The Chicago Cubs have gotten off to a very slow start in the 2013-14 season scoring a total of 9 runs in their first 5 games and as a result of that they are 1-4. The buzz around the city of Chicago is all about the excitement of top prospects Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Kris Bryant tearing up minor league pitching and rapidly moving up in the Cubs System. All of these players have fantastic stats but the stats don’t truly matter until these players can be productive big league players. The problem is is that these prospects have shown day in and day out that they are ready to move on to the bigs. Almora, might not be quite there yet but Baez and Bryant have proven they are by dominating minor league pitching and posting good spring training numbers. Cubs GM Theo Epstein won’t pull the trigger on sending these guys up. Bringing these players up will significantly improve the quality of the team but many more changes will need to take place in order for the Cubs to be a team to win games on a consistent basis. Here are 3 other things that need to happen for the cubs to start their path to being successful
1. The cubs need to find a reliable, all-around, everyday 2nd baseman. There are many different solutions the their problem at 2nd but first let’s establish what the problem is. Darwin Barney has proven that he is an excellent fielding 2nd baseman but he is an absolutely horrendous hitter. In 2013, Barney posted an atrocious slash line of .208/.266/.303. Not only does this show that he rarely gets hits or gets on base, but when he does it’s mostly because singles. The Cubs have many possible solutions to this problem. One possible solution is to bring up Javier Baez and play him at short and Starlin Castro at 2nd or vice versa. Doing this might slightly weaken the 2nd base spot defensively, but drastically improve it offensively. With the Cubs pitching being surprisingly good in the first few games of 2014, their offense is a glaring problem and Baez would improve it instantaneously.
Another solution would be to slide Luis Valbuena over to 2nd and make Mike Olt the everyday 3rd baseman. Currently, Olt and Valbuena are splitting time at third which is detrimental to the team because both players have shown offensive value to the cubs. Valbuena had an excellent eye and has proven to be adept at drawing walks. He also has shown solid power as he hit 12 homeruns in 108 games in 2013. Olt has also shown the ability to hit for power as he had 5 homeruns in a very good spring training that earned him a spot on the opening day roster. Either of these solutions would be a much better fit for the Cubs then having Barney as the everyday 2nd baseman.
2. If the Cubs want to be good now, their bullpen needs to be consistent, and deeper. The bullpen has been a problem for the Cubs for a very long time. However in 2014 they might show some signs of improvement. In 2013, reliever Pedro Strop Posted a solid 2.83 ERA in 35 innings with the Cubs. In his time in Chicago, he only gave up 11 earned runs, 5 of which were in one performance. Along with solid numbers Strop possesses a 97 MPH power sinker in addition to his best pitch which is his slider. Strop will be put into a much bigger role this season and if the cubs want to succeed he will need to continue to pitch at a high level. In the offseason the cubs also signed lefty Wesley Wright and Jose Veras who in recent history have proven themselves as reliable bullpen options to their clubs. Players like Brian Schlitter and Hector Rondon will also need to step up for the Cubs. If Strop can continue pitching at a high level and the rest of the pen can consistently pitch in late innings. The Cubs will improve as a team very much.
3. Lastly if the Cubs want to succeed Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro must have bounce back years. There are many things that I could criticize about these 2 players but there a few problems in their games that are in the most need of fixing. In 2013 Rizzo only hit .233 if Rizzo continues to hit in the heart of the cubs line up, a .233 average is unacceptable. If he was hitting 50 homeruns it might be a different story but .233 with only 23 HRs isn’t going to cut it. In order for the Cubs to succeed, Rizzo will either need to hit 10-15 more homers or improve is average by around 30 points.
Starlin Castro is a much bigger problem for the Cubs. Spending most of the season in the 3 spot, Castro posted a weak slash of .245/.284/.347. Castro’s numbers were only a bit better than Barney’s which makes him a big problem. In addition to his poor offensive play, Castro has been an extremely inconsistent defensive SS his entire career. There is optimism for Castro though. In Castro’s first 2 full big league seasons, he was voted to the All-Star Game and hit close to .300 in both of those seasons. Castro has shown in his career that he has the ability to hit, the question. is will he be able to have seasons reminiscent to his all-star years. Only time will tell for Castro but if he can bounce back along with Rizzo the Cubs might actually be a legitimate team.
Although many things need to happen for the Cubs to be a playoff contender, fans should be optimistic for the future. With a farm system fortified with elite prospects throughout and an improving bullpen, the cubs need their “key players” to perform at a higher level. If all of these things can happen, there might be October baseball played at Wrigley sometime in the near future.
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