There was once a time when Red Sox fans asked the heavens if their team would ever win another World Series title. In the past ten years, that question has been answered on three occasions. The Chicago Cubs is a whole different issue. Perhaps history would be different had Steve Bartman not reached over the railing to steal the popup from outfielder Moises Alou. Since the infamous incident, the Cubs have not won a playoff game, were swept in both 2007 and 2008, and will not be playing in October for many more seasons.
Former college football start Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs Opening Day starter. He posted a 4.34 ERA with an 8-13 record in 2013. While he averaged a strikeout per inning, his 78 walks and 25 homers are areas he needs to improve. If he can keep the ball low and get hitters to chase his hard slider, he will be more effective. Samardzija has been the subject of trade rumors for years and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein will not go another full season if he does not see positive strides. If Samardzija struggles, he will be shipped out of Wrigley by the trade deadline. Travis Wood was the team’s best pitcher leading with a 3.11 ERA. He record was poor due to a lack of run support. He should see his wins climb if he is just as effective this year. Edwin Jackson led the Majors with 18 losses, however, he is a solid pitcher. He’s thrown at least 175 innings the past six seasons. It was his first year at Wrigley and the friendly confines got the best of him. He should have a better year.
The Cubs offense is built around Anthony Rizzo. The first baseman was a promising star after his call-up in 2012, hitting 15 homers with 48 RBIs in only 337 at-bats. In his first full season, his batting average slipped to .233. The lanky lefty could be the second coming of former Cubs great Mark Grace but needs to shorten his swing for more contact. If Rizzo can up his average, his power numbers will increase in succession. He should hit for 30 homers and 100 RBIs this year but if his batting hovers around .240, the Cubs would have been better off retaining Carlos Pena. Nate Schierholtz was a pleasant surprise posting career-highs with 21 homers and 68 RBIs. He should have another solid year as the catalyst in the outfield. The face of the franchise is Starlin Castro. The word ‘star’ is built in his name yet Castro has to shake off a disappointing year that saw him get benched often. After two seasons of 3.0+ WARs, he dipped into the negative in 2013. His slugging percentage dropped a full .100 points and he stole only nine bases. Castro has the talent to be better than Hanley Ramirez but it is up to manager Rick Renteria to get the full potential out of his players. If the star shortstop is ready and willing, he could have a breakout season in 2014.
While certain players might reach individual highs in stats, it will not be enough to make SportsCenter’s top highlights. Samardzija is very talented but he has yet to put together a progressive season. Castro needs to demonstrate maturity and lead by example. As the Cubs fall out of contention during the first week of the season, expect there to be an open door of players running in and out of the 25-person roster. The Cubs will play into their moniker as the loveable loser and if they can avoid triple-digit losses, the season will be considered a success. The more they lose, the more fans ask if they ever will win another championship.
All stats are courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/.