Posted on March 1, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Chicago Cubs Washington Nationals NLDS

Image via chicagotribune.com

Despite making three straight trips to the NLCS, the Chicago Cubs are hungry for a return to the World Series in 2018. Many people view the Cubs as one of the top contenders in the National League heading into the season. But can they live up to expectations and bring the north side of Chicago a second title in the last three years?

Rotation

Chicago’s rotation will look a little different in 2018 than it did in 2017, but that may not be a bad thing. The trio of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana returns, while Jake Arrieta and John Lackey have been replaced with Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood, which to most people translates as an upgrade.

There could be some concern about Lester, who is 34 and had a spike in his ERA last season. But Hendricks and Quintana should provide stability, and there’s little doubt that Darvish is capable of being the ace of the staff now that he’s three full years removed from Tommy John surgery.

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Chatwood could also surprise some people now that he’s not pitching half his games at Coors Field. The Cubs also have the luxury of depth with Mike Montgomery, Eddie Butler, and possibly Drew Smyly later in the season. From top to bottom, the Cubs could have one of the most balanced and complete rotations in baseball this season.

Bullpen

The Cubs should also be strong in the bullpen, although there are a few questions to answer. Wade Davis has gone elsewhere after saving 32 games in 33 opportunities in 2017. The Cubs have signed Brandon Morrow for that role after he had an outstanding 2017 season with the Dodgers. However, Morrow has limited experience as a closer and has had shoulder problems within the past few years, so there’s no guarantee he’ll fit right into Davis’ shoes.

Chicago has also parted ways with veteran relievers Hector Rondon and Koji Uehara. However the Cubs still have a strong contingent of setup men, including Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson, Pedro Strop, and Carl Edwards Jr. Both Cishek and Wilson have experience as a closer should Morrow stumble in that role. But Chicago’s bullpen does seem to have a little less experience than in year’s past.

Lineup

Offensively, the Cubs have changed little over the offseason, and for good reason. Corner infielders Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are both capable of putting together MVP-worthy campaigns. Catcher Willson Contreras has emerged as another impact offensive player, and the Cubs remain strong up the middle both offensively and defensively with Javier Baez and Addison Russell.

Of course, the Cubs will have to sort out their outfield. Currently, there are five players: Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist for just three spots. Competition among the five players should be good news for manager Joe Maddon. However, based on last year’s production, veterans Heyward and Zobrist could be relegated to the bench, which could be a tough situation for Maddon to maneuver.

Of course, however you slice it, the Cubs will have one of the deepest lineups in the National League. Barring a rash of injuries or multiple players failing to live up to expectations, the Cubs should once again be one of the best offensive teams in baseball.

Prediction

Despite a sluggish first half in 2017, the Cubs still won 92 games and had a 6-game cushion atop the NL Central. Once again, they can expect a strong challenge from both the Brewers and Cardinals inside the division. But there would need to be a lot working against them for the Cubs not to win another division title. Look for the Cubs to finish this season 95-67 and win their third straight NL Central crown.

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