The Opening Day victory on Monday was certainly a step in the right direction for 2013. The Cubs front office has mentioned on more than one occasion this off season that they expect winning baseball this year. After a 101 loss 2012 campaign, that will be quite the feat.
Cubs fans should set their expectations for a more reasonable goal. That would be to bring the loss total down under 90 games, with the ultimate goal of being a honest playoff and World Series contender by 2015. Shaving off 12 or more losses from last season does not sound like too difficult a task at first. But when you begin to dig into some of the changes from 2o12, converting losses from last season to wins in 2013 is not as easy as it sounds.
The biggest change is the fact that the Houston Astros are no longer in the NL Central. Yes they may have pulled a fast one on the high powered Rangers on Opening Night, but Yu Darvish just exposed that Astros line up earlier tonight. While the Astros game to game performances will certainly fall some where in the middle of their first two games, their outlook for this season is in worse shape than the Cubs.
This affects the Cubs because they will not be able to pick on the Astros for 18 games this season, approximately the number of games MLB teams play against each of their division rivals. Based on the 2012 NL Central standings, this year’s Cubs will be battling the Pirates in the race to avoid the bottom of the Central. Pittsburgh finished last year just four games under .500, however. To make up for the departure of the Astros, the Cubs would need to take advantage of their single series match ups with other projected bottom feeder clubs such as the Marlins and Twins.
Then you need to turn your attention to the 2013 Cubs roster. While the North Siders will have a full season of Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs rotation will go a full season without Ryan Dempster, the former staff ace that was dealt away last July and accelerated the path to a 100 loss season. Matt Garza’s start to the season on the DL puts him on pace to match his production in 2012, which leaves Jeff Samardzija to out do his break out season from a year ago (not unreasonable) and have new Cub Edwin Jackson try to fill Dempster’s shoes. The rest of the rotation has the task of being an improvement over a collection that included Paul Maholm and Chris Volstad. That should not be a difficult task except that Scott Feldman has looked terrible this Spring.
The Cubs third base situation is basically a wash from 2012, but the Cubs do have an improved outfield as well as Welington Castillo representing some hope of being an upgrade of the bipolar (offensively) Geo Soto from year to year. However it remains to be seen if Alfonso Soriano can come anywhere near the comeback season of 30 homers and 100 RBI.
Assuming Shawn Camp can replicate his 2012 season (after all he was a waiver wire pick up a year ago), the Cubs bullpen is actually better on paper than it was last year. There is the addition of Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa and the solid Spring by Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon add depth to the pen. Unless closer Carlos Marmol bombs all year, the Cubs pen is in position to be a strength. Even if Marmol is, well Marmol, the quick hook on Opening Day by manager Dale Sveum shows that the Cubs will not hesitate to reassign the enigmatic to a lesser pen role or even cut him from the roster late in the season.
Unfortunately you also have to factor in the possible fire sale in July when the Cubs will have considerably fallen off the playoff race pace. The trading away of veterans such as Soriano, David DeJesus, and Garza could have the same impact as the dealing of Soto, Dempster, Maholm, and Reed Johnson had last summer.
After all of that, look for the Cubs to finish in the area of a 70-92 record, good for last place in the NL Central. Even a nine game improvement from 2012 is a step in the right direction after considering all of the above. I will gladly eat crow and have these Cubs prove me wrong, but as I have said for the past year now, keep your eyes on the big picture: 2015. Feel free to drop some comments and win loss projections you have for our 2013 Cubs.