For the last two podcast episodes, which can be subscribed to on iTunes (shameless plug), I’ve hinted that I am starting to sway toward the idea that the Cubs will finish .500 this season. I know it’s not easy to see and that we’ve been told that 2015 is the first year we can expect to smile, but I think there is reason for optimism and that this team is capable of surprising some people.

1. We Underperformed Our Run Differential – One of the best predictors of what a team can expect in terms of their record is the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed. It’s a pretty simple concept when you think about it. The goal is to score more runs than the other guy and when you do that, you win. Logic would say that the greater the differential between the amount of runs you score versus the amount you allow, the more games you will win. The problem comes in the fact that some games are blowouts and some are tight. Both wins count the same. A quick look at last year’s standings reveals that the Cubs were projected to win 71 games last season based on their run differential. We should be able to duplicate that in 2014, if not surpass it.

2. The Bullpen Has Improved – Gone is Carlos Marmol. To be honest, we could probably just stop right there, drop the mic and walk off the stage. Instead, I want to point you to the fact that this bullpen has been revamped by Jed this off-season after they admitted last year that the team really should have focused more on it last year. It was an admitted weakness and this off-season they took steps to fix it. The 2013 bullpen ranked 13th in ERA, 2nd in blown saves with 26. There really was nothing the starters could do other than work deep into the game and hope for offense. Pedro Strop was brought in last last year and showed he could reclaim some of the success he had in Baltimore before being exiled. Jose Veras was signed as a free agent and should be given the first crack at the closer role. Those two guys in the pen for a full season should be able to yield an improvement. Throw in a (fingers crossed) healthy Arodys Vizcaino and this pen has the potential to be much improved.

3. Starlin Castro & Anthony Rizzo Will Improve – Look, I get it. It’s frustrating when you see the two players we invested heavily in struggle. You begin to doubt their career projections and you begin to question the front office for what they see in them. What I would tell you is this. It’s OK to get on the ledge. It’s not OK to jump off of it. We have to use common sense. Both Castro and Rizzo have shown they can perform. Have we forgotten that Castro had 207 hits in 2011? Have we forgotten that he’s still under 25? Last year was the outlier. I promise you there will be improvement. 2014 will be much closer to 2011 than 2013. As for Rizzo, the argument is basically the same with the addition that in 2013 his batting average on balls in play was a very low .258. That won’t happen again this year. We’re going to see both of these guys improve.

4. New Managerial Regime – I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in the manager and his impact on the game, but for some reason sometimes there is something that happens when you make a change. I don’t know if Dale was the wrong guy and that Renteria is the right guy. What I do know is that I had been hearing that the front office and Dale were not quite on the same page. When that happens, you can’t accomplish all that be accomplished. I have to believe that this time, they knew exactly what they were looking for and found it in Renteria.

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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