Chicago Cubs' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024

Sep 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele (35) throws against
Sep 26, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Justin Steele (35) throws against / Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

No other team enters the 2024 season with as broad a breadth of possibilities as the Chicago Cubs. If things go right, the Cubs could make a serious World Series run. If they go wrong, this could be a last place team in the NL Central.

Chicago Cubs' Best-Case Scenario in 2024

Chicago’s best-case scenario begins with the 2024 Cy Young Award winner, Justin Steele. It’s not that far-fetched; in mid-September last season Steele had a 16-3 record and 2.49 ERA. Jameson Taillon has to be the guy who went 14-5 for the Yankees in 2022 rather than the rag arm who produced an 8-10 record and 4.54 ERA in his Chicago debut (and is already battling injury). Finally, Shõta Imanaga has to be the season’s best Japanese import, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Offensively, the Cubs have a plethora of contact hitters, but they have been short on pop. In 2023, nobody hit more than 26 home runs or drove in 100 runs. Cody Bellinger and Christopher Morel both have legitimate mid-order run production potential; they need to deliver. So does Michael Busch, the 27-year-old rookie first baseman they got from the Dodgers.

Seiya Suzuki batted .321 in August, .370 in September and hit 12 of his 20 home runs after Aug. 1. That’s a 40-home run pace. In the Cubs' dream scenario, he rolls right ahead in 2024.

Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ all won Gold Gloves last year, so fielding the ball won’t be a problem.

Chicago Cubs' Worst-Case Scenario in 2024

Since Steele can’t pitch every day, rotation depth is a huge x factor. Imanaga is unproven this side of the Pacific, Kyle Hendricks has become a proven .500 pitcher at his best, Jordan Wicks is a rookie who doesn’t throw 100, and all Taillon proved last season was that he couldn’t be counted on.

If, as is entirely possible, the starters don’t provide stability, this is likely to be a very long season on the North Side.

Then there’s Morel, who the Cubs are counting on to play third base and hit cleanup. He’s a free swinger with great pop and equally great swing-and-miss potential. At third, his play has been reminiscent of Bill Madlock, of whom it was written that he had the potential to bat .500 and also field .500.

Hoerner and Swanson are both capable of being top-of-the-order .300 hitters, but neither has done it; in fact, both produced sub-average OPS+ scores last season. If they aren’t both quality table setters, the offense is in trouble.

The final concern is out of the Cubs’ control. How much better are the Reds, with De La Cruz, McLain, Steer, Encarnacion-Strand and the rest of those young bucks? And speaking of the Bucs, is this the year Oneil Cruz, Ke'Bryan Hayes, David Bednar, Bryan Reynolds, Jack Suwinski and Mitch Keller finally work together?

If it is, the motto on the North Side might be 'look out below!'

Cubs' most realistic scenario for 2024 season

Like most every team in the NL Central, the Cubs are basically a crapshoot. You can certainly create a scenario where they run away from a weak division. All it involves is Steele, Bellinger, Swanson, Suzuki, Ian Happ, Morel and Hoerner playing up to their considerable potential. That’s not far-fetched.

You can also construct a scenario where the pitching sabotages the offensive efforts, which in turn are hamstrung by an absence of power. If Imanaga, Hendricks, Taillon and Wicks comprise as un-threatening a collection of arms as they sound, you’re already most of the way there.

The most likely play-out is a team hanging around on the plus side of .500, which should mean post-season contention…pretty much like 2023, when they finished 83-79 but lost 15 of their last 22 and were overtaken by the Diamondbacks.

Philadelphia Phillies' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season (