Thursday, March 31, 2011

Six Things Sure to Happen This Season: Cubs

Things are looking terribly mediocre on the North Side this season. Average lineup, decent starting pitching, and a bullpen. Enough to win around 80 games, which will keep us somewhat interested until the third week of August.

Here are six predictions for the 2011 Cubs.

1. Carlos Zambrano will have better numbers than Matt Garza

Garza's rough spring probably doesn't matter, but it is hard to ignore entirely. Jim Hendry gave up quite a bit to bring in Garza, and expectations are high. That hasn't worked well for new Cubs in the past. I'm not predicting total disaster from Garza this season, but the typical "new Cub" bad start wouldn't shock me one bit.

Meanwhile Big Z has been very quiet all spring. No declaration of an imminent Cy Young (though he did claim to be cured of anger), and no World Series promises. With Opening Day duties in Ryan Dempster's hands this season, and with Garza being the new guy in town, the spotlight is focused elsewhere for now. I'm just crazy enough to think that Zambrano turns in brilliant season because of that.

2. Tyler Colvin won't be heard from much

Granted, I predicted Colvin wouldn't be on the team in May last season, so take this with a giant grain of salt. Still, Fukudome is in a contract year, and Colvin was quietly very average last season. If Carlos Pena can provide consistent left-handed power, and Fukudome takes well to the leadoff role, Colvin won't have many at-bats coming his way.

Plus, super-prospect Brett Jackson will be in need of an outfield spot at some point.

3. The Cubs are going to have one of the best bullpens in baseball

Forget for a moment that John Grabow is a total waste (he'll be on the infamous fake DL within a month) and that Jeff Samardzija is inexplicably around still. Carlos Marmol is one of the best closers in baseball, despite his stress inducing walk filled innings. Sean Marshall emerged as a beast, and Kerry Wood found himself in again in New York last year.

If James Russell can become a useful LOOGY, or if somebody from AAA comes up and proves capable (a somewhat likely bet) the Cubs will be able to protect plenty of leads this season. They just have to get them...

4. The offense is going to be bad

Sure, there will be a fair share of days when the lineup cranks out multiple home runs. There are going to be more days where the strikeouts pile up, and runs just don't come. Just too much feast or famine in the lineup.

But boy, that one week when Aramis and Soriano are both white-hot at the same time, it's going to be real fun.

5. Marlon Byrd is on another team in July

Byrd is a solid player with a very friendly contract. There are always plenty of teams in need of outfield help at the trade deadline, and Byrd can play all three positions. Plus, he's a good hitter. Hendry will move him, preferably with a large contract, which will open up the outfield for Brett Jackson.

6. This will be Jim Hendry's final season in Chicago

I think it all comes down to Matt Garza. If he has a rough season, Hendry is done. Even if Garza is just average, Hendry is done.

With the roster at a major crossroad this next off season, Jim Hendry needs a big season to keep his job for another year.