By Shawn Gakhal
Caption: The Chicago Cubs will also celebrate the 100th year anniversary of Wrigley Field this year.
PHOTO CREDITS: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Coming off a last place finish in the NL Central with a record of 66-96 this past year, the Chicago Cubs figure to not do that much better in 2014.
Maybe the biggest obstacle in the Cubs’ quest to become a legit contender is the NL Central division that they are in, which has the chance of having three potential playoff teams in the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates this year.
Along with the all-around talent on those teams comes the vaunted superstars.
The Reds have an All Star, on-base-percentage monster in first baseman Joey Votto. And the Pirates just happen to have the reigning NL MVP in center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whom the Cubs will face opening day on March 31 in Pittsburgh. Even the Brewers have Ryan Braun, who despite his admissions to PEDs, is a terrific hitter and is poised for revenge.
Which brings the spotlight to the Cubs, as they have no real star power on the team. Their two promising stars in shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo struggled last year, hitting BAs of .245 and .233, respectively. Though, it is worth mentioning that Rizzo possessed true, middle-of-the-lineup power as he hit 23 HRs and drove in more than 80 RBIs.
It’s imperative that both Castro and Rizzo improve, in order for the club to start gaining on their rivals.
Also, the pitching rotation leaves much to be desired. Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs’ perceived ace, is slated as the opening day starter, and that is a move that, frankly, doesn’t inspire much confidence since he had a 4.34 ERA in 2013. One of the few bright spots was the left-handed pitcher revelation in Travis Wood, who performed highly on a team that was tragic last year with a 3.11 ERA and an All Star to boot.
Also, figuring into this is the unexpected hiring of Rick Renteria, the new manager for the Cubs. Renteria — a baseball lifer — has never managed the game, and the jury is still out on whether or not he can effectively manage the nuances of the MLB game, along with the handling of his young players.
Perhaps his greatest job will be to coach the budding prospects — Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez — in the Cubs farm system. All three have been rumored to make the leap to majors in 2014, especially Baez, who is the highest-ranking Cubs prospect in their farm system.
The farm system has been a point of order for Cubs President Theo Epstein since he came to the team a few years ago. After all, he made his fame drafting such highly touted prospects like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury. The hope is that he can do the same for the Cubs.
But what is it that they say about prospects?
If you’re waiting on prospects, you might be waiting for forever.
But if there is a sliver of hope in all of this for Cub fans to take solace in, it is, without a doubt, the farm system.
It was recently ranked by the respected website Baseball Prospectus as the second best farm system in all of baseball, just behind the Minnesota Twins. Even ESPN’s MLB analyst Keith Law had high praises for the youth movement happening in the Cubs organization, as he charted the Cubs at fourth best.
Hope springs eternal. And for the Cubs, hope might just be all that they have.