The Cubs were in the middle of the pack in nearly every offensive category last year, finishing 18th in the majors in runs scored. Changes include Pena replacing Lee and DeWitt/Baker/Barney replacing Theriot. Baseball Musings has the Cubs' best lineup at 4.62 runs per game, which would have been good for 13th in the majors last year, and their worst lineup at just 4.11 runs per game, which would have placed them 22nd last year.
The optimist: Ramirez wakes up from his nightmarish 2010 season and returns to form. He, Pena, Soriano and Soto provide the necessary power while Castro and Byrd help set the table. The Cubs do not seem to have a viable option at leadoff and the second base position is pretty much a black hole. This could be a slightly above average offense.
The pessimist: Seriously, the Cubs don't have a leadoff hitter. Soriano's got like 100 years left on his contract even though he appears to be at least 60 years old. Can we really rely on 21-year-old Castro to be a linchpin of the offense? And after tying for the fewest stolen bases in the majors last season and trading away the team leader (Theriot), is there a team in the majors with less team speed than the Cubs? This offense will be very frustrating to watch at times and seems to lack the firepower to make up for the definciecies of the pitching staff.
Continue on to read my thoughts on the Cubs' bench ...
Last year the Cubs broke camp with Jeff Baker, Chad Tracy, Tyler Colvin, Xavier Nady and Koyie Hill on the bench. This year, Baker, Colvin and Hill remain while Darwin Barney replaces Tracy and Reed Johnson replaces Nady.
Tracy and Nady were not so much with the moving quickly and the athleticism; Barney and Johnson are quite the opposite. Barney's probably the best fielding second baseman on the team while Johnson is always willing to sacrifice his body to make a play.
The optimist: Barney can not only spell DeWitt/Baker, he may get the lion's share of the playing time if he proves he can hit major league pitching. Perhaps Colvin can improve his hitting against lefties as well as his patience at the plate; either way, his power (20 HR last year) makes him a valuable bench/platoon player.
It's kind of nice to have Reed Johnson back. He really does seem like a team player, he hits lefties well, and while he's struggled a bit the last two years, he had a .358 OBP and 50 RBI as a Cub in 2008.
Baker's not a bad hitter at all (.272 last year, .305 in 2009) and hit .356 this spring. The Cubs' second base options are nothing to write home about, but Baker is serviceable.
The pessimist: Barney is completely unproven, and it's always difficult for a career minor leaguer to get into a groove while getting sparse at-bats at the major league level. While Colvin provides some pop, he's a one-trick pony and can't field worth a lick. And Reed Johnson, a Cub castoff who had a .291 OBP last season, is the best we can do? And then we have Koyie Fucking Hill, who will drive us all to say an extra prayer each night, asking God to be merciful and send not Geovany Soto to the disabled list lest the Cubs plummet into the valley of the shadow of Hill's lifetime .215 batting average.
A major problem for the team last year. The Cubs were just two errors away from leading the majors in balls booted, and unearned runs just destroyed them. It may not get a whole lot better this year ...
The optimist: Pena does an admirable impression of Derrek Lee, and Castro harnesses his defensive talent. Ramirez returns to form (last year he posted his lowest fielding percentage since 2003, his first year as a Cub), Soriano realizes outfield walls are in fact NOT covered with poison-drenched spikes, and the platoons of Fukudome/Colvin and Baker/Barney hold their own. I expect Byrd to continue his Gold Glove-caliber defense.
The pessimist: Every infielder except for Pena is a defensive liability. Plus, two of the three starting outfield positions will be manned by below average defenders. Ugh. I'm really not sure I can watch 162 games of the same defense we saw last year.
Well, you already saw that I predict 82 wins and a fourth-place finish for the Cubs. I think they have four solid starters and a black hole in the back of the rotation. I also think their bullpen could be worse than last year's, which is saying something, and will lose the Cubs way more games in the late innings than we'll be able to stomach. I believe the offense will be decent but lacks OBP at the top and the big-time power in the middle necessary to be an offensive force in the NL. While I have them finishing over .500, I don't see them realistically competing in a suddenly stacked NL Central.
I most certainly hope I'm all kinds of wrong.