CHICAGO (AP) Wrigley Field is decked out for the party of a century.
As for the Chicago Cubs?
It looks like there won’t be much to celebrate this season other than their ballpark’s 100th anniversary. As Wrigley hits a milestone, the Cubs remain in a rebuilding mode, hoping to avoid their fifth straight losing season.
They have a new manager in Rick Renteria. Their outlook looks about the same, though.
It’s all about the future, the prized prospects in the system, no matter how painful that might be to the players in uniform at the major league level. More lumps appear to be in store for the Cubs as they enter their third year with Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations.
”The objective is to win as many games as possible, be the last man standing and bring a championship to the city of Chicago,” pitcher Edwin Jackson said. ”The motivation is still the same. The message is still the same. We want to go out and win. We don’t want to go out and be a pushover.”
Here are five things to look for from the Cubs this season:
YOUTH MOVEMENT: Cubs fans might be paying more attention to the minor league boxscores this season. That’s because all eyes are on top prospects such as infielder Javier Baez, outfielder Albert Almora, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Jorge Soler.
Their progress will be the biggest story for a franchise seeking its first winning season since 2009 – not to mention its first championship since 1908. And if they make big strides this year, well, that actually would be something for the Cubs to celebrate.
SAMARDZIJA’S FAREWELL?: Another big story surrounding the Cubs is Jeff Samardzija. He’s scheduled to start the opener, but he’s also a good candidate to be dealt given his one-year contract and the inability to lock him in to a long-term deal. Samardzija was 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA last season, but he was one of only 10 pitchers with at least 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. He’s also not eligible for free agency until 2015, an added bonus for suitors.
ON THE REBOUND: All eyes are on Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo until the top prospects start arriving. Question is: Can they bounce back? Both are coming off disappointing seasons, and their struggles went a long way toward the Cubs firing manager Dale Sveum. They’re banking on Castro to regain the form that made him a two-time All-Star and for Rizzo to deliver on his potential.
For Castro, that means putting aside the lapses he had in the field. It also means rediscovering his stroke after batting a career-low .245 and cutting down on the errors after committing 22, tied with the White Sox’s Alexei Ramirez for the major league lead among shortstops.
Rizzo saw his average drop from .285 to .233 last season, and while his home run total increased from 15 to 23, that was a bit misleading. After all, he played in 160 games compared to just 87 in 2012.
A NEW VOICE: The Cubs are coming off a two-year run under Sveum in which they went 127-197, and they’ve dropped 288 games the past three years. Many fans were hoping Joe Girardi would take the job after Sveum got fired. Instead, he re-signed with the Yankees, and the Cubs ultimately turned to Renteria, hiring him off the San Diego Padres’ coaching staff. If he can get the most out of Castro and Rizzo, set the right tone for the young players in the system, then his hiring will be a solid hit for the Cubs.
”We want guys to start alleviating putting too much pressure on themselves to carry a large load,” Renteria said. ”We want them to be able to come out on a daily basis that they’ve got a chance to put together a team victory. So we have to do little things. We want to incorporate running the bases well. We want to be able to fundamentally execute things that might help us over the course of the season, give us a chance to win a larger number of games.
”Every manager says the same thing,” he continued. ”I’m not saying anything that’s a surprise.”
WRIGLEY REBUILD: The Cubs hoped the long-awaited renovation to Wrigley Field would have started by now. Instead, it remains held up. The team wants assurances from the neighboring rooftop owners that they won’t sue over blocked views.