Posted on February 21, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine

Chicago Cubs
Image via nytimes.com

The 2020 season figures to be an interesting one for the Chicago Cubs. After a great run with longtime manager Joe Maddon, the club parted ways with their skipper and brought in former catcher David Ross to take the reins. Ross has inherited a team with a lot of World Series winners on the roster. However, it’s also a team that faded late in 2019 and finds itself in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Can the Cubs bounce back in 2020 and get back on top of the NL Central or was last September a sign of things to come?

Rotation

The names and faces in the Chicago rotation are largely the same as they’ve been the past few seasons. Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks all made at least 30 starts last season, giving the Cubs a lot of stability in their rotation. Of course, only Hendricks and Darvish posted an ERA under 4.00 last year. Plus, all but Hendricks appear to be past their prime and on the decline. While the Cubs have four reliable starters, they could be lacking in frontline starters who can give them one of the top rotations int he National League.

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Of course, the one player missing from last year’s rotation is lefty Cole Hamels, who signed with the Braves. That gives the Cubs a vacancy in their rotation to figure out. Swingman Tyler Chatwood should get a chance to lock down a full-time spot for the first time since 2016. However, Adbert Alzolay, Jharel Cotton, and Alec Mills will all get a chance as well. If nothing else, the Cubs should have enough depth to figure out the fifth spot and survive short-term injuries to one of their four core starters.

Bullpen

In the bullpen, the Cubs will have some new names taking on prominent roles. Key figures like Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Pedro Strop are all with other teams. The silver lining is that Craig Kimbrel returns to the closer’s role after signing with the Cubs last June. Of course, Kimbrel battled elbow trouble and posted a 6.53 ERA last season. If he’s healthy, Kimbrel could have a bounce-back year and once again be among the best closers in baseball. But there’s some uncertainty with what the Cubs can expect out of him in 2020.

Meanwhile, there are some questions about how the Cubs will get the ball to Kimbrel in the 9th inning. Jeremy Jeffress was signed in free agency, although he’s coming off a rough 2019 campaign. Lefty Kyle Ryan and righty Rowan Wick should be two of the main setup men in Chicago after both were reliable in 2019. But the rest of the group is unsettled. Veterans Dan Winkler, Casey Sadler, and Ryan Tepera were brought in, but none are high-end relievers. The Cubs are high on youngsters Trevor Megill and Duane Underwood Jr., but neither is established in the majors. If the likes of Mills, Cotton, and Alzolay aren’t needed in the rotation, they could fill roles in the bullpen. But while the Cubs have plenty of options in their bullpen, there aren’t too many relievers they know will be reliable in 2020.

Lineup

Not much has changed about Chicago’s lineup since they won the World Series in 2016. The likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez will be the heavy hitters. You could also add catcher Willson Contreras to that group and possibly Jason Heyward as well after he put together a solid campaign in 2019.

However, there are still some questions at second base, center field, and with the overall depth of the team. Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and Steven Souza Jr. will battle for playing time in the outfield. But Almora struggled offensively last season, Happ spent most of the year in the minors, and Souza didn’t play at all in 2019. Things look a little better at second base with David Both and Nico Hoerner expected to share duties, although neither has ever been an everyday player in the big leagues.

Prediction

Coming off a disappointing 84-win season in 2019, the Cubs have a projected win total of 86.5 games in 2020. However, unless Ross has the magic touch, it’s hard to envision the Cubs improving upon last year’s win total. Chicago didn’t spend much money this offseason, leaving them with an uncertain spot in their rotation and a laundry list of questions in the bullpen. The level of competition in the NL Central this season could be even higher than it was a year ago. Look for the Cubs to struggle just to maintain a .500 record and fall short of the 86.5-win projection.

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