Column: 2024 Chicago Cubs Baseball Is On The Air

Sports editor Griffin Krueger previews the 2024 Chicago Cubs season.

In the baseball world, there isn’t any other date on the calendar that evokes more hope and optimism than Opening Day. All 30 clubs wake up beckoned by a fresh start and an equal opportunity to make a run at immortality. For my beloved Chicago Cubs, there is a lot to be excited about as the 2024 campaign kicks off Thursday, March 28 against the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers. 

Despite an untimely collapse down the stretch in September — where the Cubs went 7-15 in their last 22 games and fell just shy in the postseason race — 2023 was a year of great progress on the North Side. The Cubs finished over .500 for the first time since the shortened pandemic season in 2020 and saw the continued development of both major and minor league talent.

But it’s hard to sweep September away, even though, according to analysts, entering last year the Cubs weren’t expected to be playing October ball anyway. An overworked pitching staff ran out of steam and the bats went quiet when it mattered most. So what has been the response from the front office this offseason to bring playoff baseball back to the friendly confines?

The biggest change comes in the manager role as the Cubs managed to lure veteran skipper Craig Counsell away from the division rival Milwaukee Brewers. Counsell — who holds the Brewers franchise record for managerial wins — brings crucial experience to Wrigleyville after making several deep postseason runs just up the lakeshore. 

While former manager David Ross’ status as a former player and strong locker room presence was valuable when it came to player development while the Cubs have been rebuilding over these past few years, Counsell has the potential to elevate the team to a level Ross was struggling to reach. 

In 2023, the Cubs went a respectable 21-24 in games decided by just one run. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, Counsell and the Brewers were 29-18 in these games. For a team in Chicago who missed out on the Wild Card by just one game, these marginal outcomes meant everything. 

By making him the highest paid manager in the history of Major League Baseball, the Cubs clearly think Counsell is the man who can tighten the bolts and turn frustrating one-run losses into memorable one-run wins. 

After a prolonged contract negotiation, lefty slugger Cody Bellinger will be back in blue pinstripes. The former-MVP brings incredible versatility by being able to play both first base and center field and will be an X-factor for the team. If Bellinger can maintain his form from last season where he hit 26 home runs and brought across 97 RBIs while finishing with a .881 OPS, every team is going to have a problem trying to get through the middle of the Cubs’ order. 

While the Cubs swung and missed on top free agents Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they were able to secure a major rotation piece in starting pitcher Shota Imanaga. Imanaga led the Japanese Baseball League in 2023 with 188 strikeouts and posted a 2.66 ERA. He fits in the rotation perfectly after Marcus Stroman elected to leave Chicago and sign with the New York Yankees. 

There remains uncertainty in the starting rotation however, as it’s still unclear who will follow Imanaga, veteran Kyle Hendricks and ace Justin Steele on a consistent basis. Jameson Taillon rebounded well following a shaky first-half and Drew Smyly and Javier Assad both contributed key innings last season, but don’t be surprised to see more of 24-year-old Jordan Wicks throughout the year. 

Bolstering the bullpen is a new addition in veteran pitcher Hector Neris. The Cubs signed the 34-year-old to a one-year contract after he posted a 1.71 ERA over 71 appearances in 2023. Otherwise, most of the pen from last season is returning, including the fiery closer Adbert Alzolay. 

It appears from spring training Christopher Morel will play third base on a day-to-day basis, which is good news after Ross struggled to find a permanent position for the young phenom. 

Fans can also expect major impact from top prospects Michael Busch, who will get reps at first base after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Pete Crow-Armstrong, who will start the season in triple-A but will most likely be brought up to the bigs at some point in the season.

After a half decade of dormancy, things are looking up on the North Side. Maybe this is the year and the Cubs are real. I, for one, am excited for the waiting and the speculation to be over. I can’t wait to grab a Chicago dog and find my seat amongst the bleacher bums. 

Win or lose, Wrigley Field never disappoints, but I sure hope there will be plenty of wins this year. 

No matter what happens, we can all take solace in one thing — at least we aren’t White Sox fans.

Featured image by Griffin Krueger | The Phoenix

Griffin Krueger

Griffin Krueger