The Chicago Cubs have completed the 2024 Cactus League spring training “season” and will start the 2024 MLB season tomorrow at the Texas Rangers. As many questions exist about the 2024 team as did for the 2023 team, so it is hard for me to expect them to be too much better than last year. Will Greg Counsell as the new manager make a difference? Perhaps that is the main question going in to this season.

One cannot read much into what happens at spring training, although I attended spring training games in 2016, which is when the Cubs won the World Series, and have not attended a spring training game since nor have the Cubs returned to the World Series. Read in to that what you will.

For me what stood out most during spring training is that Seiya Suzuki continued hitting as well as he did in the second half of the 2023 season, and hopefully that will translate to a hot start for him in this season. Most Cub fans will say that Suzuki has not yet lived up to his potential, but we saw signs of that at the end of last year. I think it interesting that Suzuki may be hitting second to start the season so that he and Bellinger get as many at bats as possible during games. (Bellinger must bat no lower than third all season so he gets as many at bats as possible, something that David Ross refused to do last year.)

The two biggest (or three biggest depending on how you count) questions for the Cubs going in to this season are, will Morel and Busch succeed at third and first base and how will the starting pitching perform? Morel will get his best chance to prove he can be a reliable third baseman and Busch will get a chance to prove that he can produce at the plate. The Cubs have been searching for the next players at third and first ever since they traded away Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and from fans' perspective that search has taken too long.

Many more questions exist about the pitching staff, but I think they start with will Jameson Taillon live up to expectations? Taillon was the Cubs big pitching pick up before the 2023 season and he did not pitch well and had several injuries. The fact that Taillon is starting the 2024 season on the injury list does not bode well. I think the Cubs need Taillon to meet expectations for them to have a chance to win the N.L. Central.

Will Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks repeat their performances in 2023? We will find out soon given that Steele will pitch against the defending World Series champions on Thursday night and then Hendricks will follow him on Saturday. Finally, will Shota Imanaga meet expectations in his first season or falter as many players do when moving from Japan to the United States?

Finally will the youngsters, Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad, improve upon their performances in 2023? The long term view for the Cubs relies heavily on their ability to promote pitching from within, and while Steele is a success story the MLB teams most successful over long periods of time have nearly their entire pitching staff come up from their farm system.

The 2016 World Series team had an established pitching staff so going in to that season there were more questions about their hitting and fielding than pitching. The 2024 team has significant questions in all three areas, which means the probability for them to have playoff success, if they make the playoffs, is lower than in 2016. Given that the Cubs have a new manager it might be more fair to compare this team to the 2015 team that made it to the NL championship, which is the first year Joe Maddon managed the team.

Despite the first year manager comparisons, I think it might be better to compare this team, or rather the entire Cubs organization, to the 2014 team. Back in 2014 many of their future stars were still in the minor leagues but on the brink of making it to the majors. During the 2024 spring training we saw many of the Cubs' future stars like Matt Shaw and Pete Crow-Armstrong perform well but sent back to the minors for further development. We probably will see some of those young players this season, but expect them to really push to start the 2025 season with the big team.

The 2014 team finished with a 73-89 record but the 2024 team has better players and a better manager, so I do expect them to compete for the NL Central division championship in September. On paper the Cubs should take control of the division, but I am not confident the Cubs have enough consistent batters to prevent the team from having long losing streaks. I therefore expect the 2024 team to be about the same as last year’s team. The main problem with how David Ross managed the team last year is that he kept players who were not hitting in the line up too long. I am not sure whether Counsell will have less patience than Ross had, but his impatience may be what leads the team to win the division. What I do know is that I am going to have fun watching to see how they do. Let’s play ball!