Over the course of 30 days (or so) I will be previewing all 30 MLB teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2015 season. This post is previewing the Chicago Cubs.
The 2015 season looks to be an exciting one for the Cubs after making many changes to the team in the offseason, beginning with new manager Joe Maddon. The biggest additions among players include SP Jon Lester, C Miguel Montero and OF Dexter Fowler. Those acquisitions, combined with some good young hitters, have given the Cubs higher expectations than they’ve had in a long time.
Considering last year was the Cubs’ fifth consecutive fifth-place finish in the National League Central, it’s not surprising that their stats weren’t great, but the offense was better than the defense. While the team was tied for the third-worst batting average in the NL and its OPS was in the bottom half of the league, the team did have the second-most home runs, thanks to 32 from 1B Anthony Rizzo. At 3.91, the team’s ERA was the third worst in the NL, though reliever-turned-starter Jake Arrieta and rookie SP Kyle Hendricks did show some promise in the rotation, posting ERAs around 2.50.
The signing of Lester, who had a 2.46 ERA last year for the Red Sox and A’s, provides a veteran presence at the top of the rotation who not only throws a lot of innings — at least 191 each season since 2008 — but gives you production in those innings. If guys like Arrieta and Hendricks can have comparable performances to what they did last year, it’ll make for a formidable rotation for the Cubs. With 2B Javier Baez expected to play the full season in the majors, he should give the team an offensive boost at the position over Darwin Barney, who played there last year. He’s a career .278 hitter in the minors, though he hit just .169 in 214 MLB at-bats last year. Then there’s 3B Kris Bryant, probably the top prospect in the Cubs’ organization, who hit .325 in the minors last year but has yet to record an at-bat in the majors. He’s likely going to start the season in the minors but should be called up at some point during the season. When he is, that should add another productive young bat to the roster.
With Lester and the young prospects joining the roster this season, I think it’s safe to say the Cubs won’t finish in fifth place again in 2015. It should be a tough race in the NL Central with the Cardinals perennial contenders and the Pirates fielding a good team in recent seasons, and the Cubs should be right in the race atop the division. The question is if they have enough to get over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time since 2008. We won’t talk about how long it’s been since they last won the World Series.