Can The Cubs Contend For Playoff Spot in 2015?
Cubs’ president Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago in 2011 with a clear blueprint on how he wanted to build the Cubs from the ground up.
The man who led the Boston Red Sox to world series titles in 2004 and 2007 may just be ahead of schedule with the Cubs. Epstein’s off-season moves combined with having the best farm system in baseball give the Cubs one of the brightest futures in baseball, besides it can’t really get much worse.
The Cubs may not be ready just yet for the world series run the city has been praying for over the last hundred years, but winning the division is a pretty good place to start. It won’t be easy with a 90-win St. Louis team from year ago leading the division. So can the Cubs go from last to first in a year? It’s possible, but more likely the Cubs will end up a wild card team, which should be considered a huge success. Here are several reasons why the Cubs can contend for the NL Central this upcoming season.
An Elite Manager
The addition of manager Joe Maddon was just one of several offseason moves by the team. Maddon has won 90 games five times and was named AL Manager of the Year twice despite being in one of the game’s toughest divisions, the AL East, even when his team also had the lowest payroll in the division. Maddon is one of the most intelligent managers in baseball. The combination of Maddon and Epstein could be one of the best manager/front-office tandems in baseball. This team has been without an elite manager since the Lou Piniella era ended in 2010.
New Found Depth at The Mound
Pitching was a struggle last season after the Cubs traded away Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. That issue was quickly addressed this offseason when the team signed two-time world series champion Jon Lester to a long-term contract. Lester brings plenty of experience to a relatively young rotation. The lefty pitcher will certainly be the number one option for the cubs pitching rotation this upcoming season. The Cubs were not done there, as they signed Jason Hammel back to the team after trading him to Oakland midway through the 2014 season. Hammel had an ERA of 2.98 with the Cubs last season before he was traded to Oakland. The youngster Kyle Hendricks, 25, had an impressive showing last season for the team going 7-2 as a starter with a 2.46 ERA. The depth at the back end of the rotation should allow Chicago to have a formidable starting five coming out of spring training.
A Young But Powerful Lineup
At just 25-years-old Anthony Rizzo has become one of the top sluggers in the MLB, Rizzo was second in the league last season in homeruns. Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara both struggled in their rookie seasons, but saw significant playing time as rookies and need them to make an impact this season. The Cubs will also need the number one rated prospect by ESPN, Kris Bryant, to step up. The 23-year-old third baseman is a slugger, and reminds me of Aramis Ramirez in his prime. If Bryant can mature throughout the season he and Rizzo will be a slugging machine. Also noteworthy is that the Cubs brought in Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant for 2015, keep an eye on if he can help develop Bryant as a mature hitter. Jorge Soler saw time in the majors at the end of last season. The 23-year-old right fielder put up a batting average of .292 and five home runs in just 24 games as a major league player, not great numbers, but for a player this young the sky is the limit. The leadoff spot was a big problem a year ago, but the addition of center fielder Dexter Fowler and his career .366 OBP should help fill that hole.
The Cubs have the best farm system in baseball and remarkable financial flexibility. They have potential all-stars everywhere. The Cubbies also ended the 2014 season with a winning record in the months of August and September. The biggest drawback for the 2015 season is that they are still one of the top 10 youngest teams in baseball. Are they going to win the NL Central? Probably not, but it’s possible. Depending on how quickly the young prospects can develop, the Cubs can certainly make a wild card run in 2015. By the way, I predict the Cubs will win the world series in 2017.