By Todd Johnson
Usually, posting affiliate previews is one of my favorite weeks of the year along with the week of the draft. This year, for the very first time, Cubs Central is posting a preview of the Cubs season right after the affiliate previews. I’m pretty excited about it because I am ready to see the Cubs win the World Series back-to-back for the second time and only the fourth time in National League history.
2016 Record: 103-58; World Series Championship
Everything went right last year for the Cubs. Other than Kyle Schwarber, the team avoided major injuries, especially when it came to the pitching staff. The Cubs made short work of the Giants and the Dodgers in the National League playoffs. Then, and in thrilling fashion, the Cubs overcame a 3 games to 1 deficit to win the World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
With Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot, I think this team is going to put up a lot of crooked numbers at any point in any game. I don’t think people realize how important Schwaber’s left-handed bat is in the lineup every day. Even at the top, Schwarber’s short stroke is potent and quick enough to punish any mistake, not to mention, he is patient enough to wait for that mistake.It would not surprise me to see several Cubs put up video game stats throughout the course of the year.
Along with Schwarber, the core of Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Baez, Contreras, and now Almora, this team have the potential to be good for a very long time on offense and defense. Pitching is the only concern in the long run as the Cubs have not developed any of their own draft picks as starters. That could be changing very soon.
It would not surprise me to see several Cubs put up video game stats throughout the course of the year. I think this is the year that Addison Russell gets his batting average and OBP turned around. I also would not be surprised to see four Cubs hit 30 HRs this year – Russell, Bryant, Rizzo, and Schwarber. That is some serious power!
Starting pitching, on the other hand, is very experienced with Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey, and Anderson. They have a variety of arms in the bullpen that can mix and match at will with the wishes of Joe Maddon. I like Carl Edwards to finally emerge as a top bullpen guy. He could be a setup guy or he could close near the end of the year.
Add in a bench that consists of John Jay, Miguel Montero, and others, and you have what appears to be on paper something close to a perfect team. There are even prospects like Ian Happ, Jeimer Candelario, and Chesny Young who are waiting in AAA to get their chance to contribute in some form.
Areas of Concern
Even with all the positives listed above, the Cubs still have two areas of concern. The first one is the bullpen. The average age of the bullpen is 31.5 years old. I am not sold on it as a unit just yet. I am sure the potential for injury, breakdown, or a DL stint looms on the horizon. The health of Strop, Davis, and Rondon (which is half the bullpen) does not cause me to lose sleep yet, but it is close.
The Cubs do have some relievers who will be at AAA this year who could help later in the year like Gerardo Concepcion, Zac Rosscup, Jack Leathersich, Pierce Johnson, and Rob Zastryzny. However, each one of those players has something that they need to work on to get (back) to Chicago.
As it stands now the Cubs only have one left-handed reliever in Mike Montgomery. Even though Koji Uehara is very good against left-handers, he will also be 42 years old next week.
My second concern is whether or not Brett Anderson and John Lackey can make it through the entire season individually and/or collectively. Even if Anderson and Lackey have earned run averages above four, the offense will be able to overcome that extra run in the regular season. Their performance will not be the issue, it is their health and durability. However, in their current constructs, I don’t think Anderson or Lackey is built for the postseason as a viable number four starter. To me, Eddie Butler might be a better fit later this summer, and who knows, maybe another prospect pitches their way to Chicago.
Which leads me to my next point…
A different team in the second half
I think the Cubs are going to use their resources to go out and get three or four different players throughout the course of the season. Those three or four players can come from promotions of prospects, a trade for a starter, and/or a trade for a reliever. I think if we compare the roster for the playoffs versus the roster in April, the Cubs are going to have mostly the same roster when it comes to position players (except maybe Ian Happ), but I can almost guarantee the pitching will be significantly different. And by significantly different, I mean the impact that possibly one starte could have in the playoffs. I still see the need for two to three relievers to bulk up the pen.
I don’t think there’s any question that the Cubs think they have what it takes to get back to the World Series with their current roster. They also have what it takes to go get other players that they think they may need to go back-to-back, depending on the course of this summer.
162 games is a long season. I think it’s going to be an extremely fun season to watch these young men play with the confidence of champions. They are never going to be out of any game and they’re never going to be overwhelmed by any moment. To me, I think that’s the biggest thing they take away from being World Champions. They know what they have to do, and they know what they have to do to win again…and hopefully again after that…etc.