Given that the 2011 season gets underway tomorrow for a dozen teams, I wanted to put down my thoughts on what the season might hold for the Cubs and their fans. I go into every season with high hopes, but I don't go into every season with high expectations. And this season is one of the ones without very high expectations. I think I am a little more pessimistic than many Cubs fans about this season.
I just don't think we have a real contender this season. At least not a World Series contender. I see us in the 75-85 win range. They won 75 last year, so that is a little bit of an improvement. And I think the personnel moves from the offseason basically justify that type of small improvement. We have three meaningful changes in our regular rotation - Carlos Pena takes Derrek Lee's spot, Matt Garza takes Ted Lilly's spot, and Kerry Wood is a quality addition in the bullpen. We also have Mike Quade taking the place of Lou Piniella as manager if you want to consider that. To me, all of these combined add up to a small improvement, not a big one. In order to make a bigger leap, we need better performances from players we had last year. Starlin Castro seems like the only candidate is this area (maybe Cashner?). And I'll be hopeful there, but second year players are just as likely to slip a little as they are to jump a little.
One thing that does give me a fair amount of hope is that we play in the NL Central, which has three decent teams in the Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers. But none of those teams are serious World Series contenders either, at least in my eyes. So if we can come in at the top end of our range, we may be in the race in the Central. And who knows what we might be able to pick up at the trade deadline if that is the case.
As far as individual performances, I expect Carlos Marmol to represent the Cubs on the All Star team. I don't believe anyone else is a likely All Star, but Zambrano, Garza, Dempster, Castro, and Soto have a chance to play at a level that will get them to Arizona. Let's all root for us to have multiple All Stars for the first time since 2008!
I'm going to go a bit against the grain and say that I don't think that Carlos Zambrano will make as big of a comeback as many think he will. I don't believe he will be as bad as he was in the first half of 2010, but he won't be as good as was in the second half either. I'll say 15-10 with an ERA in the 3.30 range.
One player I am especially interested in seeing how he performs this season is Geovany Soto. He had the good rookie season, then had a poor second season. But he had a better season last year than many realize. I think he has a chance to have a very good season and establish himself as one of the best catchers in the league. If he does, that will be one of the catalysts that puts us in the NL Central race.
Below are some rough predictions for our presumed contributors this season. I'll revisit this at the end of the season, see how I did. Let's go Cubbies!
Carlos Pena - .225, 18 HR, 75 RBI
Blake Dewitt - .270, 5 HR, 70 RBI
Starlin Castro - .310, 10 HR, 80 RBI
Aramis Ramirez - .280, 28 HR, 95 RBI
Alfonso Soriano - .260, 25 HR, 80 RBI
Marlon Byrd - .290, 12 HR, 65 RBI
Tyler Colvin - .245, 20 HR, 75 RBI
Geovany Soto - .295, 25 HR, 95 RBI
Ryan Dempster - 14-13, 3.80 ERA
Carlos Zambrano - 15-10, 3.30 ERA
Matt Garza - 17-12, 3.30 ERA
Carlos Marmol - 35 Saves, 15.2 K/9 IP