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

Photo By: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

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.

Photo By: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

 

Final Verdict

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.

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  • Your article’s “spin” is fun to read and think about but a more conservative approach would be that the Cubs look like they are heading in the right direction after several seasons of failures at many levels. I agree that the Cubs potential young stars look good on paper. There are many facets to a contending team as well as reasons teams find ways to lose. I believe that the Cubs will improve in 2015. Spring training is when most writers dream of the playoffs and world series. Cub fans have been hearing “wait till next year forever.” Has the time come for the Cubs in 2015? Are they better than the Cardinals, Pirates, Reds? Even to make a wild card run they have to be better than those clubs. What has the Cubs improved on for the coming season? They acquired two players with OBP above .350. The Cubs were near the bottom of the majors last year in OBP and runners on base. They were near the bottom in runners on base. The Cubs led the entire major leagues in strikeouts. Ott and Baez would have both broken the major league strikeout record if they had played the entire season. Baez struck-out 41% of the time and Ott struck-out 38% of the time. The Cubs were 4th overall in home runs but led the majors in solo HRs. Opposing pitchers don’t mind solo HR’s as they rarely win the games for a team that struggles with getting runners on base. Soler, Coghlan, Rizzo and Castro had good a season last year. All of the rest of the young Cub hitters showed no consistency at the plate. Many of them couldn’t bat their weight. Playoff teams have good starting pitching, good relief pitching and a consistent closer. The pitching does look better on paper with the addition of Lester and a fairly good season for Arieta and Hendricks. Hammel is a question mark as he was not effective after leaving the Cubs last year. The relief pitching is a question mark? It could be good or bad? Then there is Bryant. Off the chart good in the minors. He carries himself much like David Wright of the Mets. Will his success continue with the Cubs? Maybe yes, Maybe No. Lastly the Cubs need to figure out how to win. I would like to see some fire in the club house from the players. Good teams have good chemistry and always go into a game knowing and expecting to win. I think the Cubs hoped they would win are are ok if they do not. That has to change. The 2015 season should be interesting and who knows if the teams ahead of them stumble maybe the Cubs can contend. I have been following them since 1962.

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