NL Central 2012 Preview: Looking Far(ther) Ahead

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5. Chicago Cubs

2011 Results: 71-91 (5th, Missed Playoffs)

Key Losses

3B Aramis Ramirez

P Carlos Zambrano (trade)

Key Pickups

3B Ian Stewart

RF David DeJesus

P Chris Volstad (trade)

P Paul Maholm

Well, the Theo Epstein era has begun in Wrigleyville. It’s going to take at least another three years to see if he has what it takes to get the Cubbies back on the right track. There’s plenty of hope in Chicago (there always is) but right now there just isn’t a lot of substance to back up that hope. One bright spot is bringing in rookie manager Dale Sveum, a bright and tactical baseball coach who finally gets his first shot after years on Milwaukee’s coaching staff. What he’s inheriting is a team with a dysfunctional attitude, a mess of a rotation, under-performing talent and a recent history of missing the playoffs entirely. Welcome to the show, meat.

In truth, there are some bright spots. Trading the big Z was a good move in terms of shifting the culture of the team. Volstad does not have the same prowess as Zambrano, but he has plenty of room to improve and I think he’ll get the job done. Maholm is a young pitcher with a lot to prove, but thankfully for him not a lot of pressure to perform. Ian Stewart was a good move to shore up the infield defensively and DeJesus will fit right into that ivy-covered outfield and do well. Losing Ramy was – and is – very tough for that team who has little power to speak of now, but Sveum knows how to use every drop talent in a lineup. The real question is, can the youth movement grow up enough in one year? Castro needs a lot of work yet, but as he goes in 2012, so will the Cubs. He needs to cut down on errors and get on base more.

2011 At-a-glance

Batting Average – .256 13th in MLB, 7th in NL

OBP – .314 20th in MLB, 10th in NL

SLG – .401 15th in MLB, 6th in NL

OPS – .715 16th in MLB, 8th in NL

ERA – 4.33 25th in MLB, 14th in NL

This year, the Cubs don’t have much of a choice except finding ways to get on base, as their power numbers are almost certainly going to be in the cellar this year. There will be nothing but pressure on the entire pitching staff in 2012, and it’s a tough bet to see the slew of young and unproven relievers they brought to Spring Training panning out. Essentially, anything short of an Angels in the Outfield situation will keep them right in the bottom of the division in 2012. If you’re a Cubs fans, you might want to start thinking about next year sooner rather than later.