The Chicago Cubs were in dire need for a big change, as they hit rock bottom in 2011.
The Cubs couldn’t score runs, had the most errors in baseball with 134 in total and finished the season 71-91. Everything bad that happened did and looking at the bigger picture maybe this was the best thing that could have happened in Chicago because ownership stopped trying to fix things on the field and realized things needed to be changed starting with the front-office structure.
So, is this the season that the Cubs get back on track or will things crash and burn again in Wrigley Field?
Let’s take a peak….
The Cubs ownership realized that they needed to shake this club and remold it from the top. And that is what they did when they hired former Red Sox’s GM Theo Epstein to be the team’s president of baseball operations and if anyone in baseball can fix a broken team it is Epstein. Epstein brought over Jed Hoyar to serve as the team’s GM, as like Epstein is an analytical-minded thinker and he knows the importance of scouting. Hoyar did a tremendous job revamping the Padres farm system and should thrive in Chicago.
Epstein also hired Dale Sveum to be the team’s skipper. Sveum is the perfect fit for a team that needs to get back to the fundamentals, while maintaining a positive and respectful atmosphere. Word on the street is that Sveum is already making a huge difference down in Spring Training camp, and that must music to Cubs fans ears.
In the grand scheme of things, one-way to look at 2012 is that things couldn’t get any worse than 2011.
The starting rotation could have really benefited from adding a top of the rotation starter but that did not happen during the off-season. In 2011 the group posted a 4.33 ERA, which ranked 14th overall in the NL, but the scariest number is the 580 walks allowed, as that was the most across the majors. They did get rid of clubhouse virus Carlos Zambrano by trading him to the Marlins for right-handed Chris Volstad. That should being some relief but financially the Cubs are paying $15 million of the $18 million still owed to Big Z in 2012. Volstad was a promising first-round draft pick but has not lived up to expectations Can the Cubs help Volstad get back to his promising form after going 5-13, with a 4.89 ERA in 2011? Who knows but Volstad is only 25-years old so at least time is on their side.
The Cubs lost All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez to free agency as the Brewers picked him up this off-season. In 2011 Ramirez posted a .306 batting average, with 35 doubles, 26 homers, 93 RBIs and drew 43 walks, which earned him his first Silver Slugger award. Ramirez’s production will leave a hole and the Cubs are taking a risk banking that newly acquired Ian Stewart can fill it. With the Rockies, Stewart has displayed true talent but not since 2010. This move will be the first example of how good this Cubs new regime is to the fans, but it is a risky one.
PLAYER(s)/GAME-CHANGERS TO WATCH:
1) Carlos Marmol has served as the Cubs closer for the past two seasons, but he is too much Jekyll and Hyde and needs to display more consistency in 2012. In 2011, Marmol made 34 saves in 44 opportunities and the 10 blown saves were the ranked the worst in baseball. Between 2010 and 2011, Marmol’s ERA jumped from a 2.55 to a 4.02 and that is not good. Marmol has the stuff to dominate, but he has really struggled with his control. The Cubs are first having him drop his cutter, which the think might be key and get him to focus on his fastball. The Cubs, like every other team in baseball, need a consistent closer to hand the ball too in the ninth. Marmol has to be that guy.
2) The Cubs traded for Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart in the off-season with the hopes that the 26-year old can bring some pop as a lefty bat in the line-up. In 2011, Stewart’s batting average dropped from .256 to .156 and his home-runs went from 18 to 0, which got him demoted to Triple-A but he was bothered by a wrist injury for most of the season. With a healthy wrist, a new atmosphere and uniform they Cubs are looking for Stewart to thrive in Wrigley Field. The reality is the Cubs need him to put up some big numbers at the plate.
2) Starlin Castro is one of the best shortstops in baseball. He is only 22-years old and his potential is enthralling. Castro should be in the three-hole behind Stewart and look for his power to accelerate in 2012. Last season, Castro posted a .307 batting average, and led the league in hits with 207 in total. He hit 36 doubles, nine triples, 10 home-runs and stole 22 bases, which got him an All-Star nod and finished 23rd in the NL MVP voting. Castro has worked all off-season on his basic tools and overall focus to improve his defense.
It has been 103-years since the Cubs won a World Series, and ending that drought is now in the foreseeable future.
The last thing Cubs fans want to hear is that this is a rebuilding year, but I think it is the only way to look at 2012. Understandably Cubs fans are frustrated, angry and disappointed but what was done this off-season is the most positive move ownership has made. The overall outlook is good and fans should try to stay optimistic for a little longer. Look for the overall attitude of the club to be vastly different and that should serve as evidence that things are only going to get better in Chicago.
The Cubs should aim to finish in third place in 2012, ahead of the Pirates and Astros. But in all honesty, look to 2014 as the year when the Cubs will be serious playoff contenders. Finishing with 80 wins would be a fair and reachable goal.
- Dale Sveum billboard ad campaign makes new Cubs manager ‘not comfortable’ (sports.yahoo.com)
- Red Sox to get Carpenter from Cubs as compensation for Epstein (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Chicago Cubs looking for Kerry Wood’s backup – MLB News (blogs.bettor.com)
- CUBS WIN? Game Ads Grow Up, Look to Reach New Base (newsarama.com)
- Cubs Win (brianwilliamsen.wordpress.com)
- The 2012 Chicago Cubs: Power Outage (rantsports.com)
- Cubs Tweets (bullpenbrian.com)
- “Balls.” said the Queen, “If I had two I’d be…..” (hoosierbloggers.wordpress.com)