By Todd Johnson
The Cubs begin their pursuit of their second World Series title in three years this morning in Miami. I’m a little excited about what’s going to happen. I am even more excited to see October get here. But in between there’s a lot of baseball to be played and a few questions to answer. A lot of things can happen between now and October. Hopefully, most will be for the good.
This is a team that has been built to win in October. But there’s a catch – it’s not quite done being built yet. While the rotation is set in stone, along with most of the position players, there still are a couple of concerns heading into the season. On the other hand, the Cubs have plenty of strengths that should carry them into the postseason for the fourth straight year.
I’m going with 95 wins. Originally, I wanted to do a range somewhere between 93 and 97, but 95 works for me. To be honest, that might be a little on the low side. I could see them winning 100 games again just based on the starting rotation and their powerful daily lineup.
Starting Pitching – I would put the Cubs number 1-4 starters up against any team in major league baseball. They may not have that dominant #1 starter like a Scherzer or a Kershaw, but the Cubs’ key is their depth. Their #4 starter is just as good as other team’s #2. This should also be the year where Quintana and Hendricks begin pitching into the primes of their careers.
Position players – From the first guy in the lineup to the 12th man on the bench, there is no other team, except for maybe Houston, that comes close. The Cubs could have 7 guys hit more than 25 home runs this year. I find that just to be an amazing statistic.
With new hitting coach Chili Davis, what I hope to see is better situational hitting. Not every situation calls for a home run attempt. That will hopefully get burned into their brains and muscle memory.
Concern: The Bullpen
How do I phrase this? I think the bullpen in July and August could be somewhat different than the bullpen in April and May. The Cubs are breaking camp with eight arms and I wouldn’t be surprised to see three new relievers in the bullpen this summer as the Cubs get ready to head down the stretch. One or two could be prospects, and the other(s) could be guys they pick up to strengthen the pen.
It’s not that any of these current relievers scare me, it’s more a matter of confidence. At times, I fear implosion and injuries haunting this squad. I don’t know how Brandon Morrow is going to be the closer all year if he cannot go on back-to-back days? Will Steve Cishek have anything left in August and September? Will Brian Duensing be able to replicate his 2017 season? Can Carl Edwards find the strike zone consistently? Can Pedro Strop hold up for an entire year? Which Justin Wilson is going to show up? I have more concerns, but I will stop there.
All of those are legitimate questions that need to be answered over the next two months. And by answered, it is going to take a while to shake that bullpen out and find out what everyone is going to do regularly.
However, don’t let the fact that the Cubs have a farm system that’s now in the bottom five of baseball deter you from thinking they can’t go and make a deal to enhance the bullpen. They have plenty of prospects that other teams want. If the Cubs need to go out and get a bullpen guy, they have plenty of currency to do so.
In the end…
I am pulling for that second World Series in three years. To get there, this team is going to have to stay healthy, hit better in certain situations, and just dominate the teams they are supposed to dominate. It all starts today in Miami.
I will be back in an about an hour (I have to go for a walk) to go over some surprising MiLB roster moves the Cubs made yesterday.