Playing Pepper 2015: Chicago Cubs

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Chicago Cubs
73-89, fifth in the NL Central

Winter is coming.

It seems strange to say that here as we are enjoying the spring, but for Cardinal fans, wary eyes are kept now on the North Side of Chicago.  The White Walkers, as sage Aaron Finkel and others over at Viva El Birdos have styled them, are stirring.  For many, many years we’ve been able to take comfort in the fact that, if nothing else, the Series drought would continue for the Cubs.  Now, we can’t sit quite as comfortably on that foundation.

To talk about these resurgent baby bears, I’ve got a couple of great bloggers who, by a sad twist of fate, have fallen in with this accursed franchise.  Rob writes many places but I came to know him at Blue Batting Helmet, even though a lot of his baseball writing is elsewhere now.  He’s also on Twitter @rlincolnharris.  Ryan writes the wonderfully-named Prose and Ivy, or more accurately has come back to it after a hiatus.  You’ll find him on Twitter @proseandivy.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

BBH: For the first time in the Theo Epstein era, the team was active in the offseason. They needed a leadoff hitter, and Dexter Fowler is a solid candidate to fill this role. They needed a top of the rotation starter with postseason success, and Jon Lester is as good a pickup as there was to be had. They needed a managerial upgrade, and Joe Maddon appears to be that guy. And the catching corps is all brand new, between Miguel Montero and David Ross. I’d like to get one more quality starter, but beyond that I’d say mission accomplished in the offseason.

PI: This off-season was something we haven’t experienced in sometime as Cubs fans. A top-flight manager in Joe Maddon. An ace in Jon Lester. You could have stopped there and I would have been thrilled. Throw in Hammel, Montero and really, a bunch of improved young talent which is another upgrade to this ballclub – though not official transactions mind you – and this team is going to be dangerous in 2015. Finally, a year where we watch the team get older and its a good thing! Yes, I believe this off-season is one giant leap towards where we need to be to finally fly that elusive post-season W Flag at Wrigley.

C70: What can derail the Theo Epstein bandwagon, if anything?

BBH: His team still needs to win. If the team plays over .500 ball it will be something we haven’t seen in awhile. A steady diet of sub-.500 baseball this season won’t be as patiently received as in years past.

PI: The Theo bandwagon is an interesting phrase. If you believe in the moves and the Cub Way then you aren’t hopping off anytime soon – unless they start to make moves that don’t follow suit. Theo has the experience and the results and Cubs fans trust that he didn’t forget how to build a winner when he took his talents to the North Side. The only reason I feel people would hop off the bandwagon would be if he starts doing things that are more Hendry-esque and less the strategy they’ve been implementing thus far.

C70: How strange is it going to be rooting for Jason Motte now?

BBH: I’ve rooted for Jim Edmonds and Gary Gaetti in the past, so Motte won’t be a problem if he helps the team win. My father exclaimed “Not Motte!” and I thought that was funny, but if he can get us over the hump, so be it.

PI: I believe if a player has hurt you enough in the past that it becomes tough to seem them outside of the jersey they were wearing when they did so. Almost as if it was not clothing they were wearing, but that that uniform was their skin and that is who they are. However, I don’t think Motte has done enough to me as a Cubs fan where I would have a hard time rooting for him. I mean, I rooted for Jim Edmonds, right?

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

BBH: Kris Bryant is going to go on a tear. I think he’s earned a spot on the team already, but they’ll hold him back at triple-A for the first month to six weeks of the season. I’m hoping he’ll show us all that he’s worthy of the hype.

PI: I expect either Jorge Soler and Jake Arrieta to make the greatest strides this year. Soler in becoming a player that fans who root for other teams start talking about and Arrieta in challenging Lester for most dominate starter on the staff. I would like to see Edwin Jackson make the greatest strides this year though. He’s been a great representative of the team off the field and Theo must have seen something in him to offer such a contract. Imagine what it would do for our rotation to have Jackson pitching at an impressive level? With the rest of the rotation, we’d be unstoppable.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

BBH: There’s a line from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” that sums up my approach to life: “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.” The past three years have been filled with some very nasty meat for us Cubs fans, so I’m ready to have some pudding, instead. I’m calling 97-65 this year, and winning the division by two games.

PI: I believe the Cubs will finish at 85-77 on the season, a 12 game improvement over last year and end the campaign in second place in the NL Central. I’d love to see them accomplish more of course, however I still feel like we are one dominant starting pitcher and another year of experience for the young talent away from making the run.

C70: What do you like best about being a Cubs fan?

BBH: The outpouring of love and respect for Ernie Banks after he passed away in January reminded me that we’re all bound together. Ernie loved the game, and we all loved Ernie for that. The “Go all the way” sing-along with him and Eddie Vedder at the Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley Field in 2013 meant so much to me. I’d love to win a title–and I hope I live long enough to see it–but baseball feeds my soul, and for forty years that has meant following the Cubs. I’ll never give that up.

PI: The thing I like best about being a Cubs fan is the feeling that the love for the team and the support of the fans is mutual from fan/organization and vice-versa. I feel there is a mutual respect there and a mutual love of the team and the game. We expect their best and they give it to us, from the starting lineup to the top of the front office, the first day on the job employee to the top of the front office. You feel that the organization cares about the team on and off the field and how they work with the community and the fans and that makes me feel good as a Cubs fan to be a part of it. One group heading in the same direction with the same goal in mind with mutual respect and admiration along the way. Doesn’t get any better than that.

My thanks and appreciation to both of these guys.  However, that doesn’t extend toward wishing the Cubs would break that drought.  I’m pretty sure I’m not ever going to be mentally prepared for that!

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