Posted on March 14, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
In some ways, the Chicago Cubs are a forgotten team heading into 2019. They didn’t make a lot of moves this winter. They also ended 2018 by losing the NL Central tiebreaker and the Wild Card Game. But just a few seasons removed from a World Series win, the core of that championship team is still intact. Can they rebound in a big way in 2019 or was last season a sign that the rest of the NL Central has caught up with them.
The Cubs continue to have a star-studded rotation that has the potential to be among the best in baseball this year. Cole Hamels will stay in Chicago another season after he was vital for the Cubs down the stretch last year. He and Jon Lester will front the rotation, as Lester is coming off an 18-win season in which he posted a 3.32 ERA. It also doesn’t hurt to have Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana behind them in the pecking order. Quintana’s performance has leveled off since his trade to the North side of the city, but Hendricks continues to be reliable, winning 14 games last season.
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Of course, the X-factor in Chicago’s rotation is Yu Darvish. The Cubs paid big bucks for him last winter, only to see Darvish struggle and make just eight starts because of a triceps injury in 2018. But if he’s healthy, Darvish gives the Cubs another frontline starter. He could make a big difference after the Cubs got nothing out of him last year. The only other concern for Chicago’s rotation could be depth. Versatile swingmen Mike Montgomery and Tyler Chatwood will provide some semblance of a safety net. But the Cubs may have to turn to prospects Duane Underwood Jr. or Adbert Alzolay if they suffer any injuries in a rotation that has several members on the wrong side of 30.
Chicago’s bullpen had the lowest ERA in the National League last year, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll be among the best again in 2019. The key will be the health of closer Brandon Morrow. He was excellent when healthy last year, but he’ll miss at least the first month of the season with an elbow injury. There’s also no guarantee he’ll return to the same level he was at last season when he registered a 1.47 ERA.
The silver lining for the Cubs is they have no shortage of options behind him. Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, and Brandon Kintzler all have experience as a closer. Carl Edwards Jr. has also emerged the past couple of season as an electric late-inning arm. Chatwood and Montgomery also provide additional depth if they’re not needed in the rotation. Just for good measure, the Cubs sign Brad Brach and Tony Barnette this winter, giving them an abundance of proven bullpen arms.
The Cubs have had little trouble scoring runs the past few seasons, and their lineup won’t be all that different from years past. The likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant will continue to strike fear in opposing pitchers. There’s also Javier Baez, who’s coming off a sensational season in which he hit .290 with 34 home runs. Catcher Willson Contreras can also be dangerous with the bat despite taking a small step backward last year.
Of course, that’s just the infield. The Cubs also have an impressive amount of depth in the outfield. Kyle Schwarber gives Chicago another big bat from the left side. Albert Almora and Ian Happ also bring a lot to the table, even if both will be a little disappointed in their overall numbers last season. Even Jason Heyward posted decent numbers last year in addition to his defensive contributions. There’s also the versatile Ben Zobrist, who hit .305 last year despite signs of diminishing power. All things considered, the Cubs still have one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
Things didn’t pan out as they would have liked at the end of last season, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Cubs won 95 games. Even with some minor question marks here and there and manager Joe Maddon potentially in his final year in Chicago, there are a lot of reasons to like the Cubs in 2019. Look for Chicago to finish 92-70 this season. However, that may not be enough to beat out the Brewers, meaning the Cubs may have to settle for another trip to the Wild Card Game. Nevertheless, the Cubs will be a threat to advance in October if they stay healhty.