Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Chicago Cubs 2019 season preview

Carl Edwards Jr. Photo from NBC


           When the Chicago Cubs first made the playoffs in 2015, they were viewed as the "new kids on the block" and they were the first of what would become of the MLB's young super teams, followed by Houston, Boston and New York. But, entering their fourth season since, the Cubs have suddenly aged, especially in their rotation. That still won't prevent the Cubs from contention in 2019. But, the team lost in game 163, which lost them the division, and the wild card game, which eliminated them. The Cubs are still led by a potent offense and a veteran rotation.

           Offseason additions: UT Daniel Descalso, RHP Brad Brach, RHP Tony Barnette, LHP Xavier Cedeno, RHP Collin Rea, RHP George Kontos, 1B Jim Adduci, INF Cristhian Adames, OF Johnny Field

           Offseason subtractions: 2B Daniel Murphy, RHP Jesse Chavez, INF Tommy La Stella, LHP Justin Wilson, LHP Jorge De La Rosa, LHP Jaime Garcia.

            Rotation
After having his worst career season since 2012 in 2017, Jon Lester rebounded with 32 starts for the fifth straight season, and had a 3.32 ERA. The main concern with him is his strikeout rate, which dropped to 7.4, the worst since that terrible 2012. Kyle Hendricks led the team with 33 starts, and his 3.44 ERA wasn't far off of Lester's. Jose Quintana's ERA in a year and a half with the Cubs is 42 points higher than his ERA with the White Sox, and he wasn't worth Eloy Jimenez and more, but is still a serviceable starter for them. Injuries and overall poor performance ruined Yu Darvish's inaugural season as a Cub. Cole Hamels is back after the team picked up his $20 million option due to a stellar performance after a trade from Texas. Mike Montgomery could make starts as well.

            Bullpen
Closer Brandon Morrow will miss at least the first month of the season due to arthroscopic surgery, which ended his 2018 early after a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings. While Morrow is gone, the closer role could go to a committee. That committee could include free agent signee and ex Orioles closer Brad Brach, set-up man Pedro Strop, workhorse reliever Steve Cishek, who played in 80 games in 2018, and Carl Edwards Jr. Strop and Edwards Jr. had 2.26 and 2.60 ERAs, respectively. despite a terrible contract, Tyler Chatwood would need to make the bullpen, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's DFA'd sometime this season if he doesn't make the pen. Brandon Kintzler was terrible after a July trade, but is a bounce-back candidate. Starter/reliever Mike Montgomery is another option.Tony Barnette comes from Texas and is a middle relief pitcher. The final spot will go to Chatwood, or lefties Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing.

           Catching
Willson Contreras' 2016 cameo and his 2017 season made him look like the future's best catcher. But, he took a step back, hitting just 10 home runs, two less than he hit in 2016, in 261 more Plate Appearances. His average also dropped 27 points. He isn't the best defensive catcher, either. Victor Caratini is his backup.

            Infield
The infield has always been a strength for Chicago. They have stars all around the diamond. But, the best of them all, Kris Bryant, was hurt by injuries, and hit just 13 home runs with a .272 average when healthy, both career worsts. He will need to rebound if the Cubs want to go anywhere. First baseman Anthony Rizzo's home run total dropped to 25 after four seasons in the 31-32 range. His OPS also dropped down to .846. Despite Rizzo and Bryant falling, second baseman/shortstop Javier Baez was the NL MVP runner-up, with a .290 average, .881 OPS, 34 home runs, 101 runs and an NL leading 111 RBIs. Baez will play shortstop while Addison Russell is still serving a 40 game suspension. Utility men Ben Zobrist, Daniel Descalso and Ian Happ all can play second base, but I see Zobrist as the starter, with Descalso as the all-around back-up infielder and Happ as the fourth outfielder. David Bote also is a backup infielder, but might be sent down when Russell returns.

             Outfield
The Cubs' outfield isn't a perfect thing, but it is coming along. Jason Heyward had a .270/.335/.395 slash line in 2018, his best as a Cub, but not close to his 2015 that attracted the Cubs enough to sign him. Left fielder Kyle Schwarber is a pure power hitter, but struggles elsewhere. CF Albert Almora Jr. can hit for average, but rarely walks, which badly hurts his OBP, and is better suited for the end of a lineup rather than the front. Happ is the 4th outfielder, and Zobrist is the 5th.

               Bench
The Cubs likely will go with a four man bench, that consists of Caratini, the backup catcher, and three multi-position players, which manager Joe Maddon likes to use. Daniel Descalso's 13 home runs and .789 OPS in 2018 were career highs in Arizona, even better than his stint playing at Coors Field. You might have heard of David Bote from some clutch hitting he did last regular season, but his overall numbers aren't impressive. Ian Happ hasn't developed into the player he was projected as, after dropping off after a good 2017 rookie season. He is blocked in the Cubs organization, unless they get rid of Russell.

                  Lineup
RF Jason Heyward
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
SS Javier Baez
LF Kyle Schwarber
C Willson Contreras
2B Ben Zobrist
CF Albert Almora Jr.
Pitcher

                    Rotation
Jon Lester (L)
Kyle Hendricks (R)
Cole Hamels (L)
Yu Darvish (R)
Jose Quintana (L)

                     Bullpen
Pedro Strop (R)
Carl Edwards Jr. (R)
Steve Cishek (R)
Brad Brach (R)
Tony Barnette (R)
Mike Montgomery (L)
Brandon Kintzler (R)
Randy Rosario (L)

                       Bench
C Victor Caratini
INF Daniel Descalso
INF David Bote
2B/OF Ian Happ

                       Additional Information
Ballpark: Wrigley Field
Manager: Joe Maddon
GM: Jed Hoyer, Theo Epstein (President)
World Series Championships: 3
2018 record: 95-68

                       Steal of the Decade
This is the trade you think of when you think of the best MLB trades of the 2010s. The trade was on July 2, 2013. The Cubs sent RHP Scott Feldman and C Steve Clevenger to Baltimore for international bonus pool money, and two RHPs, Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. First of all, Feldman pitched in just 15 starts for Baltimore, with a 4.27 ERA, and is already out of the MLB. So is Clevenger, who wasn't very good for Baltimore, but at least they turned him into 47 home run hitter Mark Trumbo. On the other side, Strop is still with the Cubs, and will be their set-up man this season. In six years in the Windy City, Strop has a 2.63 ERA with 19 saves. But the main part of this deal is Arrieta, who was their ace for four seasons, posting a 2.73 ERA with the Cubs. That includes 2015, when he posted a 1.77 ERA in 229 innings, with 236 strikeouts, cruising to a Cy Young victory, before leaving for Philly.

                           Prediction
The Cubs still have a potent offense, led by their infield. On paper, they have one of the best rotations in baseball. But, they also have an old rotation, with four of their five starters recently having bad seasons. Their bullpen isn't anything special. These are all reasons why the Cubs will finish third in the NL Central, missing the postseason for the first time since 2014.

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