Thursday, December 11, 2014

11 Things That Could Go Wrong For The 2015 Chicago Cubs

Guys, for the first time in a while, I am excited about a Chicago Cubs team. Like, I'm super pumped. Speaking of pumped, I need to pump the brakes on my excitement. And when looking at the Cubs, it is really not that hard to find places where they could disappoint. This team is full of question marks, so there is a lot that can go wrong. I am going to go through the team to find the 11 things that could go wrong this year from most likely to least likely.

1. Javier Baez
Baez seems as he will be getting plenty of playing time this season, but he hit .169 last year. He is going to strike out a lot, and although he has been able to adjust to the minor league levels, he is facing a different beast when it comes to major league pitching. If he can't find a way to make more contact, he could be on a plane back to Iowa by May, and as someone who grew up in Iowa, that is not a desirable outcome.

2. The Bullpen
The bullpen has been really bad these last few years. I think they have pieces that have potential to work out, because bullpens are a fickle beast. But with that fickality (totally made up word), they could just as easily fail again this season. They don't need a great bullpen, but if it isn't at least average, they are facing a steep climb to make the playoffs.

3. The Catching Situation
The Cubs acquired Miguel Montero to help shore up the catching situation along with Welington Castillo. Montero put up a good three year stretch, but that stretch ended in 2012. The past two seasons, he has struggled at the plate in what is a good hitter's park in Arizona. He did rate as a good pitch framer, but although I see value in pitch framing, I do think the value may be exaggerated. With Castillo and Montero, are the Cubs guaranteeing anything beyond a replacement level duo?

4. Kris Bryant
Kris Bryant is the sexiest prospect in the minors right now. Velocity is sexy, tools are sexy, but there is nothing sexier than home runs, and Bryant brings those in abundance. But he does struggle with contact, and he has yet to get a single hit in the major leagues, so until someone does it at the top level, there will always be question marks. There have been plenty of top prospects who failed to live up to the hype. Many Cubs fans seem to already be penciling him in for 30 home runs but counting on that production could leave them with a bitter taste in their mouth as the rookie struggles to adjust.

5. The Outfield
The outfield currently consists of Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, and Chris Coghlan. That isn't going to inspire a ton of fear in opponents. Coghlan had a bounce back year after struggling for a few years after winning Rookie of the Year in 2009. Although he could continue that positive momentum, he is turning 30 this season, so he seems like a pretty decent bet for regression.

Alcantara showed flashes during his time in the majors, but he never found the hitting groove that had Cubs fans excited about him while he was in the minors. He's not an elite prospect, so his ceiling is only an above average regular, but that's his ceiling, which means it is pretty likely that he falls well short of that during his first full season in the majors.

Jorge Soler is definitely the guy to be most excited about as he came up at the end of last season and acclimated himself incredibly well. Still, it was a very small sample size, and it would be foolhardy to be confident that he could repeat that performance. Soler could follow the Gregory Polanco path of getting off to a hot start but then struggling for months.

In summary, there isn't a single guarantee that any outfielder on the Cubs roster can even provide average value.

6. The Starting Rotation Outside of Jon Lester
Cubs fans feel as if the starting rotation is a strength, as it performed very well last year. It could be, but it is not hard to imagine it being a weakness of the team as well. Jake Arrieta had a breakout year, but sometimes these breakouts turn out to be just flashes of greatness, and it seems as though the best case scenario is a repeat of his performance, which leaves a whole lot of room for regression.

The Cubs also brought back Jason Hammel who excelled for them, but quickly imploded after being sent to Oakland. Depending on Hammel going back to that first half glory instead of the second half gory that he had in Oakland may prove to be a poor decision.

Are you buying Kyle Hendricks? No offense to Hendricks, but his season seems a tad unsustainable for future years.

And that is followed up by Travis Wood who fell off a cliff after having a great year in 2013 (Fun fact: I saw him hit a home run in San Francisco that year). His true talent level is probably somewhere between his performances from the past two years, but that may only be good enough to be a fourth starter.

The Cubs starting rotation has been one of the few bright spots from these past few years, but expecting it to continue that way is far from a guarantee.

7. Starlin Castro
After falling off a cliff in 2013, Castro bounced back to his previously established level of play in 2014. He seems to have settled at the level of good, not great, shortstop. But the guy has never been known for his intangibles, so it wouldn't be that shocking if he fell back this season.

8. Jon Lester
Lester is the ultimate prize of this free agency period, so the Cubs are counting on him to supply great performance and lead the pitching staff. We are just a couple years removed from a 4.82 ERA from Lester. Although I think that will continue to be an outlier, what if he is only a #3 starter and not a 1 or 2? That's not that hard to imagine, and things are only going to go downhill as he ages. There's a decent chance that he supplies a 3.50 ERA instead of a 2.50 ERA. That's good, but it might not be good enough to lead the Cubs to the playoffs.

9. Anthony Rizzo
He could fall back to a .233 average? I mean, that is a possibility. But yeah, I'm definitely to the stages of grasping for straws at this point.

10. Joe Maddon
Joe Maddon has never won outside of Tampa Bay. Does he have what it takes to succeed or will the bright lights of the Windy City overwhelm him into managing like Dusty Baker? Okay, it will be tough to come up with one more ridiculous than that.

11. The Cubs Are Cursed
But yes, this one is more ridiculous.

So there you have it, 11 things that could ruin the Chicago Cubs 2015 season. Before I went through all these things, my prediction was 162-0 while sweeping through the World Series, but I have to temper my expectations. After going through all of these potential issues, it is clear I was a tad too optimistic, so 150-12 while only winning the World Series in 5 games. I have to stay realistic; I hope you can too.

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