How Can Cubs Win in 2014?

How Can Cubs Win in 2014?

I'm not trying to link-bait here for my first post on Cubs Insider. I promise.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Reddit is the "front page of the Internet," a social website where millions of users gather to discuss topics like True Detective, atheism, or slow cooker recipes. Oh, and baseball.

There's a daily discussion series going on the Baseball subreddit asking their 85,000 subscribers why each team will win the 2014 World Series and why each team will not win the 2014 World Series. The Chicago Cubs thread of this series is scheduled to go up tomorrow.

I'm sure all of us could come up with dozens of reasons why this team won't be World Champions in October, but that's not the point of the exercise. Heck, last week r/baseball discussed the Houston Astros' chances, and they're one of the surest bets to pick first in the 2016 draft.

Basically, I wanted to see if there is any sort of dream scenario in which this could be the year. Here's what I came up with.

1. Once you get there, anything is possible.

If by some miracle the Cubs actually make it back to the playoffs, there is a chance that they will win the World Series.

I hate hearing about the 100+ year championship drought; it's quite annoying. When I'm walking down the streets of Milwaukee in my Cubs jacket, I'd rather be berated for the lack of postseason appearances in the past five years, or the 0 playoff game victories since 2004. Those are better measures of the Cubs' futility during my time as a fan than that large, historic number.

Making it to the postseason is a testament that you are among the best teams in a single baseball season. The lone "best" team doesn't always go on to win the World Series. To quote the intelligent Sahadev Sharma, the playoffs are a "crapshoot" -- once you get there, anything is possible.

2. The bright spots from 2013 carry over.

Now that we've got that out of the way, how might this team actually win enough games to take a Wild Card spot? 2013 was a rough year and the Cubs finished in last place. But for those willing to look closer, there were some bright spots.

Travis Wood flourished and logged 200 innings for the first time in his career. His FIP (3.89) was a bit less kind than his ERA (3.11), but he remained healthy and had an All-Star season. Junior Lake impressed, although the verdict is still out on him being able to produce for a whole season. His wOBA was .335 in 254 big-league plate appearances. Welington Castillo took another step forward and seems pretty underrated around the game today. He was worth 3.2 fWAR in 2013.

The Cubs made the most of their bench and put together some solid platoons. Together, Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena held their own at the hot corner. Nate Schierholtz benefited from finally getting some playing time and should pair nicely with Justin Ruggiano in 2014.

For the Cubs to make the playoffs, these bright spots need to continue the progress they made in 2013.

3. The shortcomings from 2013 correct themselves.

Two core pieces of the Cubs' future - Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo - did not have a good 2013. They're signed long-term and need to correct their shortcomings, not only for this mythical 2014 World Series fantasy, but for the long-term success of the organization as well.

There are reasons to be optimistic about Rizzo's down year. His BABIP was extremely low at .258, signifying some bad luck. His wOBA of .325 (690 PA) isn't bad at all, and he was still above average in terms of wRC+, however slightly, with 102 mark. Turn some batted balls into singles, stay healthy for another season, and Rizzo will be right where he should be.

Castro's season was just bad, even looking at the peripherals. His K% was 18.3. He was worth negative Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs' standards. And his wOBA (if you can't tell already, I am a huge wOBA fan) was .280 (705 PA). That's... disgusting.

There were reports last season that the Cubs were trying to tweak Castro's approach, hence the struggles. It was a worthwhile cause but from what I've read, they're gonna let Castro be Castro from this point forward, which should certainly help his production.

What about Jeff Samardzija? He put in the innings last year but they weren't as solid as anyone hoped. Shark wants to be paid like an ace. He shows flashes of brilliance that make us think he might be worth some money. Solid production from Samardzija is just as important in this scenario as Castro and Rizzo.

4. The youngsters grab starting jobs and impress.

Most of the excitement from the first few Spring Training games has been from watching the kids play. Kris Bryant had a great at-bat and homered on a 3-2 pitch in his first Cactus League apperance. Javier Baez hit a bomb against the Milwaukee Brewers to start the scoring the other day. But the most exciting home run to come from the kids, in my opinion, was yesterday's blast from Mike Olt.

Olt's 2013 season was plagued by a confusing eye problem, which was part of the reason the Cubs were able to get him in the Matt Garza deal in addition to Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, and C.J. Edwards. I will be very pleased if Olt can show that his vision is fine and grab the starting third base job.

That is my realistic wish and expectation. But for this whole playoff fantasy thing to work, we need to go beyond the likely. This team needs offensive production. Baez and Bryant can bring it.

Service time considerations will and should play into their call-up timeline. Talent like the Core Four will be held down until the Cubs can secure an extra year of control by ensuring they don't get a full 172 days at the big league level in 2014. If the team wants to take it a step further, which they most likely will, top prospects won't see action until the Super Two cutoff around July. This will save the team millions of dollars in the form of avoiding an extra arbitration year, and will thus cut down the price on a possible extension. Like it or not, that's a fact of the game.

