A new season is upon us.
And for the Cubs and Pirates, that once again means new hope for two organizations and fan bases in need of positive years.
In Pittsburgh, where the two teams open the 2013 season at 1:35 p.m. ET on Monday at PNC Park, the Pirates are again in search for the winning season that has eluded them for two decades.
For Chicago, now in the second year under the guidance of president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum, it means staying the course in a long-term rebuilding plan that started at the low of 101 losses in 2012.
But while the future is always in mind for Epstein and Co., the goal at the outset of 2013 remains the same for the Cubs as it does the game's other 29 teams: make the postseason.
"Any time you don't compete for the division or one playoff spot, the Wild Card or whatever, it's disappointing," Sveum said. "It doesn't matter if you win 92 and go home or lose 105 -- both teams are going home, whether one won 90 or one lost. It's always disappointing [to not make the postseason] because it's such a long season, 162 games, Spring Training. Anything is disappointing if you don't make the playoffs."
There is reason for optimism in Wrigleyville. The Cubs have a solid infield core of hit machine Starlin Castro at shortstop, a potential star at first base in Anthony Rizzo and a Gold Glove winner in second baseman Darwin Barney. Veteran left fielder Alfonso Soriano is coming off a season in which he drove in a career-high 108 runs and new acquisitions such as Nate Schierholtz and Scott Hairston look to help an offense that finished last season 14th in the National League in scoring.
A handful of signings bolstered the starting rotation, led by right-hander Edwin Jackson, and Opening Day pitcher Jeff Samardzija is ready to be fully unleashed after an impressive first season as a starter.
"This team has a totally different attitude this year," Samardzija said. "To see our lineup from top to bottom, and guys playing the game the right way and having a team approach, I think it's going to pay off huge for us. You've got guys like [center fielder David] DeJesus and Schierholtz who come out and play the game every day. They don't complain, they work hard and that's what it's all about. Now we need to go out and find ways to win games."
That's also what the Pirates are looking to continue to do. They improved from 57 wins in 2010 to 72 in 2011, then won 79 a year ago. Yet 2012 boasted Pittsburgh's second consecutive second-half swoon, as the Pirates once again finished in fourth place. But, players say, that is in the past.
Optimism abounds, as it should, with one of the game's best in Andrew McCutchen, power at third base in Pedro Alvarez and the steady-when-healthy Neil Walker at second and Opening Day starter A.J. Burnett leading the pitching staff.
"We're not going to answer any more last-year questions," Burnett said. "We have to get over the fact that it happened. This year is about to start."
And here it is.
Cubs: The bench bunch
Quality reserve players are key for any Major League team, but especially those in the Senior Circuit. Sveum is thrilled with the versatility on his bench, which includes Brent Lillibridge, Hairston, Dave Sappelt, Dioner Navarro, and, likely, Steve Clevenger.
"We have guys who don't strike out on the bench, we've got guys who put the ball in play, guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark -- they're two-way players," Sveum said before the club left Mesa, Ariz. "If Clevenger makes the team, you can pinch-hit for Navarro, pinch-hit for [Welington] Castillo. If Castillo is playing, you can use Navarro and Clevenger as pinch-hitters. It's a very versatile bench and for a National League team, it's nice for me to have all that kind of versatility."
• It's a fresh new season, but the Cubs certainly enter 2013 banged up. Right-handers Matt Garza, Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino and third baseman Ian Stewart will open the year on the disabled list.
Pirates: Burnett excited for first Opening Day start
Burnett has pitched in many big games in his career, such as the 2009 World Series while with the Yankees. But getting Monday's Opening Day start after his bounce-back 2012 has the righty eager to begin the season, both for himself and his teammates.
"I can't wait. To get to start it off is really exciting," Burnett said. "We're very anxious, have been anxious for a while. It's been a long spring, but there's a bunch of good, positive vibes heading north.
"Now we play games that mean something. It's time to go."
• Infielder Josh Harrison claimed the final bench spot, with the expectation that Brandon Inge (right shoulder blade) will open the season on the DL.
• Samardzija is opening 2013 where his '12 ended. The young right-hander was shut down following his Sept. 8 start in Pittsburgh, but he certainly went out on a high note, striking out nine in a complete-game win. Samardzija also held the Pirates to one hit in eight shutout innings in a July 23 victory at PNC Park.
• Burnett was 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA in three starts against the Cubs last season, including twirling a complete-game one-hitter on July 31.