When the Chicago Cubs (61-101 in 2012) square off against the Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83) today at PNC Park, in Pittsburgh, PA, it will mark the beginning of the Cubs’ 173rd season as a ballclub. There were some years that the team wasn’t called the Cubs, but this isn’t that kind of post. It has been a while since the Cubs last won a World Series, a fact many will remind you of. I, 27 years old, wasn’t even a thought when the team last won a pennant. No matter, though. It’s time for regular season Cubs Major League baseball.
Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (28 S, 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180K/56BB in 2012), will make his first Opening Day start, and going opposite him will be Pirates righty, A.J. Burnett (31 S, 16-10, 3.51 ERA, 180K/62BB). Samardzija, also known as “Shark,” had a very good 2012, considering it was his first full season as a starter. The righty from Notre Dame finished 9-13 with a sub-4 ERA and ERA+ of 103. He also posted a K/9 of 9.3, WHIP a shade over 1.2 and K/BB of over 3. A below-average starter during the first half, Shark rebounded in the second half to make 11 starts, posting a 2.58 ERA and giving up just 56 hits in 73 1/3 innings pitched before being shut down as a precautionary measure on September 8 after a complete game victory against the Pirates.
Samardzija gets the Opening Day nod because righty Matt Garza will be shelved for roughly another month due to an injury of his left side. The rest of the starting rotation should at least be solid, even without Scott Baker, who will be out until midway through the regular season. In the bullpen, offseason signing Kyuji Fujikawa could give the incumbent Carlos Marmol some competition for the closer’s job. Marmol, who was almost dealt to the Los Angeles Angels this winter for starter Dan Haren, is certainly a candidate to be moved before the July 31 trade deadline. Those chances only improve if he can come remotely close to matching his second half of the 2012 season, in which he picked up a save in 13 out of 14 chances while posting a miniscule 1.52 ERA and striking out almost 12 per 9.
The top four hitters in the Cubs’ lineup (DeJesus, Starlin, Rizzo and Sori) could be pretty good, but the last four (Schierholtz, Valbuena, Castillo and Barney) could be borderline awful. Barney, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, gets a pass because of his glove, but the other three, especially Schierholtz hitting fifth (projected), could cause me to pull out a few hairs. This is a Cubs team that doesn’t steal a lot of bases, and when they attempt to do so, don’t do it very well. I’d be surprised to see anyone besides Starlin even attempt 30 steals in 2012. On the bright side, a healthy Rizzo will get 600-700 plate appearances, and defensively, I’m anxious to find out how many runs both he and second baseman Barney save this season. There’s a little pop on the bench in the name of Scott Hairston, who will probably be platooning in right with Schierholtz. Hooray.
The Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, and gone from that team are a few players who performed very well despite the circumstances. Of course, there are those eternally optimistic Cubs fans who feel like the Cubs can actually contend in 2013, but I wouldn’t count on it. In fact, I expect this team to be worse than last year’s squad. This team may not lose 101 games, but the actual talent on the field should be lesser, especially if guys like Garza, Sori and Marmol are moved before the deadline. Basically, any prospect expected to make noise at the ML level won’t be around for at least another year, so fans are essentially “stuck” with the current cast and/or similar parts for the time being. I love that Theo and Co. have committed themselves to rebuilding the Cubs from the ground up, and the process seems to have been effective so far. Still, there is plenty of work to be done during this organizational renovation. The Cubs are most likely going to stink this season, but I’m just ecstatic for the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball regular season. GO CUBS.