There is a certain spunk about this Chicago Cubs team. I’m not just saying that because they are coming off a dramatic three-run ninth inning comeback victory against the Colorado Rockies, headlined by a two-run moonshot hit by former Rockie Dexter Fowler. This “spunk” kind of took shape in October after Joe Maddon graciously fell into the Cubs’ lap. The spunk continued after the signings of Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel, as well as trade acquisitions Miguel Montero and Dexter Fowler.
Just five games into the season this Cubs team is tugging the optimistic fan out of me while making an attempt to seal any pessimistic opinions I may have away. There are reasons to be excited about this Cubs team and there are reasons to believe they may be in the hunt for a playoff spot come late September. Again, it is just five games into a 162 game marathon, but the excitement is already starting to build, and if the Cubs are making noise into July you know this front office will do what they can to make them even more competitive through the trade deadline.
Maybe a playoff appearance in 2015 is asking a bit much, but why shouldn’t we as fans be hoping for a playoff bid? With the first week of this season in the books, it feels good to expect a product unlike what we have experienced in the last three-to-four years. This Cubs team, led by a manager with a philosophy players buy into, is playing for something this year and its obvious. That spunk I previously mentioned is there. Just watching games on TV is enough for me to notice an infectiously positive atmosphere around the Cubs players.
One week down means we are another week closer to the inevitable call-up of baseball’s number one prospect, Kris Bryant, who hit his first home run of the season on Saturday. With the way the Cubs roster is currently constructed, there are several versatile position players that Maddon can mix and match with. The Cubs current lineup is already taking Theo Epsteins philosophy in stride and are making an effort to get on base much more. With the combination of versatility, increased OBP numbers and a boost from Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ lineup has an opportunity to do some damage in the National League.
There is a ton of upside to all the young talent the Cubs currently have at the major league level, as well as those on the brink of reaching the highest level in the game. However, there are obvious downsides accompanied with young, inexperienced major league players. The main downside is the number of strikeouts this lineup has the potential of accumulating. With that in mind, Epstein and company managed to do a nice job of acquiring talent whose main asset is to get on base and make more consistent contact.
With Kris Bryant looming, its as if the player manning third base is a mere place holder until Bryant is ready to take it for good. Mike Olt is considered that place holder for now and it is kind of unfair to him having such a mammoth shadow over his shoulder. Olt was once a highly regarded prospect himself just as Bryant is now, but at 26-years-old it seems as though this season will tell a lot about the kind of player he is and will be. Olt has a ton of power stored in his 6’2″, 210 pound frame. He had himself a very nice Spring and recently hit his first home run of the season. It will be interesting to see how Maddon uses Olt when Bryant joins the major league roster.
Young talent is what makes this Cubs team so fun to watch, but possibly this Cubs team’s greatest strength is in its bullpen. It is easy to compare them to the Royals of last year in the idea that a strong bullpen is a major contributing factor in making a run at the playoffs. Guys like Hector Rondon, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop, Jason Motte, and newly added veteran Phil Coke, give the Cubs a chance to stay in every ball game as well as lock down a lead in the final three frames.
As for the starting rotation, all five had their first crack at it to begin this season. Jake Arrieta continues to prove that he is in complete command of his pitches, which is a very bad sign for opposing hitters. Arrieta could easily be the Cubs’ best pitcher come the end of the season. Lester will be Lester, meaning he will give the Cubs solid outings and eat up a ton of innings. A major influence to a successful Cubs team this year will come at the hands of Jason Hammel, who signed a two-year deal with an option just before the Winter Meetings this offseason.
Hammel had a ton of success with the Cubs last season before being traded. A lot of credit should go to Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. With Hammel reunited with Bosio, and the comfort he has pitching in a Cubs uniform, he has a chance to make the Cubs top-three rotation starters among the strongest in the National League. Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood are very solid back-end pieces as well. It makes me happy to know Edwin Jackson won’t be making anymore scheduled starts.
The first week of April was a lot of fun. Fun was a word difficult to associate the Cubs with the past few seasons but this year seems different. This year seems like it will be a ton of fun.