After an offseason filled with player acquisitions, managerial changes and drama surrounding the renovation of Wrigley Field, the Cubs are finally ready to start the 2015 baseball season, which begins on April 5. Despite the team's abysmal performance over the past five seasons, 2015 is shaping up to be the year when Cubs fans start to see President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein's vision come to fruition. Crack open an Old Style and let's run down the reasons you should be excited for the upcoming Cubs season.
1. Starting pitching Even though Jeff Samardzija has been banished to the South Side, the Cubs still have a deep, strong starting rotation. The ace of the staff is undoubtedly free agent–signee Jon Lester, who last year struck out 220 batters in less than 220 innings of work and posted a career-best 2.46 ERA in 32 starts with Boston and Oakland. So long as he isn't doing the towel drill in the middle of May, Lester will be the most important piece of this rotation.
2. The bullpen Stocked with power arms who can come in and throw serious heat, the bullpen is looking great. Hector Rondon proved himself to be an effective closer last year, converting 29 saves on 33 attempts. Pedro Strop was also effective in his role as setup man, posting a 1.23 ERA in over 29 innings of work after the All-Star break. The rest of the bullpen staff, which includes new additions Jason Motte and Phil Coke, should also be capable of holding leads when called upon. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of their abilities, but so long as they don't give up a ton of runs, that's all they need to do.
3. The offense The projected lineup for 2015 is a substantial improvement over the group of jabronis the Cubs assembled over the past few years. Newly-acquired Dexter Fowler is a lead off man who can actually get on base, and the also newly acquired Miguel Montero is a big upgrade at catcher, both offensively and defensively. However, the stars of this lineup are the young guys. Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez going to drop bombs all over Waveland and Sheffield, Starlin Castro should bounce back after a bit of an off-year, and most importantly, Kris Bryant is going to hit the cover off the ball once he's called up to the Major League roster on April 18 (and not a day before).
4. Joe Maddon is the man For the first time since the days of Lou Piniella, the Cubs have a manager who can differentiate his ass from a hole in the ground. Not only that, but Maddon, hired by the Cubs in the offseason, knows how to creatively work his roster in order to make a lineup that produces maximum results every night. Another benefit for the Cubs hiring Maddon is that he's managed a situation similar to what the Cubs are going through now when he was in Tampa Bay and was able to lead the Rays to four playoff appearances and an American League pennant.
5. A Wild Card birth is realistically attainable The Cubs don't need to win their division to make the playoffs, which is good because the Cardinals are likely to run away with the NL Central. Again. Instead, they just need to snag one of two Wild Card spots at the end of the year, which they can certainly do in a weak National League. Baseball Prospectus' PECTOA projections predict the Cubs will win about 85 games this year, which is what they would need to contend for a Wild Card spot. And once they're in the Wild Card playoff game, anything can happen. Just ask the San Francisco Giants.
6. They are fun to watch Since the Cubs' last playoff appearance in 2008, the team's roster has usually been a menagerie of aging, overpaid veterans, bad journeymen, and hopeless rookies who faded out of the league almost as quickly as they came in. But now, the team is filled with exciting young guys who can play well, and experienced players who can make positive contributions to the team, day-in and day-out.
7. Back to the Future II predicted a World Series title this year Personally, I treat the Back to the Future movies for what they are: Accurate, prophetic insights into what will happen in the future. And that future has the Cubs breaking their 107-year curse and winning a World Series.