Arizona head coach Sean Miller being wiretapped by the FBI revealing that Arizona was offering $100K to recruit center DeAndre Ayton is easily the biggest news happening right now but the news I’m most concerned with is that Indiana might be involved with these same agents. Miller’s brother, Archie, is the head coach at IU and it was revealed that Indiana may have been a part of a bidding war for current South Carolina stud Brian Bowen. It doesn’t appear that Indiana has too much against it, but considering that they’re just 10 years removed from the Kelvin Sampson debacle, another discovery of violations could be really damaging. But on to more positive news, we’re talking baseball again as Day 6 of 30 Clubs in 30 Days features the Chicago Cubs. Let’s take a look at Joe Maddon’s club’s outlook for the season.
Record: 92-70, Won NL Central by 6 games over Milwaukee Brewers, defeated Washington Nationals in NLDS, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS
Notable Offseason Additions: SP Yu Darvish, RP Brandon Morrow, OF Peter Bourjos, RP Steve Cishek, SP Tyler Chatwood, SP Drew Smyly, C Chris Gimenez
Notable Offseason Subtractions: SP Jake Arrieta, SP John Lackey, C Alex Avila, CP Wade Davis, RP Hector Rondon, C Rene Rivera, OF Leonys Martin, RP Koji Uehara, OF Jon Jay
Best Offensive Player: 3B Kris Bryant
Best Pitcher: Kyle Hendricks
C-Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini
2B-Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist
3B-Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella
CF-Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr
RF-Jason Heyward, Peter Bourjos
SP-Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood
Bullpen-Brandon Morrow (CP), Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr, Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Justin Grimm, Justin Wilson, Mike Montgomery
Manager-Joe Maddon (4th season with Cubs)
Hitting Coach-Chili Davis
Pitching Coach-Jim Hickey
1st Base Coach-Will Venable
3rd Base Coach-Brian Butterfield
Bench Coach-Brandon Hyde
The Chicago Cubs are shooting for another World Series title this season and one can’t argue against their chances in 2018. Offensively they boast arguably the brightest young core in all of baseball, as each of Contreras, Rizzo, Baez, Russell, Bryant, Schwarber, Happ, and Almora are all under the age of 30. In fact, when they won the 2016 World Series, their entire infield of Rizzo-Baez-Russell-Bryant was under the age of 26. So expect the Cubs to be very good for a long time. Here’s how the Cubs expect to line up in 2018.
1. Ian Happ/Albert Almora Jr-CF
2. Kris Bryant-3B
3. Anthony Rizzo-1B
4. Willson Contreras-C
5. Kyle Schwarber-LF
6. Javy Baez-2B
7. Jason Heyward-RF
8. Addison Russell-SS
9. Pitcher’s Spot
My one issue with this lineup is that it lacks a true leadoff hitter. I more put Happ and Almora in that spot because I think they have the potential to take over that role rather than whether they truly deserve it or not. But Joe Maddon is known to tinker with his lineup to a degree that would make Ruxin from The League proud. Hell there was a time where he experimented with Rizzo in the leadoff spot, which actually worked to relative success, I might add. But no matter where you put a guy like Kris Bryant in the lineup, he’s going to do some damage. Last season, Bryant hit .295 with 29 home runs, 73 RBI, 111 runs scored, and was worth 6.7 WAR, which was 2nd best among all third basemen (Anthony Rendon’s 6.9 was tops). The 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP will look to add to his mantle in 2018. His partner in crime, Rizzo, was also excellent in 2017. He hit .273 with 32 home runs, 109 RBI, 99 runs scored, and was worth 4.0 WAR. Rizzo’s been a model of consistency ever since 2014 and nowhere is that more apparent than in his home run totals. Since 2014, his home run totals have been 32-31-32-32. If that’s not consistent I don’t know what is but you can pretty much pencil in Rizzo for 32 home runs in 2018. Kyle Schwarber’s a guy they hope can really come into his own in 2018 as he’s got a ton of pop but hasn’t quite put it all together. However if you look at him in Spring Training right now, it is VERY clear that he’s in incredible shape so I expect a big year out of him. But the biggest factor for the Cubs offense in my opinion was the breakout of young catcher Willson Contreras. In his first full season as the Cubs’ everyday catcher, Contreras hit .276 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI, and was worth 3.2 WAR. His emergence was a big reason the Cubs continued to be the class of the NL Central despite the slow start out of Bryant and the others. Expect the Cubs to have one of the best offenses in baseball in 2018.
The Cubs struggled on the mound last season. Jon Lester’s ERA rose nearly 2 whole runs from 2016-17, Jake Arrieta’s ERA rose to the mid-3’s, John Lackey’s ERA skyrocketed to 4.59, and their most consistent starter, Kyle Hendricks, missed much of the season due to injury. Arrieta and Lackey will not be returning in 2018 as both remain unsigned as of this writing and the Cubs have filled out their rotation with the signing of Yu Darvish, which I covered a few weeks ago. If Lester can return to half the form he was in 2016 when he was a finalist for NL Cy Young and if Hendricks can stay healthy, the Cubs could have another dominant rotation. Jose Quintana, whom the Cubs acquired at the Trade Deadline from the White Sox last season, was pretty inconsistent in 2017 but after his trade to the Cubs, he seemed to settle down a bit and had a 3.74 ERA in the second half. So if all their guys can pitch to their ability, the Cubs will have four aces on their staff.
The Cubs’ bullpen saw a bit of an overhaul in the 2017-18 offseason. Gone are former closers Wade Davis and Hector Rondon but they added Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to replace them. The closer role is unclear but according to MLB.com’s depth chart for the Cubs, Morrow is slated to be the closer for the Cubs, a role he’s never really held before. The most saves he’s had in a season was 10 in 2008 with the Mariners but that was also a season where Seattle was trying to figure out what to do with him, as he also made 5 starts that year. However Morrow was excellent as the 8th inning guy for the Dodgers in 2017, as he had an ERA of 2.06 and struck out over 10 batters per 9 innings. In fact, manager Dave Roberts liked him so much that he became the second pitcher ever to appear in all 7 World Series games. New acquisition Steve Cishek has been a closer for the Marlins in the past so he is certainly an option to close out games if Morrow can’t go. Breakout youngster Carl Edwards Jr could also be an option. Edwards had a career year in 2017 as he pitched to a 2.98 ERA and struck out 12.75 batters per 9 innings. Plus he was the guy who was going to close out Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, getting the first two outs before letting up a run and being relieved for Mike Montgomery. If Edwards can continue his ascent, he could also find himself closing games by the end of the year.
Overall, the Cubs are looking really good for 2018. They boast a powerful young lineup with a plethora of talented pitching options. The key for them is going to be avoiding the slow start that plagued them for much of 2017. For much of the season, they found themselves playing catchup to Milwaukee in the NL Central before pulling away late in the second half. Milwaukee reloaded in the offseason, adding outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich so they mean business in the division. If the Cubs are going to stave them off, they’re going to need to be sharp for all 162 games, which they’re more than capable of. Joe Maddon is arguably the best manager in baseball and when you give him talent like he has in Chicago, it’s pretty easy to see why the Cubs have reached the NLCS in all 3 years of his tenure there.
Projected Record: 94-68, Win NL Central
That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, join me tomorrow where I go cross-town to the Chicago White Sox, whose bright young prospects are lurking around, waiting to pounce on the rest of the Major Leagues. Let me know what you think of the Cubs’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.