The Chicago Cubs enter 2018 looking to get back to the Fall Classic after getting bounced by the NL Champion LA Dodgers in the NLCS. The Cubs stumbled out of the gate but righted the ship after the All Star break and ended with 92 wins. It’s hard not to love a team that has built from the ground up with the genius, Theo Epstein. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo lead this team both on and off the field. The 2017 Cubs reached the NLCS but just never had the same spark as the World Series team in 2016. This year’s team will look to go deep in the playoffs again and they have a team that can do it.
Yu Darvish, RHP
Tyler Chatwood, RHP
Brandon Morrow, RHP
Steve Cishek, RHP
Jake Arrieta, RHP
Wade Davis, RHP
Alex Avila, C
Jon Jay, OF
Why they can win: The Cubbies can win because they’ve been doing it for 3 years and have a good core. This year more than ever is the time for their prospects to turn into reliable major leaguers. Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, besides his 30 HR, had disastrous years at the plate relative to their hype. Those two at their peak, along side Contreras, Happ, Baez, Rizzo and Bryant make this a scary lineup. They have great lineup depth, good power, and an upgraded bullpen. They have 5 guys who could hit 30 homeruns. They finished 6th in OPS and 4th in runs scored so they clearly know how to get it done. They also added Yu Darvish, who, in a way, replaces Jake Arrieta.
Why they can lose: Chicago can lose because they lost some pretty big names. Although Jake Arrieta may never return to the elite status of 2016, he was still a big presence at the front of the rotation and the playoff woes from Yu Darvish May scare some people. They can also lose because the Cardinals and Brewers both have really good teams.
Bottom Line: The Bottom Line is that the Cubs still have a really good team; a World Series contending team. Imagine a team where Ian Happ, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras are all hitting well at the same time? Yikes. They may be young but their farm is among the bottom third in the Majors, something their front office most certainly will fix. With the addition of Yu Darvish, this team is a big time contender with a deep rotation. I love their bullpen, I love their depth and their offense can be elite. They should win around 90 and give themselves a good spot at a lengthy playoff run.
Major4 Prospects, (Top 100):
Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
Jose Alberto’s, RHP
Adbert Alzolay, RHP
Alex Lange, RHP
Major4 Numbers Game:
Stud: Kris Bryant, 3B
Man, I really wanted to write about Anthony Rizzo and how incredible he is, but you can’t help but use Kris Bryant as our stud for the North Siders. Even with a 10 HR decrease, he managed to put up a 6.7 WAR (fangraphs). People were worried his long uppercut swing would lead to high swing and miss tendencies, but it is a tribute to his supreme athleticism and baseball acumen that he was able to increase his BB% by 3.6 points (14.3%!!!) and cut his K% for the third straight year (19.2%). He is a plus baserunner for his position and above-average defender at the hot corner. His bread and butter is his bat, and he launches the ball at an extremely high launch angle (17 degrees) which offset his league average exit velo (87.4 MPH). His hard hit rate did drop 7 points, but with a corresponding patient approach. To me, this a solid tradeoff due to the depth in the Cubs lineup.
Sinkhole: Bridge to Brandon Morrow
You could make the argument that Jason Heyward is the Cubbies sinkhole due to his ghastly contract, but he still posted a positive war and plays solid RF. My biggest concern is the bullpen getting the ball to Brandon Morrow. A back-end with Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Wilson, who both walked over 14% of batters in 2017, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence or efficiency. Throw in the enigmatic Steve Cishek, who was in the minors as recently as 2016. Also, Joe Madden’s propensity to ride a couple relievers at a time could lead to major fluctuations in performance (https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-impact-of-yu-darvish-on-mike-montgomery-on-the-cubs/). The Cubs better hope they get 180+ innings from their top 3-4 starters.
Regression Candidate: Kyle Schwarber, OF
Another regression candidate, in a positive direction. You may ask how a guy who hit 30 HRs can trend upwards? Well, he also hit .211 (yikes). But, his peripherals speak to a guy who can provide elite level offense. He takes walks (12.1 BB%), hits the ball hard (38% hard hit rate, 90.7 MPH exit velo), and launches it high (19.7 degrees). His batting profile looks a lot more like Cody Bellinger’s, than a scrub who hit .211. Hot Take: despite being an absolute sieve in the field, he posts over a 2.5 WAR with 35+ HRs.
Impact Acquisition: Yu Darvish, SP
The Cubbies recent acquisition of Yu Darvish made too much sense. They needed a quality top of the rotation arm, so they got the best available. Durability has always been a concern with Darvish, but he started 31 games last year, which we hope continues. It will be interesting to see if he keeps using the pitch sequencing recommended by the Dodgers analytics team: cutter/slider heavy (44% usage, Brooks Baseball), and high four-seamers. He experienced a lot of success in the second-half of the season with the Dodgers (playoffs not included): increasing his K% (25.9 to 29.7) and decreasing his BB% (8.5 down to 6.0). Although it was a hefty contract, he is a great fit at the top of the rotation along with Jose Quintana, Kyle Kendricks, and John Lester who all pitch with a diversity that will make life difficult on hitters all season long.
Why we love them: What’s not to love about the Cubbies? Classic unis, classic hats, Bryzzo commercials, their 7th inning stretch singing tradition, Chet Stedman guitar riff when his arm gives out, Henry Rowengartner, Harry Caray and one of the best stadiums in all of sports!