Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Best good can the Cubs be?

Most people don't expect the Cubs to be very good this year.  I happen to agree with that.

But is there a chance they actually can compete this year?

What is the best case scenario for the Cubs this year?  How good can they realistically be?

A group of us had this discussion today on Twitter, and I think we all universally agreed that the ceiling for the Cubs, as they are currently constructed, is only going to be about 80 wins this year...with the more likely total being between 70 and 75 wins.

It's a little depressing to think about, but I just don't see any way around it.

Simply put, this team is going to have a hard time scoring runs this year, and regardless of how much potential some of these younger players have, the Cubs will have trouble competing with the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers at practically every position on the field.

I look at the Brewers as the best team in the division, even without Prince Fielder.  In my opinion, they have the best pitching staff of any team in the Central...both starters and the bullpen.  There position players are on par with the Cardinals, and probably a step behind the Reds.

But for our purposes, lets take a look at the Cubs as compared to the Brewers.

Starting pitchers:



Based on each of these pitcher's histories, the Garza and Greinke might be about even.  The Brewers are significantly better in their 2 through 4 spots.  I'd say the Cubs might actually have an advantage in the #5 starter spot simply because of of these guys should stand out and put up better numbers than Chris Narveson.  Overall, the Brewers would appear to have a significant advantage here.


and a bunch of blah

John Axford
Francisco Rodriguez
Jose Veras

This isn't even a contest.  Axford has quickly become one of the best closers in the game.  Rodriguez would be a closer on almost any other team.  Veras makes a very solid setup man.  The Cubs are praying that there isn't something seriously wrong with Marmol's arm.  Wood is ok.  Samardzija did well out of the bullpen, and might be the strongest man out there if he doesn't make the starting rotation.  The rest of these teams' bullpens is going to be mix and match, with the Cubs benefiting with a slightly deeper system to pick from.  The Brewers again with the advantage here because the pitchers that will be given the most innings, Axford, Rodriguez and Veras, are just superior.

First base:
Matt Gamel vs. Bryan LaHair
This is probably a tossup.  I don't think either team truly knows what they are going to get from this position.  The Cubs have the benefit of having Anthony Rizzo waiting for an opportunity, but for this comparison he really doesn't count.  The Brewers could slip Taylor Green in if Gamel slips up.  Obviously the Brewers miss Prince Fielder, but the Cubs are going to miss Carlos Peña as well. This is a push.

Second base:
Rickie Weeks vs. Darwin Barney
Not even close.  Weeks is one of the best second basemen in the National League...if he can stay healthy.  Coaches love Barney...he's scrappy.  Unless Barney takes a huge step forward this year, this will be a weak position for the Cubs.  Advantage: Brewers

Alex Gonzalez vs. Starlin Castro
Gonzalez provides decent defense and is a bit of an upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt, but at 35 years old, is probably not going to perform even close to his career averages. This is the weakest position the Brewers have. We all know Castro. Advantage: Cubs

Third base:
Aramis Ramirez vs. Ian Stewart
Ramirez is an upgrade over Casey McGehee.  McGehee was a huge disappointment last year for the Brewers and is now on the Pirates as a result.  We know what Ramirez will give the Brewers...25 to 30 homers and 80 to 90 RBIs.  Stewart was a disappointment for the Rockies in 2011.  He has a lot of potential according to scouts, but even when he's been good, I wouldn't put his numbers close to Ramirez's. Advantage: Brewers

Left field:
Ryan Braun vs. Alfonso Soriano
Seriously?  Advantage: Brewers

Center field:
Nyjer Morgan vs. Marlon Byrd
Morgan is fast...he's scrappy, and he likes to swear on national TV.  And believe it or not, he's not a bad all around player.  He's got a higher career OBP than Marlon Byrd and is probably slightly better defensively.  Byrd has more power.  I'd make this a push.  (But I personally can't stand Nyjer Morgan.)

Right field:
Corey Hart vs. David DeJesus
Hart has injury problems, but when he's healthy, he's quite a threat.  DeJesus was brought in to boost the Cubs defense and base running.  Unfortunately, Hart's ability to drive in runs is just too much.  This isn't a judgement on health, so Hart is the obvious choice here, even though he might miss the first few weeks of the regular season.  Advantage: Brewers

Jonathan Lucroy vs. Geovany Soto
Lucroy has been given high praise for his work behind the plate last year.  He provided satisfactory production offensively.  Soto struggled with the bat last year, but he should rebound offensively this year.  Soto, from my observations, was much better last year defensively than in years past. This is probably the most difficult of all the positions to judge.  Lucroy doesn't have that much experience and Soto performance varies greatly from year to year.  I'm going to have to give this a push as well.

The Cubs have the stronger bench with Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, and Castillo/Clevenger.  The Brewers have Norichika Aoki, Taylor Green, and George Kottaras...and while Kottaras is good as a backup catcher, Johnson, Baker and the other Cubs backups are superior. The Cubs have depth. Unfortuantely, the starters aren't significantly better than the bench players. That difference is much greater with the both directions.  Advantage: Cubs

Conclusion, the Cubs have the advantage over the best team in the division in only 2 areas...shortstop and the bench.  They are about even at 1st base, center field and catcher.  Every other spot, the Brewers are better...and in many of those positions, they are significantly better.

The Brewers, though, are a flawed team and could easily be beaten out by the Cardinals or Reds this year.  If you compare the Brewers to other top teams outside the division, the don't match up as well.  I don't see the Brewers winning much more than 90 games this year.

With the obvious advantage the Brewers have over the Cubs, position by position, yet the Brewers only having the strength to win 90 games, it really doesn't spell much more than about 75 wins for the Cubs this year.  Based on what I've shown here, having the Cubs be 15 games back of the Brewers at the end of the season seems about right.

Of course baseball isn't played on blogs, it's played on TV (thank you, Kenny Mayne).  The Cubs are going to have to find different ways of winning games this year.  They aren't going to slug their way to victory.  If they do compete this year, it's going to be due to either a significant acquisition, significant growth of young players including Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, or a they figure out away to bunt for doubles and triples.  Even with all those things, it might still be difficult for them to compete.  The talent level just isn't there right now.

Anything can happen during a season.  If the Cubs get off to a hot start this year, with the payroll as low as it is right now, they may be able to bring in some players to make a serious run at the division.

But it just isn't very likely as they are currently constructed.   The best most people can project the Cubs to do is win only 80 games this year.  That's it.