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MLB preview: Chicago Cubs

Cubs fans generally seem happy to wait for better days after Theo Epstein and company have a few years to revamp the roster. That doesn't mean this season is going to be much fun on the north side.

2011 record: 71-91 (5th in NL Central). Projected 2012 finish: 67-95 (5th in NL Central).

Projected starters: C Geovany Soto, 1B Bryan LaHair, 2B Darwin Barney, SS Starlin Castro, 3B Ian Stewart, LF Alfonso Soriano, CF Marlon Byrd, RF David DeJesus, SP Matt Garza, SP Ryan Dempster, SP Paul Malholm, SP Randy Wells, SP Travis Wood, CL Carlos Marmol, RP Kerry Wood, RP Jeff Samardzija.

Half-full outlook: Starting pitching was, arguably, the biggest reason the Cubs were so bad last season. The additions of Malholm, Travis Wood and Chris Volstad should at least save them from having to trot out Casey Coleman and Doug Davis every fifth day. It's not a good rotation, but it is no longer a catastrophe with no depth. If Castro makes the leap from promising young hitter to superstar, the LaHair/Stewart combination comes close to matching the production of Carlos Pena/Aramis Ramirez and Soriano and DeJesus have bounce-back seasons, the Cubs might not be that bad. They're still probably not good enough to compete in a bad division, but 75 to 80 wins might be possible.

Half-empty outlook: Castro is going to have to stop making so many errors, and become more patient and/or add more power at the plate, to improve significantly on his 3.4-WAR season in 2011. LaHair, a 29-year-old getting his first shot in the bigs, and Stewart, who hit .156/.243/.221 in 48 games with the Rockies a year ago, will most likely be a huge downgrade from Pena/Ramirez. There isn't a less promising pair of corner infielders in the game. And while I could see DeJesus rebounding some to his decent-but-not-great pre-2011 form, I think the decline of Soriano will continue, not reverse itself. In other words, the Cubs could be a much worse offensive team this season. Their minor upgrades in pitching and defense will not be nearly enough to offset that.

Halfway between the two outlook: Shortstop and maybe catcher are the only two positions where I can call the Cubs "above average" with any confidence. Garza is the only starting pitcher, with the possible exception of Dempster, who is clearly above average, and even he is a borderline No. 1 at best. The bullpen and the defense aren't going to make them better than it may seem they should be on paper. Even in a wide-open NL Central, the Cubs are more likely to compete for last place (and that would be a feat, given how bad the Astros are) than for first.


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