I blame my wife. Because of her, I have largely missedâor been spared, depending on how you look at itâthe majority of the Cubsâ last two seasons. I havenât had to watch them find new and exciting ways to throw away winnable games. I havenât suffered the emotional and mental anguish of repeated late-inning collapses. I havenât wallowed in loss after frustrating loss, desperate for Octoberâs arrival and the end of the pain. Marriage is the best.
Thatâs not to say Iâve been totally disconnected from the CubsâIâve looked in from time to time to see how Castro and Rizzo were doing, or to remind myself who the starting outfielders were. And Iâm still a season ticket holder, so itâs not like I could ignore them altogether. But for the most part, the Cubs have been less like an immediate part of the family. For the last several months theyâve been more like a distant relativeâthe only time I hear from them is when they need money.
But this season is different, and you already know why. This Cubs team, unlike the last few squads, has more than just a faint whiff of hope and optimism about them. Like a high school freshman trying to mask the stench of mid-morning gym class, these Cubs are drenched in the sweet perfume of high-ceiling potential andâhereâs the kicker for meâcompetitive relevance.
Like most of you, I donât have spectacularly high hopes for 2015. What I want to see more than anything else from this yearâs team (and beyond) is simply that theyâd be playing meaningful games late into September (and, perhaps, beyond). The Wild Card play-in game, the NL Central crown, and the World Series are all fine goals, and Iâm thrilled that the players and the media are mentioning them without sarcastic smirks. But Iâll happily settle for consistent competitiveness that keeps us relevant throughout the season. And Iâll wait to start making my postseason plans until thatâs the new norm.
Hereâs a few other things Iâm looking forward to this season, in no particular order:
- Several writers have referred to the hiring of Joe Maddon as the best free agent signing of the offseason. I didnât closely follow his work in Tampa Bay, but I know his reputation, and Iâm eager to see what he does with the hand heâs been dealt. He wonât have to do much to be the best Cubs manager since, well . . . in a really long time.
- Iâm also interested to see how the Rick Renteria situation backfires on us. Iâm thrilled weâve got Maddon, but I concerned the way things went down with Reteria may come back to haunt us. Doubt me if you must, but just remember we had this conversation when a few months from now he inevitably takes a job with St. Louis.
- I know the baseball world is foaming at the mouth for Kris Bryant, and that once his stay in service time purgatory is over, his every at-bat will be must-see TV. I got a chance to see him in person this spring, and the hype not unmerited. But Iâm equally excited for a full year of Jorge Soler. Both guys possess Asgardian power, and Solerâs plate discipline has many people thinking heâs actually the better candidate for Rookie of the Year. Either way, Iâm ecstatic at the prospect of watching the two of them treat us to a season-long home run derby.
- Is Jon Lester an ace? And whatâs it like to have one anchoring your pitching staff? I canât wait to find out.
- Anthony Rizzo is 25 years old. So is Starlin Castro. In spite of that, theyâre now the veteran leaders, and two of the longest-tenured Cubs this season. While the youngsters (relative term) are getting the headlines, much of the burden still falls on those two. After bouncing back to form last season, what next step is there for either of them to take?
- Is there an adjustment that can fix the gaping holes in Javier Baezâs swing, and is he capable of making it? Or is he just the next Corey Patterson?
- It sounds crazy, but I like he idea of breaking camp with three catchers on the roster. I understand what Miguel Montero brings to the table, and that his familiarity with David Ross might make a huge difference in Lesterâs performance. But Iâm glad the Cubs didnât simply dump Welington Castilloâthat he was able to show he still has some value to the team. Itâll be interesting to see how they juggle all three guys in the early going, and how they feature Castillo if they still think of him as trade bait. And yes, if nothing else changes, I fully expect his value to plummet right around the time the Cubs are ready to promote Bryant.
- Iâm on record as being a big fan of the super-utility player, and it seems that the Cubs believe they have one in Arismendy Alcantara. I havenât seen enough to know if he possesses DeRosian talent, but Maddon clearly likes the flexibility he affords, and I look forward to how the Cubs will exploit it.
- While I canât fully articulate why, I like Chris Coghlan. I thought he was a pleasant surprise last season, and in spite of the supposed benefits of a platoon, Iâm rooting for him to win the left field job outright.
- Iâll confess I have only a passing familiarity with our bullpen. I honestly might struggle to name more than two or three of our relievers without peeking at the roster. But I hear good things. And while it will be strange adjusting to an effective bullpen, Iâm going to make every effort.
- Finally, Iâm looking forward to Opening Day. The sense of anticipation that surrounds this Cubs team had been noticeably absent for the last few years. The last couple seasons have been little more than sad inevitabilities. But now, finally, weâre looking ahead to legitimately exciting possibilities. Whatever the season holds, Iâm happy to be happy for the start of baseball again. Thatâs not much, but itâs something. And itâll have me paying attention to these Cubs in a way I havenât for a while now. I canât wait for Sunday to get here. Letâs play two.