2020 MLB Preview: Chicago Cubs

Was Chicago’s Maddoning Finish To 2019 His Fault? Maybe.

With manager Joe Maddon gone the Chicago Cubs upper management folks are hoping to prove that it was Maddon who was the reason they didn’t get a second World Series championship after the 2016 title. As we wrote at the end of last year, just breaking the curse never seems to be enough. The simple reason you can’t win every year is because it’s harrrrrrrddddddd. You just can’t roll out of bed and win a second title just because you won the first one. All you can really do is put your team in a position to succeed. Obviously, the Cubs felt 2-8 in the final 10 games of the 2019 season was not indicative of Maddon putting anyone anywhere to do much of anything. And maybe it wasn’t. The Spitter has certainly pointed out his flaws before.

The Cubs certainly have the pitching to do better than 84 wins, which is what they accumulated last year. The Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. With the Brewers likely depending on the fate of prospects, the division will likely depend on the health of the Cubs starting group. Alec Mills allowed only a 1.17 walks and hits per inning in nine games last year. He’s slated to be the fifth starter. Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Kyle Hendricks all have career earned-run averages in the threes or were there in 2019.

Offensively, they may be the best in the division. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber’s batting average on balls put in play fell a little (.288 to .276) last year but his overall batting average rose to .250. That tells me he’s making contact more often. He certainly put a full season of at-bats to good use with career highs in homers, runs batted-in, hits and average. Kris Bryant gets the media love as a career .283 hitter but his performance actually declines with runners in scoring position. According to Yahoo sports he hit 22 points worse with runners at second or third last year. The numbers are similar throughout his career, so where best to put him in the lineup. Fifth? Sixth? Leadoff? Anthony Rizzo by comparison hit 25 points higher then his overall average with runners in position to score. Think “clutch” doesn’t exist? Think again.

With shortstop Javier Báez and catcher Wilson Contreras they are still incredibly dangerous and deep enough to win. I’m not sure if outfielders Ian Happ is the answer to their needs, but they sure try to get him at-bats anyway they can. In his three seasons, he’s played seven positions, six if you don’t count his one relief appearance as a pitcher.

David Bote gives them more flexibility to move third baseman Bryant around to play the outfield or first base depending on need.

Wondering if the ball is really juiced? Outfielder Jason Heyward hit 21 bombs last year. There have been multiple two year stretches when he hasn’t hit 21 in those years combined.

We’ll see if the loss of Maddon is the cure that ails. Retired catcher and broadcaster David Ross is the new skip and would seem to be the perfect replacement. Given that he was Maddon’s catcher during the World Series year, I wonder how much of a change we’ll see, though Ross has always struck me as a little less nutty than Maddon. Still, four playoff runs in four years for Joe was pretty good. Hard to figure why he and General Manager Theo Epstein had “philosophical differences.” I certainly don’t see a drop off with Ross at the helm. This team has the pitching and offense to win 95 and take the division.

Coronavirus 60-game prediction. 39-21.

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