Bold predictions: From Willson contract (?!) to Davis debut originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Kyle Hendricks starts Thursday for the Cubs in their season opener at Wrigley Field against reigning Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes and the defending division-champion Brewers.
New frontline starter Marcus Stroman starts Saturday. Seiya Suzuki will get a quick taste of bone-chilling April at Wrigley from right field.
And if you’re into pork chops, there’s a sandwich just for you debuting at Wrigley this year.
Beyond that, it’s all one big sea of questions for a new-look, new-vibe, new-era Cubs team, with answers harder to find than a Joe Ricketts friend in London.
Until now, that is.
We have Cubs answers for everything from who their most productive closer will be to which Cubs will make the All-Star game and where Suzuki will finish in Rookie of the Year voting.
Of course, by “we,” we mean our expert Cubs punditry panel of David Kaplan, Tim Stebbins and Gordon Wittenmyer.
And by “answers,” we mean boldest, baddest, greatest bold predictions (did we say bold?) for the 2022 in all of baseball:
Cubs final 2022 record? Explain
GORDON: 70-92. Pitching depth and left-handed hitting are problems, and they’ll get worse after a deadline selloff again.
TIM: 77-85. They’ll be more competitive than some want to give them credit for (Gordon).
KAP: 79-83. The Cubs claim that this version of their rebuilding process will not be as drastic as their 2012-14 version. This roster is far more talented than that 2012 team. This is management's chance to prove that they are not in an acquire and dump process again. Instead, they will hang on to most of their best players and they will overachieve in a very mediocre division.
Who is/are this year's Cubs All-Star(s)?
TIM: Marcus Stroman, Willson Contreras.
GORDON: Clint Frazier, David Robertson.
KAP: Willson Contreras, Seiya Suzuki
Who starts the most games at short for the Cubs this year?
GORDON: Nico Hoerner’s going to get the chance to start every day early with Andrelton Simmons sidelined, and by the time Simmons is traded in July, Hoerner will finish the year as the regular SS — getting a season total of 75 starts there.
KAP: Prior to the shoulder injury I would have said Simmons, but with his status in doubt it has to be Nico Hoerner.
TIM: Simmons, who may not be out very long, with 80. Hoerner will get a chunk of starts there, too, especially after Simmons gets traded.
Which team has Willson Contreras on its roster at the end of the season?
KAP: The Yankees. I am a big fan of Contreras, the player and the person. However, it appears that this front office is not as enamored with the two-time All-Star starting catcher. So armed with that knowledge, I predict the Yankees making the strongest push to land him.
GORDON: The Mariners. They’ll be looking for help at the deadline for a playoff run, and they’ll have as much prospect capital as any other suitor to fill what will be a clear area of need.
TIM: The Cubs. A fast start offensively, helped by the universal DH, leads to the Cubs pulling off a surprising midseason extension with Contreras.
Better offensive season: Frank Schwindel or Anthony Rizzo?
TIM: With respect to The Tank after last season’s torrid performance, it’s Rizzo — who hits 30 home runs for the first time since 2017. The short right field porch at Yankee Stadium is a lefty’s paradise.
GORDON: The nine games Rizzo misses in Toronto because of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement — including six the first half of the season — is just enough added rest to help him beat The Tank on this one.
KAP: Rizzo has a bounce-back season that easily surpasses Schwindel in most key offensive categories.
More home runs: Patrick Wisdom or Kris Bryant?
GORDON: Are you Rocky Mountain high? Heads up in the Rock Pile: Bryant’s not only going to outpace Wisdom but will beat his career high of 39.
TIM: Bryant. I’m not sure I could articulate it better than that, Gordon.
KAP: Bryant will surpass Wisdom but he will not come close to surpassing his career high of 39. Gordon, you have lost your mind.
More strikeouts: Patrick Wisdom or Marcus Stroman?
GORDON: Wisdom will improve his whopping 40.8-percent K rate — and still beat Stroman’s 32-start total by 20.
KAP: Patrick Wisdom.
TIM: Stroman. Jonathan Villar is going to take enough playing time at third to lessen Wisdom’s exposure to the worst matchups.
How many of the 26 on the roster May 1 (when expanded rosters end) are still here Aug. 3?
TIM: Pitching-hungry teams will come calling for the Cubs’ stable of veteran arms on short-term contracts. So 23.
GORDON: Hard to imagine a nine-man deadline purge for a second straight year, but this roster is built for tearing down again. So make it 20.
KAP: As I said when I made my win-loss prediction, I see, barring injury, the majority of players still being here. I’ll say 22.
Combined innings pitched for Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman?
GORDON: Workhorse doesn’t mean what it used to, but these guys are going to be modern-day versions with 349 combined IP. God help the Cubs if they don’t.
KAP: 350 innings pitched.
TIM: 361. Both were around 180 coming off the 2020 short season last year, and they’re as built up as anyone else entering this year.
Where does Seiya Suzuki finish in Rookie of the Year voting?
TIM: Seiya hello to the 2022 National League Rookie of the year, Cubs fans.
GORDON: Say hello to Stebbins, the only homer bigger than the one Suzuki hit in that spring game Saturday. Suzuki has a good year but finishes second, behind Giants catcher Joey Bart and just ahead of Reds pitcher Hunter Greene.
KAP: Suzuki will win the NL Rookie of the Year. Hey, Gordon, #TakeThat
Who starts the most games for the Cubs among Clint Frazier, Nico Hoerner or Nick Madrigal?
GORDON: The Cubs’ esteemed middle infielders will play more games than a lot of people might think, but look for Frazier to get far enough past concussion issues that plagued him in New York to play more than either of them and become the Cubs’ surprise breakout hitter of 2022 in his age 27 season.
KAP: Nick Madrigal.
TIM: Hoerner — who has the benefit of versatility, which means a lot of starts at multiple positions.
Who leads the club in saves — and is it over/under 20?
GORDON: David Robertson with fewer than 20 — all before he’s traded in July.
KAP: Rowan Wick. And take the under.
TIM: Ethan Roberts with 12. That a bold enough pick for you? The kid looked great coming out of camp, and guys are going to get chances as the Cubs close by committee at least early.
If the over/under on his Wade Miley starts for the club is 13.5, how many you got?
GORDON: He’s already all but assured of missing the first six weeks in a best-case scenario after the elbow inflammation was revealed, and if he’s back performing well at that point, he’s gone at the deadline. Take the under.
KAP: Over but not by a lot. It’ll be 17.
TIM: Obviously, take the under. #TakeThat, Kap.
Hendricks’ career era went from 3.12 to 3.36 in one rough season last year. Is he over or under the new career mark at age 32?
GORDON: Healthy? Effective? Consistent? Probably, sure and OK — give him all of that. But under 3.36? Too much to ask for a team that’s going to need to lean on him a little extra for innings at times.
KAP: Definitely under. Ridiculous question.
TIM: It’s a push. Hendricks will finish at exactly 3.36 this year.
When does top prospect Brennen Davis make his debut?
GORDON: July 22 in Philadelphia, right after the first deadline-month trade.
KAP: July 29 in San Francisco.
TIM: What’s so bold about that? You’ll see him June 20 in Pittsburgh.