10 Cubs storylines to watch in 2012


10 Cubs storylines to watch in 2012

Happy New Year to all Cubs fans out there. 2012 is the first full year in the Theo Epstein era. It's a new beginning. No looking back now. You know, except when we have to look back to make sure history doesn't repeat itself and for past stats, etc.

So, on the first day of 2012, CubsTalk has a list of 10 things to watch for in this new year. Some may be over and done with before February even hits, while others still be focal points at this time in 2013. We'll count down, just like you all did last night before midnight hit.
10. Starlin Castro career progression

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Castro is already the team's most marketable player, so there's no doubt he'd be a focal point of the franchise in 2012. But at just 21 (he will turn 22 March 24), he is still so new and raw at this game. Will he develop more power this year? Will he cut down on his errors and utilize his athleticism effectively at shortstop? Will he turn in another .300 season and reach the 200-hit plateau again? How will he continue to handle the attenion he gets playing as the biggest name on one of the most popular franchises in all of sports?

9. Tom Ricketts

You can't have a calendar year without addressing the team's owner, especially when the chairman of the franchise lured the biggest front office name in the game to his town. Ricketts will be front and center all year -- as a fan, as a businessman (deals like purchasing the McDonald's and subsequent land across the street from Wrigley are great business moves) and as a chairman.

8. Alfonso Soriano's contract

If the Cubs are rebuilding, it's hard to see Soriano sticking around. He will turn 36 this week and is one of the most grossly overpaid players in the game because of his declining skills. Will the Cubs be able to deal him, even if they eat a huge portion of his contract? If he's not traded, will he play everyday or will young guys like Tony Campana and Dave Sappelt get playing time as part of the youth movementrebuild?

7. Young pitchers

How will Andrew Cashner fare coming off his shoulder injury? Will he be a starter or a reliever for most of 2012? Will Trey McNutt get back on track as the organization's top pitching prospect? Will guys like Rafael Dolis and Jeff Beliveau spend extended time in the big-league bullpen? Will guys like Jeff Samaradzija and James Russell build off their solid 2011 seasons?

6. Matt Garza trade talks

With the way things are shaking out, it appears one of two things will happen before this offseason is up -- either Garza is traded or the Cubs sign him to a long-term deal a la the John Danks contract. Neither has to happen (Garza is under contract through the 2013 season), but it appears this situation is coming to a head here in the first couple months of 2012.

5. Brett Jackson

As the organization's top prospect, many fans are clamoring for the Cubs to have Jackson crack the starting lineup from Day One of spring training. But if Jackson isn't ready, there's no point in pushing him. After all, it would take an awful lot to go right for the Cubs to contend in 2012, so they can take their time and be patient. But either way, one has to figure Jackson will make his MLB debut sometime in 2012. The only question is...when?

4. Carlos Zambrano

Given his outspoken nature and the entertainment factor, Zambrano will always demand attention as long as he is part of the Cubs' organization. The only question is...how much longer will he be with the franchise?

3. Rebuilding effort

The Cubs are rebuilding. No secret about that anymore. As such, every move made will be examined and analyzed and everybody will have an eye toward the future. The real question is, how far down the road will people be looking? Some seem to be impatient and want immediate results, but things don't work like that, especially considering the shape of this franchise when the new front office took over.
2. Ron Santo's Hall of Fame induction

I would love to move this higher up, but there is good reason, I promise. The HOF induction is long overdue for the most beloved Cub ever. Fans will join friends and family of both the Cubs organziation and the Santo family in late July to honor one of baseball's greatest personalities and most passionate players.

1. Theo Epstein

He's so popular, he is just known by one name. Like Madonna. Or Prince. (The singer, not the slugging first baseman everybody wants the Cubs to sign) Theo has celebrity status like no other front office member has ever had, including Billy Beane, who has a whole movie made off his "Moneyball" tactics. Whereas the Santo HOF induction is a fantastic moment and a truly happy occasion, it will only be the focal point of a couple weeks -- at most -- of 2012. Epstein will be in the news every single day of the new year. Every mistake he makes -- and he will make some, that's a guarantee -- he will be second-guessed like no other. Every success, no matter how small, will only add to his legacy.

2012 probably won't bring a World Series ring for Cubs fans, but it will still be a heck of exciting year. Stick right here at CubsTalk for all the latest on news and rumors each and every day.

Cubs see Kyle Schwarber looming as potential World Series hero

Cubs see Kyle Schwarber looming as potential World Series hero

CLEVELAND — Even as the Cubs went through their World Series workout and media-day responsibilities here, team officials kept their eyes on Kyle Schwarber in the Arizona Fall League, watching his at-bats on a live video feed from their spring-training complex.

The Cubs clearly didn’t use Schwarber as a distraction for their anxious fan base or a misdirection play against the Cleveland Indians. This is all about maximizing the chance to win the franchise’s first world championship since 1908 — and the Cubs believe Schwarber’s thunderous left-handed swing could be the X-factor.

Schwarber planned to fly to Cleveland on Monday after going 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run scored for the Mesa Solar Sox, another giant step in his recovery from what was supposed to be season-ending surgery on his left knee.

“He looked really good,” said team president Theo Epstein, mentioning that Schwarber did the necessary running/sliding/diving drills pregame — and then hit a ball with 110-mph exit velocity.

The rotating images on the big video board at Progressive Field even showed a dummy Game 1 lineup with Schwarber batting ninth as the designated hitter against Corey Kluber. It’s a long way from the Arizona Fall League to facing a Cy Young Award winner, especially after going more than six months without seeing live pitching. But if anyone can do it, well, the Cubs would never bet against Schwarber.

