2013 Season Preview: NL Central

By Matt Musico
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Chicago Cubs (2012 Finish: 61-101, .377, 5th place)

Key signings/acquisitions: C Dioner Navarro (FA), SP Scott Baker (FA), RP Shawn Camp (FA), SP Scott Feldman (FA), 3B Ian Stewart (re-signed), OF Nate Schierholtz (FA), SP Edwin Jackson (FA), RP Hisanori Takahashi (FA), RP Carlos Vilanueva (FA), OF Scott Hairston (FA)

Key losses: OF/3B Joe Mather, SP Justin Germano, RP Manuel Corpas

Fortunately for the Cubs, a 100-loss season didn’t land them in the basement of the division, but that was because the Houston Astros had also occupied the NL Central; now that they’ve moved to the AL West, that leaves Chicago as a last-place team.

February 12, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson (36) throws during spring training camp at Finch Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

It was an all-around disappointing first season for first-year manager Dale Sveum, as both his team pitching and hitting were ranked in the bottom five of the Major Leagues. Starlin Castro continued to show he’ll be a solid ballplayer for years to come, as his 14 homers and 78 RBI last year were new career highs. Anthony Rizzo got a taste of the Big Leagues with 87 games played for the Cubbies last season (.285/.342/.463, 15 HR, 48 RBI), and will be taking over starting duties at first base. Although they’d like to trade him, Alfonso Soriano is the only true source of consistent power in their current lineup, as he’s coming off a year in which he hit 32 homers and 108 RBI, his highest totals since 2006 with the Nationals.

Obviously, it was not just the offense that underperformed in 2012 for Chicago, but it was the pitching as well. Matt Garza was limited to 18 starts, and is already headed for the disabled list to start the season, while Jeff Samardzija put together a nice year in his first as a starter (9-13, 3.81 ERA). Travis Wood (6-13, 4.27 ERA) filled in admirably, but he’s seemingly been pushed out of the Big League rotation with the off-season acquisitions of Baker, Feldman, and Jackson.

Rookie to watch: OF Brett Jackson

Jackson is ranked as Chicago’s fourth best prospect (according to MLB.com), but with a team that has a lot of holes at the Big League level, the 24-year-old is the only one in the top-five that could have an impact this season at Wrigley. One would think that if the Cubs are successful in trading away Soriano, Jackson could get the opportunity to get consistent playing time. He walked to the plate 142 times in the Majors last season, and although he only hit .175, 11 of his 21 hits went for extra bases. He has potential combine that power with speed, as he went 20-20 two seasons ago while splitting time in AA and AAA.

Prediction:

All Chicago Cubs fans know they’re right in the middle of a rebuilding process with Theo Epstein at the head of baseball operations. Unfortunately, this process is still not done, and I anticipate them finishing last, winning between 70-75 games. It’s easy to see they’re still planning for the future, as Edwin Jackson was the only free agent signing they made for more than two years. It will be great to watch how Rizzo plays throughout a full season, and how the projected platoon between Schierholtz and Hairston works out in right field.

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