Yes, the Cubs fell a bit flat in 2018. However, it is foolish not to be aware of the force in northern Chicago. The Cubs key pieces from their 2016 championship run have remained intact and that should be scary for other teams. The Cubs have premier talent up and down the roster and our poised for another strong season despite a jam-packed NL Central. The Cubs did not hand Joe Maddon a contract extension this winter and he is going into the season as one of the managers with the most pressure on his shoulders. However, if that stoic face has told us anything, Maddon knows how to keep his cool and run a successful ball club. Here’s what the typical Maddon lineup is expected to look like on an average day.
- Ben Zobrist, 2B
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Javier Baez, SS
- Willson Contreras, C
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Jason Heyward, RF
- Albert Almora, CF
The Cubs lineup contains two legitimate 2019 MVP candidates making their offense one to be reckoned with. Bryant was hampered in 2018 by his nagging shoulder. He tried switching to a two-handed follow through to help the shoulder but it proved unsuccessful. He is reverting back to his one-handed follow through this season. Bryant can be expected to return to form and swat 25+ home runs with a more than solid average. The other MVP candidate in the lineup is El Mago. Baez will look to build upon a tremendous and distinct 2018 season. Baez is special in that he plays Gold Glove defense with flare at MORE than one position. Number nine still needs to cut down on his strikeouts as he struck out at a rate of 26% last year. Bryant and Baez both are out to prove that they are among the league’s best.
On the other side of the infield, the Cubs have Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs will be pleased with anything they can get out of the 37-year old Eureka, Illinois native as Zobrist enters the final season of his contract. He showed some life again last year as he posted a 115 OPS+ along with a 3.6 fWAR. He will be at second base for some time during the first few months as Addison Russell is on the restricted list. Rizzo is the anchor and the captain of the Cubs. He has been a reliable source of production and positive morale for a team. Without Rizzo, the Cubs are not the Cubs. Since 2014, his OPS has not fallen below .846 and no one should expect that that trend changes in 2019. Zo and Rizz are two important veteran presences that will be stable bats in a dangerous lineup.
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The Cubs outfield may not be the strongest offensively, but the group is very fundamentally sound when it comes to fielding. All three, even Schwarber, posted a positive DRS. Jason Heyward had his best offensive year with the Cubs last year as he OPSed .731. Almora must hit for more power in order to stay in the lineup or avoid being traded (.378 SLG). Schwarber somewhat brokeout last year when he hit .238 with 26 round-trippers but his best is yet to come. If Schwarber can raise his average just a touch, he will be a great asset for the Cubs.
The Cubs bench looks a bit different this year after the departure of Tommy La Stella, the demotion of Ian Happ, the addition of Daniel Descalso, and a roster spot for Mark Zagunis. Bote and Descalso figure to get the most time considering Bote’s clutch at-bats and Descalso’s decent time in Arizona. The positional flexibility of both Descalso and Bote is a huge aid for Maddon who notriusly does not like to put out the same lineup day in and day out. Caratini will see time at catcher and first base to give the starters some rest and will look to make a bit of a name for himself. Zagunis has been in the minors for much of his career and hopes to shine in his limited major league action.
One of the Cubs greatest strengths is their starting rotation. The rotation has five proven veterans whom have showed success in recent years. Jon Lester pitched to a 3.32 ERA with a 129 ERA+ in 2018. The lefty gets the nod for the Cubs on opening day. Newly extended Kyle Hendricks follows in the rotation. The Professor will again find his success in his deceptive off speed with perhaps one of the best change ups in the game. Hendricks threw for a 3.44 ERA and a 1.146 WHIP last year. The Cubs exercised Cole Hamels‘ option to bring him back to bolster their rotation for 2020. In his 76 innings with the Cubs, Hamels posted a 2.36 ERA and an obsorbant 182 ERA+. The Cubs took a risk in bring Hamels back considering his age, but he will look to make due in a full season with Chicago.
Yu Darvish is a legitimate comeback candidate. When Darvish first arrived to Chicago, he was a bit overwhelmed by the Cubs and Chicago as a whole. With a year under his belt and a finally healthy and strong physique, Darvish could return to his prime Texas Rangers form. Darvish’s 4.95 ERA was the worst of his career but he was still striking out batters at 11.0 K/9 giving fans hope that this contract is not a bust. Rounding out the rotation is Quintana. Although the Cubs overpaid for Q, he has not been completely atrocious. Last year, he pitched to a ho-hum 4.03 ERA over 174 innings. He may not ever be what the Cubs paid for but there are certainly worse starters who round out rotations across the league. As a whole, if the rotation can stay healthy, these veterans will rely on their baseball IQ and deception to keep hitters off balance all year and this will be a key to their success.
- Steve Cishek, RHP
- Pedro Strop, RHP
- Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
- Brad Brach, RHP
- Brandon Kintzler, RHP
- Mike Montgomery, LHP
- Tyler Chatwood, RHP
- Randy Rosario, LHP
The Cubs bullpen was a strong point in 2018 despite any dazzling names and an injury-riddled season from Brandon Morrow. Cubs fans should have faith in a bullpen in which three arms (Edwards Jr., Strop, Cishek) threw over 50 innings and kept their ERA below 3.00. Although ERA is not the best measure of a relief pitcher, these three pitchers also tallied high strikeout numbers which bodes well for their success. Brach is a veteran arm on a cheap contract but is capable of having success in the late innings. After his trade to the Braves last year, Brach posted a 1.52 ERA and struck out 22 batters. Kintzler and Chatwood both struggled with control last year, Chatwood especially. The Cubs are not looking for these guys to be studs, they just need them to walk reasonably less batters to keep their spot in a bullpen that could be a revolving door this year. 2016 World Series hero Mike Montgomery is a mainstay in the Cubs bullpen and will continue to work as a spot starter as well as mid to late reliever. Last year he accumulated a 3.99 ERA over 124.0 IP. Randy Rosario made the squad after beating out other relievers Kyle Ryan and Allen Webster. Rosario, 24, pitched 46.2 innings last year and although did not strike out a lot of batters (5.8 K/9) found success with the North Side.
Injured List/Restricted List:
- Team MVP: Kris Bryant
- Team Cy Young: Jon Lester
- X-factor: Yu Darvish
- Final Record: 94-68, 1st place NL Central
If the Cubs offense can recapture its 2018 first half performance and the rotation can capture the success of the starters’ primes, the Cubs will be in tremendous shape. The NL Central is among baseball’s toughest divisions in 2019 and the Cubs quest to recapture the top of the NL Central will be rivaled by the Brewers and Cardinals and maybe even the Reds. Key contributors, Bryant and Darvish, must stay healthy and lead a Cub club to the success found in 2016 season. The Cubs may be aging, but they have plenty of talent to pull off another special season under Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein. If the Cubs are in contention and in need of another big league player(s), look for them to flip what prospects they can in effort to strongly push towards the 2019 postseason. The Cubs have the peaces; it is up to them whether they silence the doubt that surrounds them. Look for a competitive ball club from Chicago this season in what is a pivotal season for the franchise as a whole.
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