BCB’s front-page writers have done several of these roundtable discussions previewing Cubs seasons and postseasons, so here we are again to kick off the 2022 season. Josh, Sara, Thomas, Ashley and I had a lively online conversation Tuesday afternoon. The online chat has been lightly edited for clarity. Duane was unable to join us for this discussion.
Al Yellon: Am I the only one here who thinks this Cubs team could be sneaky good and maybe contend for a wild card?
Sara Sanchez: Sneaky good — yes. Contend for a wild card — no. I think this team is set up to win 72-77 games. And I think they’d need to be above .500 for Jed to add at the deadline.
Al Yellon: Remember that a .500 team could win a wild card now.
Ashley MacLennan: I think there’s about as much a chance of that as the Tigers getting a wild card so..... probably not, but never say never.
Al Yellon: The Tigers look pretty good to me this year!
Josh Timmers: I think there’s a chance. A lot would have to go right, but the elements are there. The starting pitching is a real problem, though. My prediction is 77 wins. But with luck that could be 84 wins and that could be a Wild Card spot.
Ashley MacLennan: My heart says a 75-win season.
Thomas Smith: I’m just hoping for forward progress and development for the younger guys.
Al Yellon: I think this is a .500 team. They’re much better than they were after the selloff last year.
Sara Sanchez: I agree with Josh, the pitching is sort of yikes (on which I’m hoping to have an article for tomorrow).
Al Yellon: There are at least two quality starters, presuming you agree with me that Kyle Hendricks will bounce back and be The Professor again. I’m also optimistic about Justin Steele actually becoming a good MLB starter. There were flashes of that last year. Also the bullpen’s much better than it was in August/September 2021.
Sara Sanchez: I don’t know that I agree with that, I hope for that. But I feel like what Craig Calcaterra said on the last episode of Cuppa Cubbie Blue is correct — if Drew Smyly is your No. 5 this team is interesting. If Smyly is your No. 3 this team is in trouble. Right now he’s the No. 3.
Ashley MacLennan: Justin Steele is SUCH a good pitcher name.
Thomas Smith: Adding Wade Miley for a somewhat dependable innings eater and immediately he goes down to injury isn’t great.
Josh Timmers: I’m actually not that optimistic about Hendricks. And I think Steele will be a decent starter one day. I’m just not sure that day is 2022.
Al Yellon: Who’s going to be the closer to start the season?
Sara Sanchez: I don’t know the answer to that, but I think I’m most intrigued by Mychal Givens.
Al Yellon: Givens was really good for a short time in Baltimore. If he can get that back... but I think David Robertson gets first crack at the role
Josh Timmers: I think Ross will mix and match, but I think Rowan Wick will get the first crack at nailing down the job. He handled it well at the end of last season.
Thomas Smith: Robertson more or less by default, I’d think.
Ashley MacLennan: Yeah, I think Robertson, but he’s by no means guaranteed to keep it.
Sara Sanchez: Wick didn’t look good on Monday, although most of his meltdown came in the second inning of work, the first inning of work was fine.
Ashley MacLennan: Who among us looks good on Mondays...
Josh Timmers: NOT ME! And one game is just one Spring Training game.
Thomas Smith: Wick had a rough spring, do we just ignore that? I never know what to do with spring numbers.
Al Yellon: I actually like the fact that Ethan Roberts made the team. He’s a really intriguing arm and who knows? Maybe he gets a chance.
Josh Timmers: He might eventually. Scott Effross is interesting too.
Al Yellon: I’m a big Effross fan. That unusual motion is something hitters don’t see a lot. And he just doesn’t walk guys.
Ashley MacLennan: Scott Effross does set up some charming headline options should David Ross use him improperly.
Thomas Smith: I like that internal options took some roster spots. Now is the time to look at some of them.
Al Yellon: The pen blew a LOT of games last year after the selloff. That will not happen now, I don’t think. There are enough guys Ross can put in his so-called “circle of trust”. He didn’t have that last year.
Thomas Smith: Selloff years are so hard to think about. The bullpen was incredible early. The team was overmatched a lot late in the year. But a few good performances could have masked it some.
Al Yellon: Let’s move to the offense. Frank Schwindel: For real or no?
Josh Timmers: Define “Real.”
Sara Sanchez: The bat is for real, and he’s fine at first base for 2022.
Al Yellon: “Real” for me would be for him to hit .280/.350/.500 with 20-25 HR and play an adequate first base.
Josh Timmers: I think he’ll be a bit below that, but that’s in the ballpark. So if that’s real, then yeah, he’s for real.
Sara Sanchez: I honestly feel bad for the guy. It’s wild that he didn’t get a shot for so long.
Josh Timmers: You’re right, Sara. The Royals really should have given him a chance back in 2018. Unclear why they didn’t. It wasn’t like they were still competitive then.