“He’s a pretty special person and a special hitter,” Epstein said.

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One week ago, Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed Schwarber’s ACL and repaired his LCL, surprisingly green-lighted a return to baseball activities. The Cubs had been focused on getting Schwarber ready for winter ball and Opening Day 2017, a more realistic timeline after that brutal outfield collision with Dexter Fowler on April 7.

The Cubs still won 103 games — even with Schwarber making only five plate appearances during the regular season and spending his time working on scouting reports, analyzing video and observing in the draft room.

“We’ve seen first-hand the work that he’s putting in and how hard he’s been going,” MVP candidate Kris Bryant said. “Honestly, I saw him out — maybe a couple weeks after his surgery — and he’s moving around, walking. And I’m like: ‘Dang, this guy’s not human. How? I saw your leg bend in half, and you’re walking around. This is unbelievable.’

“(It’s) watching him dripping with sweat every single day. Every single day, this guy is drenched. I feel like he’s in the best shape of his life (now). There was no doubt in my mind that he could do it. It was just a matter of if they let him.”

Schwarber is such a presence that Cubs executives left their seats and moved to the back of their Wrigley Field suite on Saturday night to watch his at-bats on the Sloan Park SpyCam — even as the best team in baseball eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers from the National League Championship Series and won the franchise’s first pennant in 71 years.

Everyone around the Cubs remembers how Schwarber starred during that wild-card showdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the ball he smashed off the St. Louis Cardinals onto the top of a Wrigley Field video board, putting up five homers and a 1.308 OPS during last year’s playoffs, which happened to be the end of his first full season in professional baseball.

“You see when he gets introduced how much everybody loves him,” Game 2 starter Jake Arrieta said. “He’s a legend already at such a young age. That’s awesome. It just speaks to the importance of what he was able to do last year for us.

“I think he’s going to be here. He wouldn’t have been playing in the Fall League if they weren’t seriously considering him being here. And not having to put him in the field is huge. If he hits a ball over the fence, he can trot around the bases. If he happens to line out or ground out, then he can just kind of jog to first.

“That just speaks to how special of a bat he is — and how hard he worked these past six months to put himself in the position to be ready to play in the World Series.”

At the age of 23, Schwarber is positioned to become yet another young Cub who wants to own this October. Jason McLeod — the senior vice president of scouting and player development heavily involved in the decision to draft Schwarber with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft — joked about how Fowler’s one-year, $13 million deal came together during this unreal year.

“We have to one-up Dexter’s entrance into spring training,” McLeod said.

No-brainer: Cubs rolling with Jon Lester again in World Series Game 1

No-brainer: Cubs rolling with Jon Lester again in World Series Game 1

CLEVELAND - The Cubs are undefeated in the 2016 postseason when Jon Lester takes the mound, including two Game 1 appearances.

So the Cubs are going to stick with what works.

The team announced Lester as the starter for Game 1 of the World Series at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland Tuesday night.

"We win when he pitches," Anthony Rizzo said. "It's our mentality with all our pitchers but with him, it feels different."

Lester - the co-MVP of the National League Championship Series - is 2-0 this postseason with a 0.86 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in three starts spanning 21 innings. He has thrown at least six innings in each outing, including a gritty Game 5 performance against the Dodgers in the NLCS, allowing only one run in seven innings to send the series back to Chicago on a high note.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon believes Lester is cementing his name in franchise history with his playoff dominance.

"There is an incredible amount of calm that I'm seeing from the dugout when I'm watching him out there right now," Maddon said. "He's really, really in the moment. He's calm. Gosh, he's just eager to get out and pitch."

With his success this October, Lester now has a 2.50 ERA in 19 career postseason games (17 starts) and 119 innings. 

This is exactly what the Cubs signed up for when they handed the veteran southpaw a megadeal before the 2015 season - one of the best postseason pitchers of this generation.

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Lester has been asked several times over the last couple weeks what he can attribute his playoff dominance to and he always shrugs it off and deflects credit to the team.

"I had good fastball command. It wasn't erratic," he said. "It was missing to the side of the plate that I wanted to be on. I think when I'm able to do that, it makes the other pitches better.

"I guess that's kind of like your cooke-cutter answer, but I mean, for me, that's what it comes down to. ... The well-executed fastball in October is just the same as it is in June."

After Lester, Jake Arrieta said Monday he would be set to go in Game 2 in Cleveland.

That lines up Kyle Hendricks for Game 3 and another opportunity at Wrigley Field, where he has a 1.38 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 111.2 innings (including three postseason starts).

During the regular season, the Cubs had the best starting rotation in the big leagues, in part because they kept feeding off each other and competed within the pitching staff.

"I can specifically remember several times when Kyle would have a nice outing and go six or seven and give up one or two and I'd be like, 'You can't be giving up two runs, man,'" Arrieta joked. "It'd be after I went out and pitched eight scoreless or something like that.

"We'd just mess with each other like that. It's a friendly competition that most rotations have. ... To have that, to feed off each other, to fire each other up, it's one of the reasons we've pitched so well and why we're here."

The Indians are starting ace Corey Kluber - the 2014 American League Cy Young winner - in Game 1 and will slot in some combination of Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin for Games 2 and 3.

The Indians also aren't ruling out utilizng Kluber on short rest in Game 4 Saturday in Chicago and possibly even Game 7 if the series gets that far.