3 things that have to happen for the Cubs to win in 2023: #2 - Justin Steele builds on his breakout season
The addition of Jameson Taillon and the re-signing of Drew Smyly will do a lot to solidify the Cubs rotation and shore things up behind Marcus Stroman. Kyle Hendricks, at this point, cannot be counted upon and his status for Opening Day is already uncertain. That means Chicago will be looking for Justin Steele to do big things on the mound this year.
Last season, the left-hander emerged as a potential building block on the North Side. From May 31 on, Steele made 15 starts, working to a 2.25 ERA/3.21 FIP while holding opponents to a .235 batting average. In the second half, he was absolutely brilliant, evidenced by a 0.98 ERA in seven outings.
Those 119 innings pitched, by far, marked a career-high - and now, he's tasked will not only continuing to increase his workload, but do so without sacrificing the effectiveness he showed last season. The former fifth-round pick has his work cut out for him and will be a make-or-break piece of the equation for the club.
There are young guys who will factor into the back of the rotation, including Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian and others, but David Ross is going to need Stroman, Steele and Taillon to pull their weight, especially if the Cubs want to avoid another stumble out of the gates like we saw in 2022.
3 things that have to happen for the Cubs to win in 2023: #1 - Someone has to fill the black hole at first base
The second half of the 2021 season was fun, if for no other reason than Frank Schwindel's torrid pace to close out the year after stepping in at first base following the Anthony Rizzo trade. But that feel-good story was just that - a feel-good story - and last year laid bare the inadequacies of the Cubs at the first base position.
Now, they're turning the page and hoping that a breakout prospect from a year ago, Matt Mervis, and a veteran who's fallen on hard times, Eric Hosmer, can form some sort of servicable platoon and round out the infield in 2023.
Again, in an ideal world, Mervis sets the world on fire and takes a run at NL Rookie of the Year honors. But given he has fewer than 800 professional at-bats to his name, I'm not ready to push all my chips in there just yet. Between the two, though, and the occasional Bellinger or Patrick Wisdom start, the Cubs seem to be in a much better position at first than they were this time last year.
And for those of you calling for Jed Hoyer's head over the Hosmer signing - cool it. If the Cubs were paying him what the Padres are, I'd be upset. But it's a league minimum deal with zero risk outside of that $700K - and gives the Cubs depth at a position they've sorely lacked it in recent years.