By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) Recently, the Sporting News predicted the Cubs would win the 2015 World Series. After that impractical piece of fortune telling, I admonished the site for hype beyond any reasonable set of variables in place.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: 1,182 New Coronavirus Cases, 5 More Deaths; Lowest One-Day Death Toll Since September
Now, enter first baseman Anthony Rizzo with his view of the newly formed 2015 Chicago Cubs, who he believes will win the NL Central.
“It’s going to happen this year,” Rizzo said Thursday on the team’s winter caravan. “It’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to play, we’re going to win the NL Central. Quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team, they’re just as good talent wise, but we’re going to do some things this year. That’s what we’re expecting. That’s what we’re putting our sights on. We’re not going to accept anything else.”
A 24-year-old team leader, Rizzo should be commended for his positive attitude going into the much-anticipated 2015 campaign. Yet reality may intervene come opening night if a number of circumstances don’t roll Chicago’s way prior to that.
An inexperienced rotation after Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta is chock full of big question marks. The least productive offensive outfield in baseball last season still has holes to be filled. A team with a .300 on-base percentage in 2014 has added only one full-time player (catcher Miguel Montero) and one platoon player (Chris Denorfia) who have career on-base numbers in the .330s or better.READ MORE: Park District Spring Program Sign Up Starts Monday
The premise that a team that averaged 3.8 runs per game can get that number up one run per game isn’t without merit if the Cubs front office can deal catcher Welington Castillo for a high on-base percentage outfielder who can lead off every day.
The National League pennant can be won with great pitching in the rotation or the bullpen, coupled with solid defense. Getting a lead early in a game and protecting one-run leads have become fashionable in this league without scary hitters.
“I don ‘t think (the division title) is out of reach at all,” Arrieta said after hearing the Rizzo’s prediction. “I expect all the guys on our ballclub to have that same sort of mindset. We have a clean slate, a new season and a lot of fresh faces. Optimism is a good thing to have. We are all ready and excited to get going.”
I respect how the Cubs have stolen some great talent from other teams, signed a winning manager in Joe Maddon and added ace starter Lester. But please, let’s not get to close to the fumes or drink more than one cup of the Kool-Aid.
An 80-win season would be a great step forward for the Cubs this year. If you tell me that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have added a top lead-off batter and another solid starter, then I will drink up with all the other hype guzzlers in the crowd.MORE NEWS: Chicago Police Seeking To Identify People Involved In Last Summer's Clash With Officers At Columbus Statue In Grant Park
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.