For the first time in decades, the Chicago Cubs enter a season without that one big lingering question on their backs. They won the World Series. Finally.
Now it’s time for a new question: Can they win it … again?
One World Series is great, but let’s face facts here, these fantastic young Cubs weren’t just expected to break the curse. They’re expected to be a dynasty. And dynasties win multiple titles, preferably in back-to-back years.
The Cubs look every bit like a team able to do that. They’ll get a full season of Kyle Schwarber to go along with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras should all be better than in 2016, making that lineup perhaps even more daunting. The pitching has the usual questions that any big-league staff does, but Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey should be solid enough even if Kyle Hendricks regresses and Brett Anderson runs into trouble.
The pressure might not be as high this year, but the competition will be just as fierce. The Boston Red Sox are re-tooled and ready to mash. The San Francisco Giants will be looking for NLDS revenge. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ and Washington Nationals‘ clocks are ticking too. And, of course, the Cleveland Indians went out and made the move that they think will help them beat the Cubs this time around.
So yeah, the Cubs can do it again. But it ain’t gonna be easy.
ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Wade Davis, Brett Anderson, Jon Jay
Subtractions: Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler, Aroldis Chapman
The Cubs lost some significant talent this winter, but it probably doesn’t matter. The team is still as terrifying and deep as ever. They proved as much by swapping Jorge Soler for Wade Davis. Davis, if healthy, will be a great replacement for Aroldis Chapman, while Soler didn’t have a place to play with Kyle Schwarber back. The Fowler loss will hurt, but Joe Maddon can probably cobble together some useful centerfield Frankenstein with Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. You can argue the Cubs aren’t as strong as they were heading into 2016, but they are still the World Series favorite. (Chris Cwik)
Despite the rousing rain delay speech and the World Series ring, the 2016 season didn’t go so well for Jason Heyward. In his first year in Chicago, he hit just .230/.306/.325 with seven homers. It was the worst offensive season of his career, and that’s not the guy the Cubs signed to a $184 million contract. He spent the offseason overhauling his swing, but his spring training stats (.163 in 49 at-bats) aren’t showing results. You’d think *something* would have to give here, because this isn’t the guy Heyward is. It’s like a light turned off between 2015 and 2016, and he’s still searching for the switch. Perhaps the swing overhaul helps him find it, but if not, hopefully something else will. (Liz Roscher)
PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
1. Kyle Schwarber, LF (0-for-4 in 2016)
2. Kris Bryant, 3B (.292/.385/.554, 39 HR, 102 RBI, 121 R)
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B (.292/385/.544, 32 HR, 109 RBI, 94 R)
4. Ben Zobrist, 2B (.272/.386/.446, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 94 R)
5. Addison Russell, SS (.238/.321/.417, 21 HR, 95 RBI)
6. Jason Heyward, RF (.230/.306/.325, 7 HR, 49 RBI)
7. Willson Contreras, C (.282/.357/.488, 12 HR, 35 RBI)
8. Jon Jay, CF (.291/.339/.389, 2 HR, 26 RBI)
1. Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA, 202.2 IP, 197 K)
2. Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA, 197.1 IP, 190 K)
3. Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA, 190 IP, 170 K)
4. John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA, 188.1 IP, 180 K)
5. Brett Anderson (1-2, 11.91 ERA, 11.1 IP, 5 K)
“Next year” took 108 years to come after the Cubs’ World Series win in 1908. It could only take one year this time. The Cubs were World Series favorites last season and didn’t collapse under the pressure. There’s no reason to think this team will collapse now. The Cubs are a 100-win threat and a championship contender until proven otherwise. (Mark Townsend)
If every key player has a down season, the Cubs might only win 90 games. Seriously, there’s too much talent and depth here to poke holes or find weaknesses. Either they play up to capability and play deep into October, or they settle in as a really good team that could still play deep into October. (Townsend)
PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are going to have to find a way to share two positions, right? And isn’t that reason to downgrade all three?
It’s not quite that simple, because Joe Maddon’s team (not surprisingly) is full of versatile defenders. Zobrist has spent time at every position defensively except pitcher and catcher over 11 big league seasons. Baez is an elite defensive player at every infield spot. Schwarber’s name is still reportedly part of the catching hierarchy, behind Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero. Contreras himself saw time in left field and at first last year. Kris Bryant has been a perfectly serviceable outfielder over the past two seasons, allowing Baez time at third. Jason Heyward is a Gold Glove outfielder, exceptional in right and center.
So this squad does not lack depth or positional flexibility. It seems reasonable to forecast 135 games for both Zobrist and Baez, and perhaps a few more for Schwarber. The Cubs have been fairly clear about dialing back Zobrist’s starts this season. At 35, he’s the guy in line to lose plate appearances. Baez crushed LHPs last year (.311/.375/.475), so we know he’ll play against southpaws. No doubt a handful of his appearances will involve mid-game defensive changes, which is of course a headache for fantasy purposes. But the team found 421 at-bats for him last year, and he’s likely to see an uptick in 2017. (Andy Behrens)
Who do you choose as your best follow when the entire team is made up of social media all-stars?
A post shared by David Ross (@grandparossy_3) on Mar 20, 2017 at 2:14pm PDT
Pick someone who’s not on the team anymore, of course. David Ross retired at the end of last season, and he’s been having the time of his life ever since. He’s currently on “Dancing with the Stars,” he has a book coming out soon and then there’s a movie being made about him (and also the Cubs). He also now has a job in the Cubs front office. There isn’t anyone enjoying retirement more than David Ross — except perhaps David Ortiz. (Liz Roscher)
BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
For the true Wrigley Field experience, you’ll want to try and get to the area early so you can hang out in Wrigleyville before you enter the park. Grab a beer at one of the many establishments within walking distance and talk to the locals.
Once inside, there’s plenty to do and see. Check out the ivy on the outfield walls, sit in the bleachers, use one of the famous bathroom troughs, try to get on top of the scoreboard to grab Kyle Schwarber’s famous home run ball from the 2015 playoffs. (Note: Don’t do that last one.)
Lastly, grab yourself an ice-cold Budweiser, head over near the broadcast booth and sing loudly during the seventh-inning stretch. It’s what Harry Caray would want. (Cwik)
ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox
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