Good Morning. Time For Division Preview Part Four: The Chicago Cubs
Ahhh, the Cubbies. The team everybody seems to be picking not only to win the division, but to win the whole darn thing. Theo Epstein and Co. have certainly done a great job, assembling a lot of young talent, augmenting it some good free agents, then giving the whole thing to Joe Maddon to play with. That’s a good formula, I admit it.
Three Reasons Why They’re Worth Watching.
The Cubs admittedly have quite few interesting position players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo (a personal favorite, I confess), Addison Russell, etc. To me though, Schwarber is the most interesting. He’s a DH playing in the wrong league, so I’ll be watching where Maddon crams him in, especially since they acquired Jason Heyward. Plus there’s the surprising return of Dexter Fowler. So the outfield is tight, and he’s apparently not the best catcher either, so there seems to be no room, except for two things; He’s got a big boomstick (16 homers in 232 AB’s last year) and he’s patient (an OBP over a 100 points higher than his batting average (.246 BA, .355 OB)). That’s not a hitter you can keep sitting often.
2) Joe Maddon
As I mentioned, Maddon has a lot of toys to play with now, even more than last year. Need more outfielders? Here’s Jason Heyward, and Dexter Fowler re-signing at the last minute. Want even more infield depth? Here’s super sub Ben Zobrist! You get the idea. The interesting thing for me will be is whether there’ll be *too* many toys, even for a tinkerer like Maddon (can you imagine Matheny with these many toys? His head would explode in the first week…) It’ll be interesting to see how AB’s guys like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Zobrist himself get. Plus, I wonder why they have a solid third catcher in David Ross, when a lot of teams don’t carry a third catcher. One good thing about Maddon though, is he manages the guys well off the field, so he’ll be able to massage any damaged egos. (Matheny is good at this too, though in a more understated way. Every if more understated than Maddon, except maybe Dusty Baker.)
3) John Lackey
Everyone focuses on Jason Heyward leaving the Cards for the Cubs, and that’s understandable. Lackey is more interesting to me though, because he had the lowest ERA of his career at age 36, and his highest Cy Young finish (9th) since he finished 3rd in 2007 with the Angels. Was it a fluke? Or was it a late career resurgence? We’ll find out.
Three Reasons Why We’ll Beat Them
Molina had a good day on Sunday, going 2/3 with a walk and a run scored, a promising sign for a guy who struggled with the bat last year. Here’s the thing though, even if Yadi doesn’t rebound as a hitter, he’s still invaluable on the field. He’s won eight straight Gold Gloves, and is the truest definition of coach on the field as you’ll ever find. Matheny could probably go out for lunch while the Cards are on the field and let Yadi run things, and the team wouldn’t miss a beat. If Yadi retires and decides he wants to manage, teams should compete for his services. None of this is to say Miguel Montero isn’t a solid player. He’s a three time all star after all. He’s just not Yadi.
2) Rotation Depth
This has been covered before in another review, but it bears repeating, the Cards have a deep rotation, and I’d argue it’s a deeper one than the Cubs. I like our 4th and 5th starters (Jaime Garcia and Mike Leake) better than I like the Cubs last two guys (Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel) and that’s not just a hometown bias. Leake is solid, and Garcia, when healthy can be a beast. He just hasn’t been healthy nearly as often as the Cards would like. His 20 starts last year were his most since 2011 though, and he went 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA. If he can stay healthy, that’s a nasty 4th starter right there, and certainly better than Kyle Hendricks.
3) Sophomore Jinx
The Cubs surged up to the top like a Phoenix last year, so in my opinion it’s only natural to expect some regression. Apparently I’m one of the few people that thinks that. The way everyone talks, the Cubs are going to finish 162-0. Baseball doesn’t work that way. With injuries and some performance regression, the Cubs could possibly win *less* games than last year (gasp). Plus, as we covered with Lackey, some FA’s may not repeat last year’s performances. Basically, there’s no guarantees.
The Cubs are our biggest threat in the division, sorry Pirates fans (though they aren’t far off either.) and will keep things interesting for us the entire season. I think we’ll end up atop of the division in the end though thanks to things like rotation depth.
As as always, thanks for reading.