COMMENTARY | Most of the "bold prediction" pieces you see in print or online consist of a bunch of bombastic statements that portend highly unlikely events.
If one should happen to come true, the author crows about his genius, and if most or all of the predictions fizzle, the writer cowers behind the excuse that they were simply made with entertainment value in mind.
If you're looking for more a more accurate set of prognostications than those that have gone before it, I will go ahead and disappoint you early. And, as those of you familiar with my (somewhat limited) work already know, both my genius and my entertainment value are highly questionable. If that doesn't make you want to read further, I don't know what will
Here are 10 predictions for the Chicago Cubs in 2014:
The Cubs will win 85 games
While it would represent a decidedly better record than either this year or last, 85 wins will likely earn no better than fourth place in the stacked NL Central. But it would also be a big step in the right direction and a sign that the team has an even brighter future ahead of it.
Dale Sveum will be replaced as manager
While it might seem strange to fire a manager after he led the team to its best record of his three seasons at the helm, that's exactly the reason Sveum will be let go. With last-place finishes behind them, the Cubs' front office will look to install a skipper who can lead them into prosperity. Like Moses, Sveum has led his team through the desert and will be able to view the Promised Land from a distance, but he'll be unable to enter it.
Starlin Castro will bat .300
With Castro having a down year, and with Javier Baez on the way, the calls for Starlin to be moved (either to 2B or another team) are growing louder. The naturally aggressive Castro has been more patient, seeing more pitches per plate appearance than ever before (3.88 in 2013 vs. 3.63, 3.67, and 3.46 in his first 3 seasons, respectively). Trouble is, he's looking slider first as opposed to sitting on the fastball as he did when he came up. He needs to change his approach, but Castro has the ability to regain the form of 2011 when he led the NL in hits.
Javier Baez will win Rookie of the Year
The only thing keeping Baez from ascending to The Show seems to be his arbitration-eligibility clock. It certainly isn't minor league pitching, which he has destroyed to the tune of 37 HRs and 111 RBIs. He's also batting .282 with a .341 OBP and .920 OPS, all while stealing 20 bases. Despite his youth and suspect defense, expect to see Baez with the Cubs no later than June. He will have an immediate impact and will finish with around 20 HRs and 70 RBIs, walking away with the NL ROY.
Scott Baker and Daniel Bard will be solid bullpen members
Baker will hit free agency after this season, so this prediction could fall flat almost immediately. With no market for his services, and with the Cubs still trying to get something out of the $5.5 million they paid him to rehab from Tommy John surgery, Baker will be the Cubs' primary long reliever in 2014. Daniel Bard, recently acquired off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, will benefit from the move to Chicago and will re-emerge as an excellent setup man.
Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood will combine for 35 wins
With less than a month remaining in the current season, the pair has thus far tallied 17 wins. An improved bullpen and a better offensive approach will dramatically increase those numbers, resulting in both men exceeding 15 wins apiece.
Wrigley purists will enjoy the video board
Probably the least likely of all these predictions, this is also the most subjective. But just as many opposed the addition of lights and advertising signage to the doors on and above the outfield wall, the furor over the "vidiot" board shall also pass in time. It might be better to change "enjoy" to "tolerate," but, either way, the new addition will eventually be accepted.
The Cubs will stand pat at the trading deadline
While it's possible that they'll shift around some interchangeable parts, the Cubs won't be scrambling to move everyone another team is willing to take. And with most of the bloated contracts already jettisoned, they don't need to pare the payroll any further. They'll be hovering around .500, so the moves they make will be aimed at facilitating the arrival of minor-league talent.
Anthony Rizzo will be an All-Star
He won't be voted to the team, but Rizzo will realize his potential in the first half the season, leading the Cubs in homers and RBIs, and will earn his first trip to the Midsummer Classic.
The Cubs will win the first and last games of the season
OK, this one isn't all that bold. But I promised you 10 predictions, and I'm a man of my word. With 83 wins in between, the bookends to start and end the year will be a sign of better things to come.
The oft-repeated mantra of "Wait 'Til Next Year" has served alternately as a hopeful utterance, a sarcastic dismissal, and a derisive taunt since time immemorial. As of the end of September, though, it'll be all the Cubs (and 19 other teams) and their fans have to look forward to.
So what are your predictions, bold or otherwise, for the 2014 season?
Evan Altman spent his formative years on a farm and in a sleepy town in Northwest Indiana in the days before Wrigley Field was illuminated. As a result, every summer afternoon was spent watching or listening to the Cubs on WGN, a practice that ingrained the team into his DNA. His kids are even named after the team but years of hope and frustration have made him a self-loathing, yet still unapologetic, Cubs apologist. And, yes, he knows that that is contradictory.
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