts.
Another wild card in the Cubs hand is the Mike Olt factor. If he ascends to the level he was originally expected to before his well publicized vision issues that’s a potent bat to put in the middle of the order. Olt has the ability to be a 30 home run guy with a plus glove at the hot corner.
Lastly, the Cubs have reinforcements at their disposal if they are in striking distance of the post season to close the gap with a plethora of resources. They have their core players on the verge of being ready to make it to the show. Kids like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, and a host of others that can be called up, or used in a trade package to stock up on seasoned playoff ready mercenaries.
There is actual reason for optimism. Of course it would be best to exercise cautious optimism as it’s probably more likely the Cubs are building towards mediocrity instead of post season contention. Either way there will be reason to tune in and pay attention to this version of the team until contention is expected and not hoped for.