It’s hard to use the words ‘surprise team’ when talking about the Chicago Cubs due to the expectations that have been placed on the club both inside and outside the organization. But in reality, a .500 record would be a big step forward for a team that won only 73 games last season and for one that has been as bad as the Cubs have been at the big league level for a majority of the last decade.
Tom Verducci released his annual report Tuesday in which he picks teams from the previous season with losing records that have the best chance of making the playoffs. And No. 2 in Verducci’s pre-season report of the six teams that finished below .500 last year that could make the post season this season, the Chicago Cubs.
Verducci explained how he goes about making his picks: “25% of playoff teams in the wild card era had a losing record in the previous year, including at least one team-and an average of two teams-in every year but one in that 20-year span. 36% of all playoff turnaround teams began the year with a new manager or made a change during the season.”
According to Verducci, two of the following six teams will make the playoffs this season: Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Marlins, Padres and White Sox.
The Cubs bringing in Joe Maddon could make the biggest difference for the team this season. Verducci thinks Maddon could have the same impact on the Cubs as John Ferrell did for the Red Sox and Terry Francona did for the Indians two years ago. Verducci explained Maddon “already has this team believing it’s very good” and the Cubs “ran one of the most inspiring, energetic camps” Verducci could recall since the ’84 Mets.
Verducci accurately pointed out the Cubs “will look bad at times” and will “strikeout far too much to be a consistent offensive team” but “other times, especially when Bryant arrives in mid-April and gets hot, this team will look spectacular.”
If the Cubs can stick around .500, which is expected, for the first three months of the season, Verducci thinks “the pressure will be on President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer to add to this team in July, rather than waiting for the potential big free-agent pitching class after the season.”
The pre-season projections have pointed to the Cubs improving by five to 12 wins this year from the 73 victories in 2014. Based on the win totals of the four wild card teams last season (Royals – 89; Athletics – 88; Pirates – 88; Giants – 88), if the Cubs top the most optimistic projections they would be a few wins short. But, again, playing around .500-ball the entire season will be a welcome change from what it’s been over the last seven seasons.
What a difference a calendar year, player development, spending a little money in the off-season and bringing in one of the best managers in the game can do to a team’s outlook.