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Kings of the North Side (Cubs Preview)

January 31, 2018

 

The Chicago Cubs succumbed to the proverbial World Series hangover. After a very mediocre first half, the Cubs owned the best record of the second half. They stormed to win the Central, but were dispatched by the Dodgers in the NLCS. Their lineup is young and should bounce back in 2018, but their pitching may be a cause for concern.

 

What Happened Last Year?

Coming into 2017, the Cubs were touted as the best team in baseball. A World Series hangover seemed unlikely, considering how young their core players of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were. But alas, they struggled in the first half. Bryant’s average was .269 at the All-Star break. His on-base and slugging numbers were there, but the reigning MVP was quiet. After 3 straight months of .311-plus marks, he finished with a fantastic slash line of .295/.409/.537. Rizzo was hitting .259 at the break. A blistering August where he hit .355/.433/.627 was offset by a poor September. He finished the year with 32 home runs, 109 RBIs, and a .273 average. Willson Contreras emerged as a premier catcher on both sides of the ball, hitting 21 dongs while owning an average of .276 in 377 at bats.

 

The pitching was the biggest issue of 2017. Jon Lester struggled to a 4.33 ERA in only 180.2 innings. Brett Anderson, to nobody’s surprise, struggled and got hurt after only 5 starts. John Lackey gave up 36 home runs on his way to a 4.59 ERA. The reigning Cy Young, Kyle Hendricks, struggled with injuries and only threw 139.2 innings, but he did have a 3.03 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Free agent Jake Arrieta had a 3.59 ERA with only 163 strikeouts in 168.1 innings. They acquired Jose Quintana from the White Sox and he did provide stability down the stretch. Closer Wade Davis, who bolted for Colorado, went 32 for 33 in save opportunities in a solid year at Wrigley.

 

Key Moves

Key Losses: Wade Davis, RHP; Hector Rondon, RHP

Key Additions: Brandon Morrow, RHP; Steve Cishek, RHP; Tyler Chatwood

Key Free Agents: Jake Arrieta, RHP

 

The Cubs restocked their bullpen after losing Davis and Rondon. Cishek provides stability at the setup spot, and Morrow looks to be a good closer after a comeback year with the Dodgers last year. The market on Arrieta remains quiet because Scott Boras wants an exorbitant amount of money and years for a pitcher with a year and a half of elite production. The lineup is young with few holes, if any. Trades don’t look like they need to be made on the offensive side.

 

Prospect to Watch

Victor Caratini, C/1B, AAA

 

The Cubs do not have a great farm system. Caratini ranks sixth according to MLB.com, but he earns my intrigue because he is the most major league ready out of all the top Cubs prospects. He hit .342 at AAA Iowa last year, but his defense isn’t rated that high. His major issue is that at the big league level, Willson Contreras blocks his path behind the plate, while Anthony Rizzo stops him from playing first.

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