COMMENTARY | What if the Chicago Cubs actually won the World Series? After 104 years of waiting, I’m not sure Chicago could even handle it at this point. Wrigley Field might just implode, the Chicago River would turn green (even more so), and Cubs fans would be left to wander the streets of Chicago directionless, unsure of which way was up.
Unfettered optimism is the name of the game for every Cubs fan, but if they were being brutally honest, I’m sure very few could even image the day when “next year” finally arrives.
The Cubs might not yet be ready to contend for a World Series title — fans still have a couple more years to consult their psychologists to learn how to cope with their team’s impending success — but 2013 does promise to bring a few more cheers to the corner of Clark and Addison than the Cubs’ 101-loss season of 2012.
Here are five bold predictions for the Chicago Cubs this season:
The Cubs Will Finish Above .500
The one-year turnaround is not unprecedented. Just one year after finishing 65-97, the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks won 100 games. Their 35-game upswing proved the cellar is not a place in which teams must setup permanent residence — meaning the Cubs should not feel compelled to pick out curtains or have their mail forwarded just yet. The biggest feather in the cap of a potential Cubs’ turnaround is the fact that — by and large — the NL Central has gotten worse.
Rafael Furcal is still suffering from an elbow ligament injury he sustained at the end of last season, and is not even ready for ‘real games’ yet. Chris Carpenter’s 2013 season is likely over before it even began, the St. Louis Cardinals lost Lance Berkman in free agency, and Kyle Lohse still remains unsigned.
The Milwaukee Brewers don’t fare much better. First and foremost, what is going to happen with Ryan Braun? With his name in and out of headlines with the phrase “Performance Enhancing Drugs” circling like a storm cloud, how likely is it Braun will be in uniform all season? The Brew Crew will also have to rely on a lot of young arms after trading Zack Greinke and letting Shaun Marcum, Manny Parra and Kameron Loe leave in free agency — this from a staff that ranked 4th worst in the National League last season.
As for the Buccos, Pittsburgh lost key members from their No. 13 ranked pitching staff, including their 36-save closer, Joel Hanrahan, as well as Kevin Correia’s 12 wins from their starting rotation. Furthermore, the exodus of the Houston Astros from the NL Central may hurt no team more than the Pittsburgh Pirates. After going 12-5 against Houston in 2012, the Pirates had a 67-78 record against the rest of Major League Baseball.
The Cincinnati Reds may run away and hide with the division this year, but with the Cubs bolstering their starting pitching staff, they should inch much closer to the other three teams in the division.
Jeff Samardzija Will Win 20 Games
Don’t be fooled by his 9-13 record last season, Jeff Samardzija proved he can be a dominant major league pitcher. Much like the Washington Nationals’ handling of Stephen Strasberg, the Cubs shut Samardzija down after just 174.2 innings in 2012. Even with the abbreviated season, Samardzija still struck out 180 batters to rank 14th in the National League. What turned out to be a little surprising, regarding Samardzija’s move to the starting rotation, was that his fastball actually got better.
While he has always been lauded for his speed, common sense says that players switching from the bullpen to the rotation have to ease off the gas in order to throw the increased number of innings. However, Samardzija actually got stronger in the rotation, with an average fastball velocity of 95.1 mph, which was second among starters behind only the Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price.
And while one of the biggest concerns with Samardzija’s move out of the pen was his control issues, his total walks went from 50 in 2011 to just 56 in 2012, despite the fact he threw roughly twice as many innings.
This increased control could have a lot to do with the first-strike ability Samardzija showed last season. According to FanGraphs, Samardzija threw 60.2 percent of his initial offerings for strikes. With Samardzija now ready for a full-season workload in 2013, the Cubs expect big things from their would-be ace.
Matt Garza, David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano Will Be Traded
As much as it hurts to say a team is playing for next year before this year even begins, Cubs fans should be excited to know that the future has almost arrived. Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Junior Lake, Brett Jackson and Albert Almora are just waiting to become the next group of Cubs’ greats. Sure, the Cubs are not just going to lie down and phone-in the 2013 season, but when that trade deadline approaches, fans better believe Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be doing everything they can to move anything that isn’t nailed down.
David DeJesus has been a solid player for the Cubs, but as a versatile veteran with a one-year, $4.25 million contract, he will be a valued commodity for contenders after the break. The same too can be said for Matt Garza who does not necessarily factor into Chicago’s long-term plans. His one-year deal is significantly higher, at $10.25 million, but the deep-pocketed teams looking to bolster a staff for the stretch run will absolutely be looking to him as a good one-year rental.
Garza and DeJesus moving seems to be as much of a sure thing as any deal five months in the future can be; the real magic trick will be getting Alfonso Soriano to agree to be dealt. The Cubs had an agreement in place last season to move the seven-time All-Star to the San Francisco Giants, but Sori used his no trade clause to veto the deal.
Soriano staying wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Cubs, as he did hit 32 home runs and knocked in 108 RBIs last year, it’s just the $18 million owed to him in 2013 and again in 2014 that the Cubs would love to clear off of the books. At 37-years-old, Soriano may start to see his last chance to win looming on the horizon.
The Cubs Will Sweep the White Sox
Thanks to the Houston Astros changing addresses for the 2013 season, Major League Baseball will implement year-round interleague play. While this will bring the Texas Rangers to Wrigley Field for games April 16-18, it also means that Chicago’s Cross-town Classic will be shortened.
Instead of playing six games against the Pale Hose from the South Side, the Cubs and Chicago White Sox will only play four games (2 home, 2 away). The first two games will happen at the very end of a long eight-game home stand for the White Sox, and then they immediately head over to Wrigley Field for two games before they have to travel to the West Coast to play the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners in back-to-back series.
Furthermore, game No. 3 in the cross-town series will be played as a day game after a night game, which is not something the White Sox are very familiar with, but is something the Cubs face continually throughout the season – advantage Cubs.
Brett Jackson Will Earn the Center Field Job
One of the reasons Theo Epstein will feel comfortable moving David DeJesus will be due to the emergence of Brett Jackson. While Jackson’s first foray into the majors last season did not paint him as the Cubs’ long-term solution, fans need to learn a little patience.
Last season, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper ruined people’s expectations for how fast a minor league player is supposed to transition into big-league form. But the same fans who now cheer Anthony Rizzo as the Cubs’ savior should know that it took him a couple of different tries before he finally established himself.
After looking overmatched, and striking out in 59 of his 120 major league at-bats in 2012, Jackson has rededicated himself to improving over the winter. Reports say that the Cubs have been very impressed with Jackson’s new, shorter swing, and that he is starting to look more like the player they envisioned him to be. While the initial plan is for Jackson to start the season in AAA, he will get another shot to cement his name on the Cubs’ permanent roster.