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Chicago Cubs: Five Ways to Get to .500 in 2014

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The old adage is that if you don't win a World Series, the season is a failure.

Technically, you have to consider that to be true. But what's also true is that the Chicago Cubs (fans included) would be ecstatic if the team finished at .500 in 2014. They might not say it publicly but behind closed doors, ecstasy would ensue.

And that would be because there is almost zero chance it actually happens. But as a member of Cubs Nation, I am better than most at acknowledging that it might happen. Stars may have to align, Starlin Castro may have to play defense, Darwin Barney may have to hit, and the apocalypse may need to begin, but it might happen. The Chicago Cubs could finish at .500 in 2014.

Here's how it might happen:

Jeff Samardzija emerges as the ace pitcher he's been claimed to be
Nothing says "ace pitcher" like a 29-year-old with career ERA of 4.32 as a starter, a record of 19-29, and who has never won more than nine games in a season. Samardzija is technically 28, but will turn 29 in two weeks.

You can cut the pie however you want. His numbers are either too lackluster to be considered an ace, or his numbers are too small a sample size to claim either way. Whichever way you choose, Samardzija isn't an ace pitcher yet. Despite my inklings that he is not one (I'm usually wrong about basically everything), if he is and shows it in 2014, it will go a long way to the Cubs getting to .500.

He'd probably need 16 or more wins to really make a major impact on a Cubs team that looks to be pretty awful on paper.

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo rebound from lacking 2013 campaigns
What's funny is that people seem to have more confidence in Rizzo when Castro has actually put together a couple of fine offensive seasons -- prior to his .245 average in 2013, Castro was a career .297 hitter. Rizzo, meanwhile, is a career .238 hitter.

However, getting rebound years from these two players doesn't seem too much of a stretch. Rizzo (24) and Castro (23) are still in the earliest days of their respective careers and have both shown substantial upside. Castro led the NL in hits in 2011 (207), and Rizzo has shown Gold Glove-caliber defense, as well as power and potential for plate patience. Were it not for the ridiculous expectations of these players, we'd all be drooling over them.

If Rizzo can put out a line of about .260 AVG, 25 HRs, and 100 RBIs, while Castro gets back to a .290 AVG, 10 HRs, 70 RBIs, it would be one of many factors necessary to get the Cubs to .500.

A surprise at third base
A number of players could emerge as the Cubs' third baseman -- Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy, Mike Olt, Javier Baez -- which could lead to the position being a black hole for the Cubs in 2014, or it could lead to one of the most surprisingly productive spots on the diamond.

The big possible change to start 2014 is going to be Olt. We know what Valbuena can do -- career average of .222 --, Murphy's power surge was more than likely a flash in the pan in 2013, and Baez would not only have to be promoted to the majors (most reports say summer at the earliest) but would also have to be moved to third.

Olt is someone who could win the job with a strong showing in spring training. The Cubs sport so much depth in the infield throughout the system that once they find someone to fill third, they have enough talent to be able to move others around -- either to other positions or via trade.

The Cubs' average starting rotation is supported by a non-dreadful bullpen
This was not the case in 2013. Even though the Cubs enjoyed average-to-above-average starting pitching for much of the season, the bullpen (and its 26 blown saves) did an efficient job of cancelling it out.

The Cubs have once again been quiet during this offseason, but have managed to piece together what looks like a halfway decent bullpen -- Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, James Russell, Blake Parker, Kyuji Fujikawa, Wesley Wright (and probably others).

If the bullpen had been passable last season, the Cubs would have been a lot closer to .500 than they were. If it's solidified, the Cubs could easily be better than we think.

No starting pitcher is gratuitously bad -- I'm looking at you, Edwin Jackson
The definition of being a .500 team is that you're delightfully and entirely average. The key to being average? Don't be too good. Don't be too bad. So long as they avoid that in the pitching realm, they'll have a shot at that delightful average-ness.

Based on last year, Edwin Jackson is your red flag. He's 78-89 in his career, but is coming off a porous 8-18 season with an ERA of almost 5 (4.98). If Jackson can avoid making us think his $13 million a year is a total waste, and, along with the rest of the rotation, avoid any performance nosedives (specifically those pesky season-long nosedives), then, who knows, 81-81 might just be within reach.

Probably not, but a .500 season is all it would take for all the hope-filled, charming (and pitiable?) Cubs faithful to start proclaiming that "next year is the year."

That would probably be wrong, too. But the year after that?

Now we're talking.

Brian is a lifelong Chicago Cubs follower. Living in Illinois his entire life has given him a chance to closely follow and report Chicago sports as a freelance writer through Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo Sports. He is also a senior majoring in Creative Writing.

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