Happy Opening Day everyone. If you’re like me, this is a personal holiday for you. I’ve taken it as a holiday from work and/or school for as long as I can remember. I’m definitely one who is on the bandwagon to make the day a national holiday. If the sport is our “National Pastime”, then the day should be a holiday.
I make no secret that I am not a fan of spring training. I don’t get excited about the season until it’s here. As far as I’m concerned, spring training is a necessary evil. That said, I’m excited about this team and excited about this season. I am much more excited about the 2014 season than I was about last season. I am going to go on record with 10 bold predictions for the season. Take these with a grain of salt for two reasons. First, note the key word, bold. They aren’t intended to all come true. Second, know that I completely suck at predictions. ESPN recently asked me to fill out my ballot for the 2014 season for various questions and then tabbed me in their “expert panel”. I laughed at that. So, away we go.
1. Mike Olt will lead the team in home runs – If you’ve listened to our podcast at all, you know we’re all fans of Olt and we want him to succeed. This year, after reportedly clearing up the vision issues that caused his development to come off the track, he will come out and not only solidify his claim to the third base job, but do it in such a manner that it causes the front office to wonder why they even considered using Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy there to begin with. Olt has power and it will be on display in 2014.
2. Javier Baez will have started at least 15 games at shortstop for the Cubs by September 1. – I haven’t decided if I think this will be a result of an injury or issue with Starlin Castro and his production, or if it will simply be an element of Baez pushing his way into the lineup. Regardless of the reason, Baez is close and we’re going to see him sooner rather than later.
3. Anthony Rizzo will finish in the top 10 for the NL MVP race. – So many people are down on Rizzo and the season he had in 2013, but when you really look at the numbers, they weren’t horrible. This year he continues to improve and rebounds strongly to begin to make a name for himself in the NL.
4. Kyle Hendricks will make at least 10 starts for the Cubs – I like Hendricks a lot and I feel like he’s next man up in the event of an injury or poor performance. Nevermind the fact that it came down to Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin for the last spot in the rotation. Hendricks is the guy who will get the longer look.
5. Pedro Strop will finish the season with more saves than Jose Veras – I was actually a little surprised when the Cubs brought in Veras. There was no question that the pen needed to be improved, and it has been, but the move to bring in a closer when at the end of 2013 you let Strop audition for the job seems weird.
6. The bullpen will finish in the top 5 in the NL for ERA – It’s improved and bolstered with power arms. Be excited.
7. More than one player will represent the Cubs in the All Star game. – If I have to pick, I’m going with Rizzo and Travis Wood.
8. Castro will be traded by the July 31 deadline and Darwin Barney will not. – Just a hunch.
9. People will quickly see why Arodys Vizcaino was considered a top prospect when he announces his presence with authority after being recalled from Iowa and becomes one of the top arms in the pen. – I believe very strongly in this guy, so much that I called for him to make the opening day roster. He didn’t, but watch what happens when he comes up. At least 10 K/9 ratio and an ERA under 3.00.
10. The Cubs will win 81 games in 2014 – I hinted at this in the last few weeks on the podcast and I’m locking it in now in writing. This team will be .500 when all is said and done. You heard it here first.
Opening day means all the teams throw their best. Personally, I think Wood is the best pitcher in the rotation, but you can’t deny that Samardzija is a good choice after the monster performance he posted last year against the Pirates on opening day. His opponent is Francisco Liriano, who really turned his career around last year after signing with Pittsburgh. Since he’s spent the majority of his career in the American League, very few members of the roster have seen him for any amount of time. He’s a three pitch pitcher (Fastball, Slider, and Change). What I find interesting is that last year we saw a drop in the amount he used the fastball despite the velocity staying the same. As a result, he saw a significant increase in production. Another interesting note: Date back to 2009 reports that vs. lefties he simply does not use the change up, only throwing it 1.8% of the time. Compare that with how he approaches the righties, where he uses the change 24.3% of the time.