I’m not going to call this year “Next Year”. I probably will never do that. But even if I would, it wouldn’t be this year for the Chicago Cubs. But I will call it a “Different Year”.
As an unapologetic Cubs fan, they’re doing everything right. As an unbiased-as-I-can-possibly-be writer, the Cubs doing everything right will not result in a playoff berth this season or a Back to the Future World Series win.
That’s not meant to rain on the parade. It’s going to be a fun season nonetheless. The fun starts tonight against the Cardinals.
It’s a different year for the Cardinals, too. A lot of people are assuming that they’ll win the division, but the common reasoning there tends to be “because they’re the Cardinals”. A well-run organization they are, but they aren’t the dominant force they’ve been in years past.
But enough about the Cardinals. This is about the Cubs, and tonight is about the Cubs. It’s at Wrigley Field–or at least what’s left of it–on Opening Night. The Cubs are the team that has made all of the moves. The Cubs are the team with all of the attention.
This year is different, but not because of expectations. Those have been around forever. But there’s actual reason for the optimism, and although it’s not foolproof plan, it’s pretty believable. It’s so believable, even the ones that have spent every inch of paper saying it wouldn’t work are now on board.
Joe Maddon is the start. Wait, no. Theo Epstein is the start. He’s the one who won two World Series championships and built the team that won a third. He’s the one that came in with a clear, transparent plan and stuck to it. He’s the one that brought all of the optimism. So he’s the start.
But then comes Maddon. He brought instant credibility that Ricky Renteria, nor many other managers, could bring. Once Joe Maddon is your manager, you automatically feel like you have a chance.
Jon Lester is the ace, and it’s safe to assume another ace will be signed next season. Coming in behind Lester is Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks. You can do better, but you can also do a lot worse.
The lineup is starting Chris Coghlan as the No. 5 hitter, so let’s calm down for a second. But Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Anthony Rizzo in the top three is exciting. Soler, Rizzo and Starlin Castro are all exciting. Miguel Montero should improve the lineup and pitching staff with his defense. There’s a lot to be excited about in the lineup, even if it doesn’t show right away.
How’s that for a segue into the Kris Bryant talk?
Bryant will be a tremendous player by all accounts. But throw out the extra year of team control, and I still side with Epstein’s decision. He’s never once had a player make his MLB debut on Opening Day. Why start now? I like to call that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
It’s not easy to hit at the Major League level, and if Bryant were to struggle right away, you risk a lot more than waiting a few weeks to bring him up. Plus, Mike Olt may be more than capable of manning the position.
Baez struggled last season, as did Soler after his scorching first two weeks. There are no guarantees.
It’s not “Next Year”. But the Chicago Cubs will be entertaining and competitive this season, even if those competitive games result in losses. Just know that this year is a “Different Year”, and that’s pretty exciting in itself.