This month we ran a writing project open to all readers. The project called for predictions for the upcoming season and why they felt the way they did. Here is one of the finalists that is in line for the 2007 Bill James Handbook.

This entry comes from Jason Hook. Thanks for the entry.

1. Prior and Wood will be back with a force.

We all know what Prior can bring to the table when healthy and after a non-injury spring training Prior will be ready to roll in 2007. There is virtually no pressure on Prior this year as seemingly nobody expects Prior to be fully healthy. Mark now knows that nothing is wrong with his shoulder and the reason it has been hurting is because of the genetic makeup of his shoulder. I’m sure Mark also knows that this is a big year to show the world that he isn’t an injury waiting to happen and can turn into a great major league player. Meanwhile while he may not begin as the closer for the Cubs I would fully expect Kerry Wood to prosper and take over the closer spot by the all-star break. The move to the bullpen will save the wear and tear on Woods arm from starting and pitching many innings. Such moves have helped start and save the careers of Eric Gagne and John Smoltz. Wood will not have to worry about saving his best stuff for later in the game and it will benefit the Cubs and Kerry Wood. The Cubs will finally have a closer who is feared in the majors and who has dominating stuff.

2) Matt Murton will have a breakout year

Matt was one of the best hitters to finish out the year last year hitting (.360), July, (.317), in August, and (.326) in September and October. After the All-Star break last year Murton hit .319 with 9 homeruns and 35 RBI with an OBP of .390 leading me to believe he may have got it late in the year of his first full season with the big club. An addition of Cliff Floyd could hurt Murton’s production but, even with the addition of Floyd, presumed to happen, Murton will win playing time over an inconsistent Floyd. Cliff Floyd has had many problems staying healthy so I think the majority of playing time will go to Murton anyway in the end of things, but Murton is the better choice anyway. Murton has been one of the clutch guys to get a big hit in his first year and half with the Cubs. Murton has hit .299 with Runners in Scoring Position last year and .429 with the bases loaded. Murton also hit .330 at Wrigley Field during his first full season in the big leagues. Murton will force Cliff Floyd to the bench as one of the best pinch hitters in the National League by the mid-season point.

3) The Cubs will win the NL Central

This is a bold prediction for a team that finished in dead last in the central, but the pieces have been put into place. Hendry smartly didn’t overpay for aging Jason Schmidt and overrated Barry Zito, instead opting to go with lesser-known guys by the names of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis. The Cubs may have finally gotten the memo that big names do not equal championships. What these guys bring to the table is average ERAs, but more importantly, they are healthy pitchers. If the Cubs starting pitching can avoid major long-term injuries the team will easily win the central. The Cubs everyday lineup will be one of the best in the National League and comparable to the Cardinals, last years World Champions. Meanwhile everybody else in the NL Central has gotten much worse aside from the Pirates, who cant get much worse, and the Brewers who have gotten slightly better. The Cardinals, who seem to be the Cubs top competition, have many holes in the rotation along with an aging everyday lineup that has the question marks with Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen’s knees holding the lineup together. Meanwhile the Astros have gotten Carlos Lee to help an otherwise pathetic everyday lineup, but have lost Andy Pettitte and seemingly Roger Clemens as well. If the Cubs can avoid major injuries (Derrick Lee last year) you can expect them to win the NL Central and once you get into the playoffs you never know.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail