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Reflections on the cusp of the Cubs’ 2024 season



Reflections on the cusp of the Cubs’ 2024 season
Google News Recentlyheard

Google News Recentlyheard

Keep in mind this?

That was Joe Maddon in November 2014, on the freewheeling presser held to introduce him as Cubs supervisor.

The Cubs had simply come off three of the worst seasons in current franchise reminiscence, as Theo Epstein rebuilt the ballclub. That they had misplaced 101, 96 and 89 video games these three years and plenty of felt it would nonetheless be a couple of extra years till any kind of playoff contender would inhabit Wrigley Discipline.

Watch that clip. Joe Maddon believed playoffs have been going to occur in 2015 — if not, “Why would you even report?” — and because it turned out, he was proper, the staff gained 97 video games and made it to the NLCS, and gained the World Sequence the next 12 months. Maddon, after all, was a giant a part of altering staff tradition to the purpose the place it may recover from that 108-year hump. After all, these groups had great expertise on the sphere as nicely, clearly you’ll be able to’t win with out that.

Now, I imagine we stand at an analogous level in Cubs historical past. After Jed Hoyer’s large selloff in July 2021, the staff went 55-94 from July 30, 2021 by way of July 16, 2022, a .369 successful share, one of many worst stretches in fashionable franchise historical past. (That’s a 102-loss tempo for a full season, one thing the Cubs have performed solely twice ever, and never since 1966.)

However then issues started to show round. The staff went 40-31 the remainder of 2022 and on September 6, 2023 stood at 76-64, a wild-card spot and even division title (simply 1½ video games behind the Brewers at that time) appeared of their future.

Nicely, you realize what occurred and I’m not right here to belabor that. What I’ll say is that I do imagine, each based mostly on runs allowed/runs scored and the best way that staff felt final 12 months, that completely was a 90-win staff that collapsed largely resulting from bullpen accidents.

Hoyer has addressed that with the acquisitions of Hector Neris and Yency Almonte, in addition to the truth that everybody else within the pen is wholesome, extra skilled and able to go in 2024.

A few of you’ll say that is largely the identical staff as took the sphere in 2023. To some extent that’s true, however… the 2024 Cubs gained’t be giving 81 begins at first base to Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini and Matt Mervis, a trio who mixed to hit .219/.281/.322 in 419 plate appearances. Michael Busch, I’m moderately sure, will probably be higher than that. They gained’t be giving 37 begins behind the plate to Tucker Barnhart, who was terrible (and oddly, he’ll be the backup for the Diamondbacks to start out the 12 months). Yan Gomes and Miguel Amaya will share catching duties and be higher than that. The staff isn’t giving Opening Day roster spots to guys like Edwin Rios and Luis Torrens. The bench is way stronger than it was a 12 months in the past.

Shōta Imanaga, I imagine, will probably be higher than Marcus Stroman was over the total 12 months of 2023. Jordan Wicks will capably fill a beginning function that went (largely) to Drew Smyly final 12 months.

And Cody Bellinger returns. He was cheered loudly each time his title was introduced in Mesa this spring and I count on him to get an enormous ovation subsequent Monday on the Wrigley residence opener. Bellinger’s efficiency, clearly, is extraordinarily necessary to this staff. If he has a fantastic 12 months, nicely, he possible opts out — however then, if he has a fantastic 12 months, the Cubs in all probability will, too. Win-win!

The efficiency of Christopher Morel because the full-time third baseman is without doubt one of the largest wild playing cards this 12 months. If he’s even close to league-average, having his bat within the lineup each day is a gigantic plus.

After which there’s Seiya Suzuki, who hit .356/.414/.672 with 15 doubles, 4 triples and 11 residence runs over his closing 47 video games final 12 months. That’s an MVP-type season if he can do that every one 12 months, and his Spring Coaching efficiency hinted that he can. Sure, spring numbers and all, however even Suzuki’s outs this spring have been hard-hit.

Dansby Swanson performed nicely in his first Cubs season and gained a Gold Glove, however his hitting suffered within the second half. You would possibly recall he had a heel harm in July and got here again and not using a rehab task. Nobody mentioned so, however I think that may have bothered him all 12 months. Nico Hoerner had a awful spring, however so what? Spring numbers imply so little and it seems to me that Nico’s on the point of a doable breakout season.

An important change the Cubs have made is hiring Craig Counsell to handle. Counsell isn’t the kind of man to say what Maddon mentioned in that video clip — he’s far more laconic than that — however now we have seen his aggressive spirit throughout the sphere for 9 years as Brewers supervisor, and I’m very glad he’s now the Cubs area chief. He’s at all times gotten extra out of a roster than anybody had a proper to count on, and I count on he’ll handle the lineup, bench and bullpen higher than David Ross did. And let me say I favored David Ross’ strategy, one factor he did have going for him was that his gamers performed exhausting for him each single day, even after that 2021 selloff. In the end, that wasn’t sufficient, as we noticed final September, and Hoyer clearly noticed the identical factor and so when Counsell turned obtainable, the Cubs made him the highest-paid supervisor in MLB historical past. It was a daring, daring factor to do, not very Hoyer-like, however I believe it will work out nicely.

The Cubs have a difficult schedule this April. After going through the defending World Sequence champions to start the 12 months, they’ll play the Wrigley Discipline opening collection towards the Rockies — however then, so as, the Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Astros, Pink Sox and Mets to fill out the month. I think we’ll know what route this staff is heading by the top of that stretch, which incorporates 19 of the primary 32 video games this 12 months on the highway. (Perhaps that’s a superb factor, avoiding numerous the possibly unhealthy Chicago climate in April!)

I imagine the Cubs will win the NL Central this 12 months. With the Brewers in what seems to be a rebuild, the Cardinals unsure and the Pirates… simply the Pirates, the Cubs’ fundamental competitors for the division could be the Reds, who’ve numerous good younger expertise. (A few of that expertise is injured proper now, although.)

The Cubs scored 819 runs final 12 months. That was sixth-best in MLB (third amongst NL groups) and simply the fifth time since 1970 that any Cubs staff had scored 800 or extra runs. And that was WITH some poor performers offensively, as famous above. Try this and get only a bit higher at run prevention, and that 90-win staff on paper may really do this in actual like.

Prepared for the 2024 season? I’m. Go Cubs.

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