cubs 2018 mlb preview

2018 MLB Preview: Cubs Should Again Challenge for the World Series


 

After winning the World Series in 2016, the Chicago Cubs and their fans can be forgiven for not getting overly bummed about losing to the L.A. Dodgers in the NLCS. After all, the Curse of the Goat had remained for well over 100 years before the 2016 Chicago Cubs broke it with a miraculous comeback World Series win over the Cleveland Indians.

But, the year is 2018. Do Cubs’ fans have a right to expect more than just an NLCS appearance in 2018? They most definitely do! Before getting into why, check out a recap of the 2017 Chicago Cubs.

Cubs 2018 MLB Preview: They Should Again Challenge for the World Series

The 2017 Chicago Cubs finished at 92 and 70. It wasn’t the easiest season for Chicago. Their usually daunting pitching lineup suffered due to Jake Arrieta’s regression. Kyle Schwarber was hurt for most of the season while the Cubbies’ bullpen wasn’t nearly effective enough for what it takes to make it to the World Series.

The 2017 Chicago Cubs did make it all the way to the National League Championship Series.  When they got there, things didn’t turn out as planned, though. The Dodgers nearly swept the Cubs when beating Chicago 4 games to 1. Past Chicago Cubs’ teams might have hung their heads in shame. But, these are different teams then the old Chicago Cubs.

Instead of hiding in shame, General Manager Theo Epstein decided to make the 2018 Chicago Cubs better than the 2017 Chicago Cubs. Manager Joe Maddon dug into his Rolodex to find a couple of new coaches. One of those coaches is former player Chili Davis, whom Maddon has a long history with.

Could the changes that Epstein made, along with Maddon’s new coaching staff, lead to another World Series trophy landing in Chicago? Below, I try to answer that question!

Chicago Cubs Batting Lineup

CF Albert Almora Jr. (R)

LF Kyle Schwarber (R)

3B Kris Bryant (R)

1B Anthony Rizzo (L)

C Wilson Contreras (R)

SS Addison Russell (R)

RF Jason Heyward (L)

2B Javier Baez (R)

The Cubs figure to make a couple of key changes from last season’s everyday batting lineup. MLB Managers don’t play the same batting lineup day in and day out. They do have a batting lineup that in most cases could be considered normal. Above is what I project to be Joe Maddon’s normal batting lineup. There are a couple of key changes to discuss.

Albert Almora Jr. figures to lead off. Almora Jr. has a ton of ability. He batted .298 with 8 home runs and 46 RBIs last season. However, the overall batting average doesn’t tell the whole story. Almora Jr. hit .342 versus lefties. His OPS versus left-handed pitchers was an incredible .898. Versus right-handed pitchers, Almora Jr. didn’t come close to repeating those gargantuan states.

Versus righties, Almora Jr. only hit .271. His OPS versus righties was .711. It’s apparent that Almora Jr. is more effective versus lefties than righties. Hopefully, Almora Jr. can get it together versus both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. If he does, watch out! The kid can play baseball.

Another change is with Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber spent the off-season losing weight. He must become a better defender to maintain his second spot in the batting line-up. The Cubs are deep with guys that can play left field. One of the guys that backs up Schwarber is Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, the 2016 World Series MVP, can pretty much play any position on the diamond save for catcher and pitcher. His defense is marvelous.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo remain one of the best back-to-back batting tandems in baseball. Bryant and Rizzo figure to get back to their home run and high batting average hitting ways this season. Bryant, in particular, could have a great season. In 2017, Bryant made some improvements that won’t show up on most stat sheets. He made contact with the baseball 76.6% of the time. He dropped his strikeout rate to below 20%.

Wilson Contreras, because he’s a catcher, isn’t likely to play every day. He figures to play at least 3 to 4 games in a row, though, which makes him a solid batter at position 5. Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Javier Baez, can all hit for power or average. Of the 3, Heyward’s the player the Cubs must worry about the most.

Chicago Cubs Starting Rotation

Yu Darvish RHP

Jon Lester LHP

Kyle Hendricks RHP

Jose Quintana LHP

Tyler Chatwood RHP

Yu Darvish was the prized free agent signing during the off-season. As an L.A. Dodger, Darvish failed versus the Houston Astros in the World Series. That sort of made sense because Darvish faced the Stros plenty of times as a Texas Ranger. It remains to be seen if NL hitters have trouble versus Darvish. My guess, is that they’ll have plenty of trouble. Knowing that the Cubs have a decent bullpen, Darvish should return to his glory days of a strikeout an inning.

Jon Lester is Chicago’s Mr. Steady. He almost certainly will improve upon his 4.33 ERA from last season. Lester’s slider should be in better shape in 2018. He didn’t control the slider as well in 2017 as he did in 2016. The good news for Cubs fans is that Lester claims he feels 100% heading into Spring Training. I think he bounces back with a sub 3.50 ERA.

Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are known commodities in Chicago. Both are good pitchers. On his best days, Quintana pitches like an ace. Hendricks had a 3.03 ERA and 1.19 WHIP last season. Those are both excellent for the third pitcher in your rotation.

Tyler Chatwood had no shot pitching for the Colorado Rockies. Coors Field is designed to flatter hitters, not pitchers. Chatwood’s road ERA during his time with the Rockies was an excellent 3.31. He could turn into an excellent off-season acquisition for the Chicago Cubs.

Chicago Cubs Bullpen

Brandon Morrow RHP

Pedro Strop RHP

Carl Edwards Jr. RHP

Steve Cishek RHP

Justin Wilson LHP

Justin Grimm RHP

Brian Deunsing RHP

Mike Montgomery LHP

Last season, Montgomery was Maddon’s fifth starter. Maddon has already stated that Montgomery is his sixth starter. If anybody in the Top 5 should flounder, Maddon won’t hesitate to put Montgomery back into the rotation. It’s also nice to know that you’ve got a pitcher who can go 3, 4, maybe even 5 innings for you if you need him to.

Carl Edwards Jr. should be the primary set-up man. He’s got wicked stuff. One of the reasons Maddon hired Jim Hickey was to coach Edwards Jr. If Hickey can add some stability to Carl’s game, Edwards Jr. could turn into one of the best set up relievers in MLB.

The most important key to the Cubs’ BP success this season rests on the shoulders of closer Brandon Morrow. Morrow played for the L.A. Dodgers last season. He didn’t start a game. Still, he went 6 and 0 with a 2.06 ERA and a .92 WHIP. Maddon believes he turns into one of the top closers in the NL.

Bottom Line:  Cubs a Decent Team to Back at +750

The odds on the Chicago Cubs to win the 2018 World Series are 7.5 to 1. That makes Chicago the second choice in the National League after the L.A. Dodgers. After the Dodgers, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros are the only other teams offering lower odds than the  Chicago Cubs.

Do the Cubs have what it takes to make it two World Series wins in the past 3 MLB Seasons? I think they do. It’s amazing how well ace pitchers perform when they know they’ve got a solid bullpen behind them. Yu Darvish should become one of the better strikeout pitchers in MLB again.

Forget Darvish’s stint with the Dodgers. He was a loner. Not only that, but he had to adjust quickly. With a full Spring Training in the National League, he should hit the ground running on Opening Day. But, Darvish isn’t the only reason I like the Cubs.

I believe Morrow does turn into one of the best closers in the NL. I also love how Maddon is thinking long-term by making Mike Montgomery his sixth starter. All of it adds up to a possible second World Series championship for the formerly cursed Chicago Cubs.