By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) Opening Night has come and gone, and Cubs fans are still a few weeks away from seeing Kris Bryant debut with the club. Aside from the bathroom issues at Wrigley Field, what’s a Cubs fan to spend their time worrying about? Here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the young season unfolds on the North Side.READ MORE: Nearly 18,000 Unemployment Claims Filed In Illinois Last Week Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Can Matt Szczur maintain his hot start?
If Szczur flew under the radar this spring, he can thank the ongoing Kris Bryant saga. In any other year, Szczur would have been the lucky receptacle of all of Cubs fans’ unreasonable expectations, hopes and dreams (see: Fox, Jake; Pie, Felix; Olt, Mike). Luckily for Szczur, hitting .354 and slugging his way to an OPS over 1.200 this spring didn’t escape the notice of Cubs skipper Joe Maddon, as Szczur found his way onto the Cubs roster right out of Mesa. The questions now are whether Szczur can keep hitting at the same torrid pace and if Maddon can find enough playing time for the 25-year-old outfielder to make his spot on the roster worthwhile.
Is Jake Arrieta the true ace of the staff?
When we left Arrieta last September, he had a 0.95 ERA for the month and was flirting with no-hitters on a semi-regular basis. Arrieta was less impressive, though still solid, in Mesa this spring, and with Jon Lester struggling with his control, it’s possible Arrieta could turn out to be the most valuable member of the rotation. Arrieta posted a 10-5 record in 25 starts in 2014, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he can improve on those numbers in 2015. He’s also the best Twitter follow on the team by far, weighing in on everything from the transcendent experience of hugging Kris Bryant to the creepiness of HBO’s Scientology documentary “Going Clear.”
How long will Welington Castillo be around?
Many fans were surprised to see the Cubs carry three catchers into the start of the season, but with Miguel Montero designated as the pitch-framing specialist and David Ross brought in as Lester’s personal catcher, Castillo is the odd man out. You should expect Castillo to remain on the team only until president of baseball operations Theo Epstein can get a decent haul in return, at which point Castillo will be offloaded onto someone else. Rumor has it that the Cubs are still on the hunt for starting pitching, so it’s possible Castillo could be part of a deal to shore up the staff.READ MORE: When Insurance Company Wouldn't Budge On His Claim, He Took Matters Into His Own Hands; Who Monitors Complaints Against Insurers In Illinois?
Can Arismendy Alcantara find his footing?
Alcantara was the the first of the highly anticipated prospects to come up from the minors last season (the others being Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Bryant, who hasn’t debuted yet), and his speed and aggressive play quickly won many fans over. But for all his flash on defense and the basepaths, Alcantara struggled at the plate in 2014, especially against right-handers, against whom he posted a measly .190 average. Alcantara was significantly better in spring training this season, managing a .250 overall average and hitting .308 against righties, suggesting some time with new Cubs hitting coach John Mallee might have been just what he needed to right the ship.
Can Joe Maddon keep the kids on an even keel?
If you missed the outrage on Twitter over the Cubs’ first loss of the season Sunday night, it was truly a sight to behold. A significant portion of the fan base expects the 2015 Chicago Cubs team to make a deep run in the playoffs, and the fact that old-school publications like Sporting News have picked the Cubs to win the World Series isn’t helping to tamp down the drum beats of success. Enter Maddon, a manager notorious for keeping a loose clubhouse using such tried-and-true methods as mariachi bands, penguins and themed road trips.
As unflappable as Maddon is, getting the young players to ignore the harsh glare of the spotlight on the North Side won’t be easy. Bryant already has his own Adidas billboard across from Wrigley Field, and he hasn’t even made it out of the minors. Soler already drew notoriety for hitting a batter practice homer that nailed the brand new video board on the same day it went up. Arrieta has been mentioned as an early candidate for this year’s Cy Young award.
Will locker room petting zoos, magicians and pajama parties be enough to keep the kids focused on the game? We’re about to find out.MORE NEWS: Local Vaccination Sites Begin Administering Pfizer Vaccine To Kids Ages 12 To 15 Thursday; Some Sites Extend Hours
Follow Julie on Twitter @JulieDiCaro.