Cubs not counting out the 2012 season

Cubs not counting out the 2012 season
January 15, 2012, 4:47 am
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Paul Maholm spent his entire career with the Pirates up until this week, so he knows a thing or two about losing.

But when when he was asked Friday at the Cubs Convention how it felt to go from one struggling franchise to another, he was quick to answer.

"No guarantee on the struggling part," Maholm said of the Cubs' 2012 prospects. "Last year, everybody expected us to lose more than 110 games and we played well in Pittsburgh. It takes 25 guys-plus to come together and play hard and expect to win. From Theo down, we're expecting to do that this year."

Maholm is the newest Cub, but he's preaching the same sentiment as long-tenured veterans.

"We're all tied for first right now. It's our job not to lose it," Ryan Dempster said.

"You may be surprised," catcher Geovany Soto said. "You could see a great team with great chemistry winning ball games. Everybody could be surprised here in August. You never know, that's why you have to come prepared."

To a man, the Cubs are positive. They believe they can conted in 2012.

But what else would they say? Why would they agree that the upcoming season could produce 90-100 losses?

"We'll never tell you that because we don't believe in that," newcomer Ian Stewart said. "We feel like we're going to come out and win games. The goal every game is to come out and win, not just to see how good you can do.

"There's been a lot of teams that have started the season with question marks that have gone on to be good teams, so there's no reason we can't do that here."

And that's the right attitude to have, obviously. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wouldn't have brought in guys who are content with losing.

But Epstein and Hoyer have also done a good job dismantling the roster.

Last season, the Cubs struggled to a 71-91 record and a fifth place finish in the NL Central.

Gone from that lineup are Aramis Ramirez (26 homers, 93 RBIs, .306 AVG) and Carlos Pena (28 homers, 80 RBIs). Pitchers Sean Marshall, arguably the game's best reliever, Carlos Zambrano and young up-and-comer Andrew Cashner were all dealt and staff ace Matt Garza may very well be next.

Of course, the Cubs have added pieces, but not all -- like Anthony Rizzo -- are expected to have an impact on Opening Day. The ones that will may not be difference-makers. Theo and Hoyer have yet to make a big splash this offseason and one doesn't figure to be coming soon.

It wouldn't be hard to see the 2012 Cubs finish with a worse record than in '11. But the Cubs' Achilles' heel last year was a lack of rotation depth and effectiveness, and Epstein believes that weakness has turned into a strength.

"In baseball, anything can happen," Epstein said. "We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know we're going to play hard and I know we have young players with upside. We have a lot of players entering their prime. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit.

"If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players that we have actually take a big developmental step forward, I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer. Especially with the depth of the starting pitching we have now.

"We have one advantage over some of the opponents we might face in that we can withstand an injury or two and still throw a very reputable starting pitcher out there every day. If our opponents can't in the division because of injuries or attrition or poor performance, then we might surprise some people."

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in roughly a month. We'll see then if this is all talk or not.