Chicago Cubs preview: Expect the worst, hope for the best


Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stands by the batting cage.
Anthony Rizzo gives Chicago Cubs fans a reason to smile. (Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune)

Coming off their first 100-loss season since the 1960s, the Chicago Cubs could not afford to stand still in the offseason, and they didn’t. They addressed several areas of need by acquiring starting pitching, a closer and assorted outfield help. The second year of Theo Epstein’s tenure will bring increased pressure for the team’s rebuilding process to bear fruit, from a fan base that’s waited entirely too long for a champion already.

Chicago Cubs lineup

The emergence of Anthony Rizzo at first base, along with the established infield duo of Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, form the core of the Chicago Cubs lineup for the future. But third base is a weak spot, as Ian Stewart was re-signed in the offseason, but may not be healthy in time for opening day. Alfonso Soriano returns in left and will likely get traded at some point this season, David DeJesus looks to be the center fielder, and left field will be split between the newly acquired pair of Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz.  Welington Castillo looks to be the Chicago Cubs’ starting catcher.

Chicago Cubs rotation

Matt Garza will be the ace of the staff when he’s healthy, but he hasn’t yet pitched this spring. Jeff Samardzija looks to be the number-two starter, with the newly acquired Edwin Jackson in the number-three spot. Then things get interesting, as Scott Baker and/or Feldman could round out the rotation. Travis Wood is having a great spring, and he may get some consideration, as well.

Chicago Cubs opening day lineup

  1. DeJesus, CF
  2. Castro, SS
  3. Rizzo, 1B
  4. Soriano, LF
  5. Hairston, RF
  6. Barney, 2B
  7. Castillo, C
  8. Valbuena, 3B
  9. Samardzija, P

Chicago Cubs prospect watch

Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson, and Dave Sappelt are all in the mix, but the Chicago Cubs’ big hopes are riding on the trio of Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Javier Baez. The future arrives whenever any of them do.

Prediction

The Chicago Cubs will struggle out of the gate, remain well under .500 at the All-Star break and become sellers again at the trade deadline, just as they were last year. They’ll end up at 68-94, fifth in the NL Central (which means last this year, since Houston has left for the American League).

This year’s Cubs team won’t look like very much, and the improvement in the wins column from 2012 will be minimal. It’s wait till next year, all over again.

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