While the offseason is still far from over and there are probably some moves, and potentially some impactful ones, still on the horizon for Theo Epstein and Company, the new year provides us with an opportunity to take an optimistic look ahead at the year to come.
Here, I’m going to make five bold predictions about the upcoming season. Hopefully, when all is said and done, I’ll be able to look back at this list with some sense of accomplishment rather than cursing my foolish optimism. Because, overall, the list below is pretty optimistic. Of course, for the first time in my life as a Cubs fan, the type of optimism that follows isn’t all that unreasonable.
But without further ado, let’s get into it:
- The Cubs will win 100 games
I’ve said it a few times over the course of the offseason already, but the second Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs, this team became a legitimate threat to eclipse the 100-win mark. With a lineup that’s downright threatening – not to mention relatively deep – and a pitching staff that is shaping up to be pretty formidable in and of itself, the Cubs are set up to be a hard team to beat.
Usually, I shy away from predicting 100-win seasons from just about any team, no matter how good they are. In perfect honesty, the Cubs were damn lucky last year to escape the year with minimal injuries, particularly to their most important players. The law of averages says that probably won’t happen again. Injuries happen, and they’re bound to occasionally take your best players off the field. But what makes this team special is that they’re pretty deep, all things considered.
Pretty much anyone on the diamond could go down to an injury, and the Cubs would have a sound backup in place. In the simplest sense, super-utility man Ben Zobrist probably moves to the injured man’s position and Javier Baez steps in for Zobrist. Not a bad plan. Not to mention Chris Coghlan, who proved effective off the bench and in spot starts last year. Tommy La Stella as well. The same goes for the rotation – Between Adam Warren, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill and a handful of others, there are plenty of solid options to fill in should a key hurler miss a few starts.
Barring an all-out catastrophe, it’s hard to see this team not crossing the 90 win mark, and frankly, 100 appears perfectly achievable.
- Javier Baez will not finish the 2016 season in Chicago
Barring, as I described above, a major injury that requires Baez to take over an everyday role in the starting lineup, I find it hard to believe he’ll still be a Northsider by the time the July 31 trade deadline passes. Honestly, he might not even be here on opening day. But working under the assumption, for now, that he is a Cub on opening day, I think there’s a strong chance he doesn’t finish the season in blue pinstripes.
With no clear path to the starting lineup on a daily basis and an almost sure shot that the Cubs will be in a buying position come the trade deadline, Baez makes too much sense as a trading chip to help fill whatever holes Epstein and Co. decide they need to fill before entering the final stretch of the season.
- Kyle Hendricks wins 15+ games, has an ERA less than 3.50
I’ve been high on Kyle Hendricks for a while now, and with good reason. Despite rocky patches throughout his 2015 season, he’s been downright impressive to this point in his big league career. This year, with an improved offense (and defense) behind him and another year of experience under his belt, I think he takes a big step forward. That’s where the ERA prediction comes in.
As for the wins – well, this team is going to score a hell of a lot of runs. So, between what I expect to be a high percentage of good starts from Hendricks and a few bad starts where the offense simply out-hits the opponent, I’m confident Hendricks can pile up 15+ wins.
- Three (or more) Cubs will hit 30+ home runs.
There are really five candidates here – Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Jason Heyward. The first two are obvious; Rizzo hit 31 last season and Bryant fell just short with 26. Barring any injuries that keep one of these two out for an extended period of time or a sophomore slump from Bryant, I think there’s a pretty good chance both men eclipse 30 homers.
Then there’s Kyle Schwarber, who hit 16 regular season home runs last year in limited playing time – a pace, by the way, that projected out to 38 longballs over the course of a 162-game season. Assuming he starts most every day, and barring a massive sophomore slump, there’s a good chance he cracks 30-plus bombs as well.
Then there are some less obvious options. Soler only hit 10 homers last year in just more than 400 plate appearances – but I’d hardly consider that indicative of what he’s capable of. The man is power personified, and as he figures out how to get some lift in his swing, he’s going to start hitting a lot of balls out of the yard. If that happens this year – and he sees enough playing time – 30 wouldn’t be impossible. Would I call it probable at this point? Probably not. But it’s definitely not out of the realm of possibility either.
Finally, Heyward. Most years, Heyward hovers around 15 home runs. But, there was that 2012 campaign (his age 22 season) in which he hit 27 longballs, and Heyward has absolutely mashed the ball in Wrigley over the course of his career, slugging .552 in 101 Wrigley plate appearances. If I had to make a guess, I’d feel more comfortable predicting 15-20 round-trippers in 2016 than 30, but considering what he did in 2012 it’s clearly not impossible either.
Basically, the argument I’m making here is that between these five men, there’s a good chance three of them can top 30 longballs. That’s crazy. And awesome.
- The Cubs will advance to their first World Series since 1945
For the first time in my lifetime (except for maybe about a week in 2003 and a week in 2015), this isn’t a crazy prediction. In fact, it’s downright reasonable. There’s not a lot to say here, really, except that it’s possible.
Assuming the Cubs make the playoffs, it all comes down to how they play over the stretch of about three weeks. As we’ve seen in the past – like when the 83-win 2006 Cardinals went all the way – anyone in the playoff picture can win a World Series. But considering the Cubs are as close as you can get to a sure bet for the playoffs and seem to be set up very well for a postseason run, now seems like as good of a time as any to end the drought.
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