By Doug Halberstadt
While the temperatures around here are proclaiming that winter is still alive and well it’s somewhat hard to believe that Major League Baseball is right around the corner.
The Chicago Cubs’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training Thursday and the full team reports next week.
For us long-time–or even perhaps lifetime–Cubs fans this is the time of year where excitement reigns supreme. How many times have we endured the “This is our year.” line? It seems like every season our hopes get ratcheted up a few notches.
I know you’ve heard this before but I really think this year those hopes are justified.
New manager Joe Madden has a proven track record of success. He’s actually one who’s been there and done that and has solid plans on doing it again. He’s the best manager the franchise has seen in a very long time.
There’s a quality pitching staff to be excited about, provided they all stay healthy. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks could easily reach double-digit numbers in the win column.
Shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo anchor the infield. They combined for only 24 errors last season and both showed signs of improvement at the plate.
Rizzo racked up 32 home runs, a career high and good for second in the National League. With solid hitters in front of him in 2015 his RBI total should jump from last year’s 78 mark.
The guy that’s a bit of a sleeper and could end up making a world of difference for this year’s squad is catcher Miguel Montero. A proven veteran coming over from the Arizona Diamondbacks, he’s a solid backstop (.991 career fielding average) that is very capable of handling the pitching staff, having the reputation as an intelligent receiver and knowing how to call a game from behind the plate.
Dexter Fowler is slated to play centerfield and captain the outfield. Last year in Houston he had an on-base percentage of .375, good for ninth in the NL.
There’s little doubt that the team reporting to spring training this year is vastly improved from prior years. Whether or not the final product turns out to be as good as everyone is predicting remains to be seen.
That won’t be known for sure until the end of the 162-game regular season in October. The one thing in late February that does seem to be certain is this year there really are some genuine reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season.
GO CUBS, GO.