If Mike Olt is the Opening Day third baseman, it presses the question of who is better at second base: Darwin Barney or the Valbuena/Murphy platoon. If Baez comes up, there's no place for him at third, so he slides to second. Bryant ends up somewhere in the outfield. Realistically, I only see Baez getting time after the Super Two cutoff, but if the playoffs are in grabbing distance it could be all hands on deck.

5. The team needs to be in the hunt by June.

We can sit here and wish everyone is going to have a career year or come up and rake, but this is the most important bullet point that would need to happen for the Cubs to make the playoffs. The team needs to be in the hunt by June.

If it's not obvious early that this year could be something special, we're going to see another sell-off at the deadline. Jason Hammel is on a flip contract already. A team could overpay for Jose Veras because they need a "closer." Schierholtz could soon be patrolling another team's outfield as the front office continues to turn short-term assets into long term assets.

But if the team defies their tough early-season schedule and wins a bunch of ballgames, proves to Jed Hoyer and his staff that they are contenders, not pretenders, perhaps the Cubs could "buy" instead of "sell" at the deadline. (All while making sure the players and their contracts stay within the confines of The Plan, of course.) If they don't, it's continue along the same path that will eventually lead to success.

Is any of this possible? Not really. Theo Epstein, Tom Ricketts, and even ZiPS says there's a chance. Technically, they are correct. But the reality of the situation is the dream scenario I've laid out here is a long shot. Rather than get my hopes up expecting a postseason run in 2014, I'm going to identify some fun storylines to follow throughout the summer.

I want to see when Javier Baez finally reaches the big leagues. I want to see Rick Renteria, his supportive accountability, and his fabulous management style succeed. I want to see Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back. I want to see the Cubs beat the Brewers a few times in their own ballpark. Those are just a few things that will make this summer enjoyable for me, not some unrealistic mythical run trying to answer the question why will the team win the World Series.

But I'm open to being surprised.

@Justinjabs

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Comments

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  • That's why they play them, but I wouldn't bet the mortgage. The last I heard 65-1 odds in Vegas.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    That' s better odds then I would have thought.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Thanks for reading. Speaking of odds, the Fangraphs projections I linked gave the Cubs a 2.8% chance of making the playoffs. Only the Astros (0.2%) and Twins (0.9%) have worse odds.

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    I would add to this article that Edwin Jackson needs to bounce back and just be himself. Not the terrible pitcher he was last year but the above average pitcher he's been in the past. Also, the bullpen which appears to be better, must be. The bullpen looked like it might be good last year. Then Marmol and Camp went south, Fujikawa got hurt, Villanueva was forced to start and the bullpen proceeded to struggle and was near the bottom of teams blowing a lead after 7. A good bullpen, solid starting pitching, and an increase in RISP and the Cubs could make a run. This is Theo's third year and the team is starting to look like his. Also, the Cubs record against the division was atrocious last year. I believe that will improve as the Reds and Pirates will probably take a step backwards. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they make a run.

  • In reply to MightyBear:

    Good point. I don't think anyone sane is expecting eye-popping numbers from Jackson, just pitching like a solid 3.

  • I think the pen this year could have some young intriguing arms. I don't think at least they will be blowing games.

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    I have mentioned other places my pick for 75 wins. I think that is very doable total with some positive improvement from Castro, Shark, and Rizzo. A solid push from Wood to be that high 3 ceiling pitcher he was last year and a rebound from Jackson.

    I do not think Super 2 status will have anything to do with Baez. Now after we get past the point of an extra year of control (May 1st?) then if he is ready off to Chicago he will go.

    Olt does not have to be a superstar for the Cubs to be in the .500 range (75-85 wins). He just needs to be what the Scouts thought his range was (250/320/450).

    I think the bull pen has a chance to very good. Especially with Wright and Russell splitting time as the LH specialist, 7/8 bridge to get to Strop and Veras. Parker had a very underrated year and I am expecting him to continue on that path.

  • In reply to Richard Hood:

    Whether the Cubs will wait for Super Two or not is still up in the air. Maybe the status of Mike Olt and Darwin Barney will have more to do with Baez's callup then I'm thinking at the moment. If Olt is performing like a regular (no place at 3B), and the Cubs haven't found a suitor for Barney just yet (no place at 2B, to keep Barney's value up), maybe the Cubs wait it out to bring up Baez until Barney relocates, which could conveniently be after the Super Two cutoff.

  • I agree with Olt except I think the OBP is much higher. Shark IMO still gets dealt by deadline.

  • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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    Ha. Not happening. 2.8% chance is generous by Fangraphs.

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