Welcome to Opening Day 2019! The Chicago Cubs start the season in Texas with a three game series against the Texas Rangers. Jon Lester will be the opening day starter, followed by Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels.
This offseason has been full of questions about the Cubs. Will Kris Bryant return healthy and back to an All-Star level? Can Yu Darvish be the dominate pitcher Theo Epstein signed him to be? Who is going to be their closer?
The Windy City Chronicle staff answered the hard questions ahead of the 2019 campaign.
1.) What will be the Cubs biggest strength in 2019?
Thomas Gibbons: I’m going to go with offense. The middle of the order consisting of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Willson Contreras has the ability to be very, very good. The offense was broke last year. We know it and the Cubs brass knew it. But Kris Bryant was not himself and the approach from Chili Davis was not going to cut it. The Cubs have a new hitting coach and a renewed focus. This offense should have no problems scoring runs because of the heart of their lineup and the supporting cast around them. This team is deeper then people think.
Johnny Hatelak: I struggled between slugging and defense. I think I’m going defense since it should never slump. Cubs have the most defensively versatile roster in the big leagues and everyone of them are at the very least league average at every position they play. This helps the pitching staff out in not only getting outs but giving them confidence that they can give up solid contract and still get an out. If Willson Contreras solves the framing thing this could be a historically good defensive team. In turn it may make the pitching staff historically good as well. Much like they were in 2016.
Alex Patt: The biggest strength of the Cubs will be their lineup. A healthy Kris Bryant along with Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez should see better results than last year and a more consistent offense. With a hitting coach who has worked with a number of these guys in the minors (Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, Almora), we can see some younger guys take a step forward.The ceiling of this offense is as high as it gets.
Jovanny Santiago: The starting rotation. I believe, if healthy, they can be the best in baseball.
2.) What will be their biggest weakness/questionable areas?
TG: I’m going to go with the bullpen. There are a few guys who I think we can rely on but cannot be burnt out or we will be in trouble come September and October. Mike Montgomery, Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop are the heart of this bullpen. When Morrow returns and proves he is healthy, he will join this group. But everyone knows you need 5-6 strong arms you can rely on over the course of the season. Carl Edwards Jr. and Brad Brach has to prove quickly they can be relied on. It’s a weakness now but it has the potential to become a strength of this team.
JH: Back-end of the Bullpen. I think this may be problematic. There are some good arms but until Brandon Morrow shows he’s capable of lasting an entire season the closer spot bothers me. If the Cubs bounce back expect a deadline deal for a back-end pitcher or two.
AP: Biggest weakness right now is the bullpen. Closer Brandon Morrow’s injury makes things difficult right off the bat, and Brad Brach is a bit of a concern as he recovers from Mono. There may be some concern regarding Pedro Strop’s health as he has battled nagging injuries in spring and the end of last year, but, if he is healthy expect him to be great as usual. Other questions include if this is the year Carl Edwards finally finds consistency with his command and if Steve Cishek was not totally burned out after last year. This pen has potential, but there are already issues.
JS: The Cubs biggest problem right now is at catcher. Last season, Willson Contreras caught over 140 games last year. That’s a big workload and I think he was worn out. The Cubs have not added a veteran backup and will roll with Victor Carintini as their backup, hopefully he can contribute.
3.) Will they win the NL Central?
TG: I’m going to say yes but I have my doubts. The Brewers, Cardinals, and the Reds made big adjustments to be contenders this season. The Cubs are riding with that they have and while I like this roster, it would have been nice to add a Bryce Harper or Craig Kimbrel.
JH: Yes. I think the regression was more anomaly than trend. I really feel Joe Maddon’s plan to turn the Cubs into a contact team backfired. I get that he probably meant for them having a better approach in certain situations by cutting down their swing and go to a “B” Hack, which is sound logic, but I think that has to develop naturally. This team is still very young and I think the contact over slugging philosophy was too much too soon and these kids were force fed.
AP: The Cubs can absolutely win the central. It will be a very tight and brutal battle with the Cardinals and Brewers. Hard to say which one will be the bigger threat, but St. Louis has a young rotation with a lot of potential and they acquired Paul Goldschmidt who is one of the best hitters in the game. Milwaukee will have another year of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, but there could be some regression from players who had career years in 2018. Both teams should be playoff contenders.
