The hype was off the charts; the Cubs hitched their wagon to Joe Maddon & won the Jon Lester sweepstakes, sportsbooks lowered the lovable losers all the way down to 14-1 to in the World Series.
This is the same Chicago franchise that lost 90 or more games three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013 and dropped 89 a season ago. But Cubs fans are eternally optimistic if not quite naïve and with supposedly a loaded star-studded farm system, a few still young very good players and veterans who know how to win, those who were making MLB Picks on futures went a little nutty.
This spring has brought a reality check. The North Siders are up to 18-1 to do something they last accomplished in 1908 (any team can have a bad century or more) and though Maddon’s club is still the fourth choice to win the National League according to betting odds futures (11-1), a more realistic viewpoint is their season win total of 82, which is sixth-best in the senior circuit.
Here is a breakdown of the 2015 Chicago Cubs.
One area that might carry Chicago to greater heights is what appears to be a good starting rotation. With Lester the ace, Jake Arrieta should be their No. 2 after a breakout season in 2014. The Chicago front office made a sage move in bringing back effective veteran Jason Hammel as a free agent and the right-hander wanted to come, which says something about where the organization is headed. The No. 4 slot should be Kyle Hendricks, who despite not having overwhelming ability, the Dartmouth grad has been favorably compared to a young Greg Maddox with his ability to spot pitches and keep the ball down. Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson will fill the last spot.
The Cubs bullpen had a middle of the league ERA of 3.61 (8th in NL) but was in fifth in on-base percentage allowed and on-base and slugging percentage allowed (OPS). The non-starters were an excellent in striking out opposing hitters (3rd in NL), but what numerous MLB baseball handicappers were alarmed by was they also ranked third in the league in walks, which ended being why they had 21 blown saves and were 13th in the NL in save percentage (63.7%).
If Chicago is to contend in the NL Central, the offense has to take a major step forward after averaging 3.8 runs per contest a season ago. The Cubs were equally inept home and away having the same run production no matter where they played.
It is a given Anthony Rizzo will produce, as this budding star learned how to hit left-handed pitching and hit 32 homers and was third in the NL in OPS at .913. He will need fellow still young veteran Starlin Castro to be more the player he was in the second half of last season when his offense came around.
Of course the biggest buzz in the Windy City will be about Kris Bryant, who’s been a long-ball machine in Arizona and if he can provide the necessary power. Maddon’s club will score more runs.
Catcher Miguel Montero has pop in the lumber and if Dexter Fowler and whoever bats second on the lineup card is on base more often, Rizzo and others will have more chances to drive in runs. What young studs Jorge Solar, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara contribute will also be a part of the puzzle with many unknowns.
Best Bet Forecast
The MLB Odds say Chicago will be improved and with our sports picks we agree. Because St. Louis and Pittsburgh are more finished products, we will pencil the Cubs in at third place and make them an Over play with 84 wins.