Ashley MacLennan: So we’re talking “won’t disappoint us” and not “All-Star” yes?
Al Yellon: Yes.
Ashley MacLennan: I agree with the former.
Al Yellon: Patrick Wisdom: For real or no?
Sara Sanchez: I mean, he’s for real... and he really strikes out 40 percent of the time.
Al Yellon: Yeah, he has to cut down on the strikeouts to be a legitimate everyday player.
Thomas Smith: Whenever I see someone dig into his numbers he comes out looking like an untapped star. I’m most optimistic there out of last year’s breakthrough players
Sara Sanchez: The glove and the homers are good, though
Josh Timmers: Power — real. Can he make enough contact to get to it? Unclear. He’s either going to hit 35 home runs or be out of a job by June.
Ashley MacLennan: I think he’ll be good but not mind-blowing good, and I’m fine with that.
Thomas Smith: I’m not expecting much out of Wisdom, sadly.
Al Yellon: Speaking of breakthroughs, does Nico Hoerner finally stay healthy and make one this year?
Ashley MacLennan: Yes please.
Sara Sanchez: I want Nico to break through and I really just feel like he’s going to be hurt again in six weeks. I very much hope I am wrong.
Thomas Smith: I try not to get down on guys like Nico when it is kind of fluke stuff. But now I just hope for healthy.
Josh Timmers: I hope so. I’d feel better about Hoerner if he were playing second base instead of Nick Madrigal. I think he’ll be solid but unspectacular this year.
Al Yellon: What about Madrigal? What does everyone think?
Ashley MacLennan: I’ve loved him since before he was drafted so I’m incredibly biased because he hasn’t yet BEEN that guy his prospect numbers said, but I still love him. I’ll end up being a Madrigal apologist for a million years even if he sucks his whole career.
Josh Timmers: He’s so one-dimensional. I mean, it’s a good dimension to have — the hit tool—but he doesn’t walk, doesn’t run, doesn’t hit for power and his fielding is questionable. He might win a batting title and still be a so-so player.
Thomas Smith: I’m excited to see some contact bats like Madrigal. That’s been missing for sure.
Sara Sanchez: I think I agree with Josh re: Madrigal. I wish the Cubs had one of Nico or Nick and a proven shortstop who could hit. But they don’t.
Josh Timmers: Yeah, that’s why I questioned the Kimbrel trade last year. I don’t see how Hoerner and Madrigal fit on the same lineup.
Ashley MacLennan: If only a solid hitting shortstop had been a free agent...
Sara Sanchez: If only, Ashley...
Al Yellon: The guy I think could have a huge breakthrough season is Clint Frazier, now that he’s healthy.
Ashley MacLennan: Maybe the real power is in his beard
Sara Sanchez: ha ha ha ha. Yankees Samson.
Al Yellon: That Yankees policy is so dumb. This isn’t the military.
Ashley MacLennan: Exactly. Gosh, I’d love to see him just dominate now that he’s left the Yankees. If he can stay healthy I think there’s really something there.
Al Yellon: It’s always been health for him. He was a No. 1 pick, the talent is there.
Sara Sanchez: Frazier looked great this spring and if he continues like that Cubs fans will welcome him in a way New York never could. Could be a sneaky good signing.
Thomas Smith: This team is going to need Frazier or Seiya Suzuki or someone to really break out to give the lineup some credibility
Josh Timmers: Yeah, and this is what I mean when I say, “If the breaks go the Cubs way.” If Madrigal can contribute, if Frazier can live up to his earlier hype, if Wisdom and Schwindel can build off 2022. There are just so many ifs. At least they’ve all got a chance.
Al Yellon: I like the way Suzuki approaches the game, the power is for real, he’s a plus defender and appears to be a great teammate.
Josh Timmers: I’ve been impressed watching Suzuki. He’s going to take a bit to adjust, but I think he’ll settle in and be a pretty darn good ballplayer.
Ashley MacLennan: I picked Suzuki for my ROY choice in our Bless You Boys predictions because I just want it to happen.
Al Yellon: And why not?
Ashley MacLennan: He definitely could be, it’s not a long shot.
Al Yellon: What do the Cubs do about center field?
Ashley MacLennan: Make the ivy deeper?
Josh Timmers: Call up Brennen Davis?
Al Yellon: No, but seriously... I guess Jason Heyward starts, and we’ll see what happens. He was injured again a lot of last year.
Josh Timmers: I love Heyward, but I just don’t see him productive in center field. But hey, give him a chance to prove me wrong and maybe by then Davis will be ready.
Al Yellon: I could see the Cubs releasing Heyward a year from now, but not with two years left on that contract.
Josh Timmers: No. Maybe this winter. I don’t think they will this year. They might bench him, though.