JS: Yes the cubs will win the division by 3 Games. The biggest competitors in the division will be the Cardinals and brewers. The Cardinals made some good acquisitions to their team and Milwaukee did as well so it should be a fun Summer for the NL Central.
4.) What do you expect from Kris Bryant?
TG: I’m expecting a big bounce back year from Bryant. He went back to his old swing this offseason and he’s in a great place from what we have seen in spring training and the multiple interview he has done. He’s a funny guy and he’s loose and ready to go. His shoulder is 100% and I’m ready to see him being one of the best players in baseball we know he can be.
JH: I expect him to contend for the MVP. If not for the injury he helps the Cubs win the Division by 5 games and possibly going over the century mark in wins. Bryant seems to be extremely motivated and that would concern me if I’m an opposing pitching staff.
AP: A healthy Kris Bryant will put up MVP numbers.
JS: I expect a bounce back season from Kris Bryant. he’s going to have a great season and help this team win another title.
5.) Do you feel confident in Yu Darvish? Why or Why not?
TG: I’m confident in Darvish. I’m throwing out last year. We know he has the stuff to be a great pitcher but it’s time to show it. I think all Cub fans have doubts about his metal toughness but once he goes out to the mound and dominates, we will quickly forget that.
JH: No. Not entirely. I think he’ll have good stuff and even stay healthy. I just don’t know if he has the mental toughness to pitch through adversity when it matters most. I hate to question that with a player as you’re not in their head, but at his point it’s hard not to have some doubts.
AP: I think Yu Darvish has the right physical and mental state to return to form in 2019. He has been much more engaging in the public eye and has impressed in spring training. The velocity is back and the movement has been filthy on his pitches. He seems as confident as ever and says he feels great, time to believe in Yu.
JS: I feel very confident in Darvish. He’s going to have a great season and he’s enjoying himself this year with the cubs. Last year being injured he felt he let the team and the fanbase down but now he’s coming back to earn everyone’s love back.
6.) Who do you want closing games before Brandon Morrow returns?
TG: I’m with Johnny and think it’s going to be a team effort, unless someone emerges that Maddon has compete faith in to give someone the ball with a one run lead. If I were making decisions, I’d go with Strop.
JH: I want a committee. Go matchups. Strop was pretty decent looking in that role before his injury but I never felt closing was his best role. I am intrigued to see how Edwards bounces back. He has closer stuff but he goes through slumps and once it goes south he has a hard time closing the flood gates. Brandon Kintzler and Brad Brach also have closing experience as does Mike Montgomery.
AP: Pedro Strop is probably the guy to go to. Brad Brach would probably be the other choice as well as possibly Steve Cishek, but Brach may or may not have his velocity fully back when the season starts. Strop proved he can close last year.
JS: I would like to see Pedro strop close out the ballgames for the cubs until morrow returns and earns his spot back.
7.) Ian Happ will start in AAA Iowa, do you agree with the move?
TG: Happ needs to work on his approach and Iowa is the best place to do that. He will play everyday and work his way back to the big leagues. He can help this team but has to figure out the weaknesses in his game.
JH: Yes. He had a rough 2018 and spring training was equally as rough. I like the approach of making guys earn it. Make them accountable.
AP: Ian Happ being sent down was the right move. He was struggling not only in spring ball, but last season with a 36.1% K Rate. Happ was not going to play everyday on the MLB club to start the season, and he will be able to in AAA Iowa where he will work on his swing. If he develops fast he will not be down very long, he still has potential.
JS: I agree with the move. He needed to go back down to Iowa to fix his strikeout problem.
8.) What will be the cubs final record?
JH: I think with the improved division it’s going to be hard to hit 100 wins. Also, the head to head division games will cancel out the Division foes Win totals as they beat up on each other so it won’t take as many wins to take the Division either. 89-90 wins may just be enough. I don’t normally make record predictions or final scores in games but since I’m being asked the Cubs win the Division with a 93-69 record.