One of the most historic ballparks in baseball hasn’t seen much winning baseball in recent years. The Chicago Cubs last won the NL Central in 2008 when they won 97 games; they haven’t been to the fall classic since 1945. Managers have come and gone throughout the past decade adding to the competitive discomfort.
The biggest waves of change hit the beaches of Chicago on October 22, 2011 when ownership hired Theo Epstein as the new general manager. Epstein was coming from Beantown where he was well known for ending “The Curse of The Bambino” as the Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. Wrigley faithful were optimistic Epstein could use the same rebuilding tactics to end their own team’s historic championship draught.
Three years later, the first wave of Cubs prospects are arriving on the big stage. Epstein has stockpiled hard hitting, shortstop prospects. This is presumably because shortstops are notoriously athletic and power hitting shortstops can be hard to find; furthermore, these athletes could be transitioned around the infield as need dictates. Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, and Jorge Soler have arrived with pop late this summer. Baez and Soler both hit multiple home runs in their first few games. Each of these three stand over the plate and take free swings resulting in impressive power. This trio, combined with other prospects already in the show such as Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake, has brought excitement to the North Side.
With all of this excitement it is easy to forget their lack of matching talent on the mound. Major League Baseball revolves around pitching. The best pitching teams are the ones in the playoffs and the playoff winners are the ones that pitch the best when it matters. While Epstein builds up hitters by sending away guys like Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija, other rebuilding teams center on young, talented arms. Many baseball analysts believe the Cubs will invest in pitching during Free Agency, but it may be difficult to convince pitchers to come to the homer happy park with the lake breezes.
There’s definitely reason for excitement in Chicago, but it may be all for not if the team doesn’t find a way to address its pitching needs.