By Todd Johnson
The 2018 Cubs won 95 games with two of their biggest names injured for most of the year and while missing its closer down the stretch. Instead of going out and making major additions, the Cubs mostly stood pat this offseason. Outside of utility man Daniel Descalso and some relievers, the Cubs are betting on their players.
As for me, my fingers are crossed. A lot has to go right for the Cubs this year under lame duck manager Joe Maddon. Bryant has to stay healthy, Brandon Morrow, who should miss the start of the season, has to get healthy to stay healthy. Rizzo needs a good start. Baez has to maintain his performance. Kyle Schwarber, who went back to his old swing, is going to be depended on. Willson Contreras looks refreshed after being worn down to the nub last August and September. Joe needs to play Caratini more to keep Willson fresh. That’s a lot to talk about and I didn’t even mention Almora, Zobrist, Heyward, and the bench.
The Cubs have decent depth at starting pitching despite their age. I really like Hamels and Darvish along with the newly extended Kyle Hendricks to keep the Cubs in most games. Jon Lester’s age is always going to be a concern and who knows what the Cubs are going to get from Jose Quintana from start to start..
Despite the gloom and doom of the previous two paragraphs I still hold out hope. The Cubs can do well, but will they get off to a hot start to give themselves a bit of a cushion before summer arrives? That’s the big question. If everyone is healthy they will.
Here are my three big concerns heading into the season on the 28th.
1. The Addison Russell Thing – The Cubs need to end this issue as soon as possible. Whether it is a trade or a release, I do not care. And if the Cubs do trade Russell, do they plug in a guy at second or do they bring up a shortstop? Zack Short is in the discussion, but the player everyone wants to see is Nico Hoerner. For someone who does not even have 200 minor league at-bats, that would be a huge jump in talent levels to skip over when the time comes. The sooner this gets resolved, the better.
2. The Bullpen – With the absence of Morrow looming, the Cubs have plenty of arms to fill in as 6th-8th inning guys while Pedro Strop holds down the closer role with Carl Edwards and Steve Cishek. That’s in the short term. What about the long term? Like most years, the bullpen that begins the season is not going to be the bullpen Joe goes to in August. The Cubs could have 3 different arms in the pen heading down the stretch. WIll those new arms come from Iowa or someplace else?
3. Hitting – Looking at the Cubs’ collapse last fall, the glaring elephant in the room was the offense’s inability to score runs in key situations. Whether it was just moving a guy over or going the other way, it was rough to watch every day. As a result, the Cubs retooled their hitting department and even took Joe away from his press duties to focus on what Joe calls “opportunity hitting.” To a man, all the Cubs hitters are praising new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce and how Iapoce has been focusing more on being in a good mental place at the plate rather than mechanics. We shall see if it pays off.
Here’s the thing about all of these concerns…I am still unsure of just how good the Cubs can be. Is this a 95 win team again? It is not out of the question if the offense clicks for long stretches. If the old guys on the mound hold up, anything can happen. If injuries again beset the team, who knows what will happen?
2019 is the most cautiously optimistic I have been heading into a season since 2014. I want things to go well. I hope they do, I am not 100% positive they will. Hence, the cautiousness.
But then I remind myself, there are just as many things that can go right as there are things that can go wrong. I am going to focus my thoughts on things going right this year. There will always be things that go wrong, they just need to be overcome.