Cubs, White Sox predictions

Updated: March 31, 2011, 12:14 PM ET
ESPNChicago.com

Ryan Dempster & Mark BUehrleUS PresswireRyan Dempster and Mark Buehrle are ready to open the season for the Cubs and White Sox.

As lines are being chalked and kegs wheeled into place for Opening Day, ESPNChicago.com breaks out its predictions for the 2011 season.

Will the Cubs be as mediocre as many expect? Will the White Sox contend for a World Series title? Our writers confidently provide a win total for both teams.

Cubs beat reporter Bruce Levine and columnist Melissa Isaacson weigh in with Cubs predictions while Sox reporter Doug Padilla and columnist Jon Greenberg give their Sox win totals.

Save this page to check their accuracy after the season.

Cubs Win Total

Levine
Bruce Levine

Bruce Levine: 86

The pitching staff may be the strength of the 2011 Chicago Cubs. The top three starters -- Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza -- are capable of 50 wins.

On paper, the Cubs' bullpen could be one of the top in the National League this season. Closer Carlos Marmol quietly has become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Set-up men Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and John Grabow fortify the veteran group.

Offensively, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena must do the heavy lifting. Ramirez needs to bounce back from a subpar 2010 season. Reuniting Pena with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has shown late-spring dividends for the left-handed hitter.

The team defense must improve for the Cubs to compete. Second-year shortstop Starlin Castro will need to cut down on mental mistakes and show some improvement offensively. Pena makes everyone better with Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.

Outfield offense should be adequate if not spectacular. Mike Quade must find more playing time for Tyler Colvin, who hit 20 home runs in part-time play last season.

Geovany Soto behind the plate is solid.

Quade has continued his direct approach with players and coaches. With no significant injuries, the Cubs are capable of 85-90 wins. All bets are off if one of the pitchers gets hurt.


Isaacson
Melissa Isaacson

Melissa Isaacson: 80

When you hear Cubs fans list among their reasons for optimism this season that they will have the late Ron Santo rooting the team on from above, it tells you that once again they will need some divine intervention to get over the hump.

Still, there are some very real reasons why it's not crazy to at least hope for the best, beginning with an injury-weakened Central Division that looks like it's anyone's for the taking.

New manager Mike Quade established a loose but accountable atmosphere in the spring that allowed promising rookie Darwin Barney to take the starting second base job, and made it easy for the Cubs to launch financial albatross and all-around black cloud Carlos Silva (acquired in the Milton Bradley dump), despite the $11.5 million the Ricketts family will have to swallow.

Conventional wisdom is that as starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano and his head goes, so too do the Cubs, at least defensively. More reasons for optimism: A terrific swing from August on for Big Z (victories in his final eight decisions) after he spent six weeks in anger management classes.

The rest of the rotation is solid enough with Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster and newcomer Matt Garza, who had a disappointing spring but is coming off his best season with 15 victories. Randy Wells, who had just a 2.10 ERA in Cactus League play, and Andrew Cashner, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft, fill the fourth and fifth spots respectively.

An improved bullpen, while counting on Kerry Wood to stay healthy, looks above-average at worst with Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol in late relief.

This is a good, positive clubhouse that will weather the loss of team statesmen Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly with Dempster, former Cubs leaders Wood and reserve outfielder Reed Johnson, and now Marlon Byrd and Carlos Pena. And surprise, include Aramis Ramirez, who is entering a contract year, coming off a good spring, healthy and seemingly happier after a strong finish to last season.

Too much for the Cubs, however, is still reliant on "If only's" including comeback years for Pena and Alfonso Soriano.


White Sox Win Total

Padilla
Doug Padilla

Doug Padilla: 93

It doesn't figure that the White Sox will get any worse in division play than they were in 2010, so five more victories over their total from a year ago don't seem to be too much of a stretch.

If everybody on the revamped roster plays to their capabilities, which also means Jake Peavy is effective in the second half, there is no reason they don't hit the 93-victory total.

The White Sox were just 9-9 against the Indians last year and 10-8 against the Royals. Going 12-6 against both teams makes up the five-victory difference right there. But the White Sox surely should improve on their 5-13 mark against the Twins as well. They better if they have designs on playing in the postseason.

What will be hard is duplicating their 15-3 effort in interleague play. The White Sox's NL opponents last season were the Braves, Cubs, Marlins, Pirates and Nationals. This year they get the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Nationals and Rockies, which will be a slightly tougher test.

Plenty can still undermine this squad. Will they get off to another slow start? Will Matt Thornton transition well to the closer role? Will they really be patient with defensive-minded Brent Morel at third base if he's batting .215 at the All-Star break? And assuming Peavy does come back in late April, how long does it take for him to become truly effective?

It's enough to make you second-guess yourself, but another check of the roster, and especially that starting lineup, puts a 93-win season well within reach.


Greenberg
Jon Greenberg

Jon Greenberg: 92

The Chicago White Sox are marketing their team behind a throwaway line from general manager Kenny Williams.

"As I've explained to people, you're either all-in or you're not," Williams said at the Adam Dunn press conference, echoing a phrase he had uttered and would repeat ad nauseum.

In truth, the Sox's motto should be: "Great Expectations."

Under the watch of the team's No. 1 fan, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, the South Side club will carry a payroll of about $125 million into the season, big money for a club that has averaged fewer than 30,000 fans a game the last two seasons and competes with the Cubs for marketplace dominance.

This is not a scrappy underdog. Williams has put together a balanced, well-paid club without obvious holes of previous seasons. The only real question mark is Jake Peavy's shoulder, and while that's a major one, there are more reasons for optimism.

Brent Morel won the only "open" starting job, and he looks much better than the third basemen the team has trotted out in the last couple years. With better defense, Ozzie Guillen might not have to hit up the grecian formula to keep his hair jet-black.

The Sox are the presumptive favorites to win the AL Central, and I'm predicting they win 92 games and take the division from Minnesota and Detroit.

Dunn's arrival helps powers a lineup that was missing a true designated slugger last year. If Paul Konerko can imagine he's in another contract year and Gordon Beckham rediscovers his rookie stroke, the Sox offense could be lethal.

However, with such promise, the team needs to get off to at least a warm start to avoid unnecessary distractions. Last year's 25-5 run during the summer only covered up a miserable beginning to the season.

I want to be pessimistic, because I've seen this show before, but between Dunn's arrival and a full season out of overlooked starter Edwin Jackson, there is every reason to see this team competing for a pennant.


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