By Nina Zimmerman on May 9, 2014
It’s safe to say that no one, be it in Chicago or elsewhere, expected the Chicago Cubs to be contenders this year. In that respect, the 2014 season has thus far lived up to expectations, with the Cubs sitting in last place in the NL Central with a 12-21 record as of right now. However, with a season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary continuing, there have been some positive signs.
Emilio Bonifacio’s hot hitting quickly became one of the Cubs’ biggest surprises in the first few games. He began the year by going 11-for-16 in the opening series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his average stayed above .400 until Apr. 13. Though Bonifacio’s bat cooled off since then — he’s hitting below .200 so far in May — his presence at the top of the Cubs’ lineup gives them unexpected and much-needed pop.
So far, the closer’s job for the Cubs is more like a revolving door than a job well earned. The Cubs have the fewest saves of any team so far this year a just four. Perhaps on a team that’s only had eight save situations that’s not bad, but having defined roles in the bullpen helps create a structure that’s conducive to winning. Overall the bullpen’s performance has been middle of the road, with a 3.79 ERA that ranks 15th in baseball.
Jeff Samardzija is arguably off to the best start of his career, meaning that there’s no good reason for him to be 0-3 in seven starts so far. Six of those seven starts have been quality ones, and Samardzija’s 1.62 ERA ranks second in baseball. Contract talks between him and the Cubs stalled at the end of spring training, but Samardzija is the kind of solid, homegrown talent the Cubs should build around. It will be their loss if he goes.
The Cubs expressed their faith in Anthony Rizzo’s future last year by signing him to a large long-term deal. He responded with the worst season of his young career, hitting .233. Rizzo seems to have turned a huge corner in 2014, with a .294 BA, seven home runs and a team-high 18 RBIs. More than anything, Rizzo seems more energized, relaxed and, for lack of a better word, happy. Happiness doesn’t equal hits, but it helps on a last-place team.
Building from the bottom up is the mantra of Theo Epstein’s Cubs regime, and it’s showing in the team's system this year. No. 2 prospect Kris Bryant is having a strong year with Double A Tennessee, hitting .328 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs, and will probably end the season in Triple A. Closer to the majors, top prospect Javier Baez’s numbers at Triple A Iowa haven’t been very good, but he could nevertheless make his debut later this year.
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