Al Yellon: I think he plays as long as he produces. Rafael Ortega seems to be the odd man out. Ian Happ plays left, Suzuki right, Frazier is mostly the DH
Thomas Smith: Maybe he can have a decent start and the Cubs can eat some of the contract and trade him to a contender.
Josh Timmers: I think Ross will rotate the outfielders and give them regular rest. Except maybe Suzuki, who might play every game. So I’m saying that Ortega will get his opportunity.
Sara Sanchez: Happ early in center then Heyward as a defensive replacement if the Cubs have a lead.
Al Yellon: Plus, Michael Hermosillo has been impressive this spring and should rate at least some playing time. Could be another good under the radar guy
Ashley MacLennan: Frazier’s defense is, politely, not good. So thank goodness for the new DH
Sara Sanchez: But yes, Hermosillo and Ortega also get some looks there, which would leave Happ/Frazier fighting for the “prove it” spot of former first rounders in left field and/or at DH.
Thomas Smith: Yeah. I agree that it will be a lot of mix and match until someone runs away with a spot. I’m almost always optimistic when it comes to the Cubs. I do think they are moving in a positive direction but it’s hard for me to look at this team and see a contender. Even in a weak division.
Al Yellon: Just remember there are two tanking teams in the NL Central. Now, everyone make one BOLD prediction for this year
Josh Timmers: Caleb Kilian will be in the Cubs starting rotation by late June and he’ll be the second-best pitcher in the rotation.
Ashley MacLennan: Is Suzuki winning Rookie of the Year bold enough?
Al Yellon: Sure!
Ashley MacLennan: Then that’s my prediction!
Al Yellon: I’ll go with Clint Frazier hitting .290/.350/.500 with 25 HR and getting some downballot MVP votes.
Josh Timmers: Can I add a bonus prediction of Marcus Stroman finishing Top 5 in Cy Young Award balloting?
Al Yellon: Sure!
Thomas Smith: No one hits 30 homers.
Al Yellon: Bold!
Sara Sanchez: I sort of feel like this team is the antithesis of bold so I’m struggling here.
Al Yellon: There’s got to be a bold Willson Contreras prediction you can make.
Sara Sanchez: I think he’s going to get traded and I hope it’s to a team I can root for.
Al Yellon: Bolder than that, Sara!
Thomas Smith: Yep. I too expect him to be traded.
Josh Timmers: They should just pay the man, even if it means overpaying him. There needs to be some leader on the team and Contreras fits the bill. Like Salvy Perez in Kansas City.
Sara Sanchez: They should 100 percent give him the Salvy deal and it is malpractice that they are not — but you can hear me rant about that on every other episode of the podcast so we don’t need it here.
Al Yellon: How about a non-Contreras bold prediction, Sara?
Sara Sanchez: Mychal Givens will be a lights out closer by May and then will be traded for some very compelling 20-year-old in July.
Al Yellon: One last question. Pick the number of games the Cubs will win and what place they’ll finish
Ashley MacLennan: 75 wins, third.
Thomas Smith: 74 wins, third.
Josh Timmers: I said it earlier. 77 wins, third place.
Al Yellon: I’ll say 82 wins, third place, just missing a wild card spot.
Sara Sanchez: I’ll go 72, just to be different, and third.
Al Yellon: Who will win the NL Central? I’ll say Brewers.
Ashley MacLennan: Cardinals.
Josh Timmers: Brewers in a walk. Won’t be close.
Thomas Smith: I’m with Josh.
Sara Sanchez: I think the Brewers — but the Cardinals have tapped a new level of devil’s magic with this Pujols/Waino/Yadi last hurrah trifecta.
Al Yellon: They’ll have the oldest team in the league in St. Louis.
Sara Sanchez: Doesn’t matter.
Ashley MacLennan: I’ll stand by it.
Sara Sanchez: That’s who’s going to win 86 games and then go on some rando world series run.
Josh Timmers: Yeah, that’s why I think the Cubs have a chance to finish second. Not feeling the Cards.
Ashley MacLennan: Logic has nothing to do with baseball.
Al Yellon: Maybe this is the year the St. Louis pixie dust magic ends.
Thomas Smith: Sadly for the rest of the division, Craig Counsell is one of the most consistently good managers.
Al Yellon: Anything else anyone would like to add?
Ashley MacLennan: I predict there will be snow at a game in May.
Al Yellon: Probably won’t have to wait that long, it could snow on Friday!
Josh Timmers: This is really the oddest Cubs team in memory. They’re not terrible, they’re not good and everyone is an enigma. But maybe they’ll be this year’s Giants!
Ashley MacLennan: Wouldn’t that be fun!
Al Yellon: That’s a good way to end this, I think. Thanks everyone!
Thomas Smith: Thanks!
Sara Sanchez: Thanks all, yay baseball being back!