The Chicago Cubs need little to no introduction. They enter the 2017 season in a euphoric state after capturing the team's first World Series title in 108 years. Players on last season's team will never have to pay for a beer in that city as long as they live. The big question everyone is asking is what they are going to do for an encore. It's very common for teams to capture their respective league titles and come out flat to start the following season. In my opinion, the Cubs are too good to suffer the same fate that plagues teams across all four major sports.
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The Cubs eclipsed the century mark in wins and finished the regular season with a record of 103-58. They finished 17.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals and 25 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs were led by a balanced batting order littered with all-stars and a pitching staff that was one of the best in the majors all season. On offense, the reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant will be looking to build off of his absurd 2016. Bryant not only hit for average (.292), but he showed his power stroke several times throughout the season (39 dingers). World Series MVP Ben Zobrist is back to patrol second base and offers up his ability to work a count and get on base as the leadoff hitter.
On the mound, the Cubs have the luxury of trotting out three potential Cy Young candidates in Jon Lester, John Lackey and the beast, Jake Arrieta. All three of these pitchers were vital in last year's success. That's so much so that if the Cubs lost one of them this offseason, I think we'd be talking about how the Cubs would be dethroned as NL Pennant winners.
The Cubs will open the regular season on April 2 with a three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals before heading to Milwaukee for three against the Brewers. Jon Lester has been tabbed as the opening day starter, and the Cardinals will counter with Carlos Martinez. It should come as no real shock to see the Cubs as the betting co-favorites to win the World Series (+450) , the odds-on favorite to win the NL Pennant (+175) and a hefty favorite to win the NL Central (-500). Kris Bryant is the favorite to win the NL MVP (+225) and third favorite to lead the majors in home runs (+1100). All odds are courtesy of Bovada.
Cubs 2017 Projected Lineup
As I mentioned already, the Cubs batting order is just littered with all-star talent, and most members of the lineup haven't even reached their prime years yet. The Cubs owned a run-differential of +282, which was the most in the majors by a mile. I believe that if they had Kyle Schwarber in the lineup for the entire season, that number could have reached at least +300. Schwarber suffered a knee injury in just the third game of the season last year and was out until the World Series, where he made the most of the opportunity. There aren't many stats to tell you regarding Schwarber, but he's projected to slot in second in the batting order. He offers monster power, and having him bat in front of Anthony Rizzo and Bryant will ensure he sees plenty of good pitches to hit.
Anthony Rizzo is another young star in the making the Cubs have the luxury of owning, and he finished last season with a .292 average and 32 home runs. He's still just 27-years-old, and there are very few reasons to believe he can't replicate last season's numbers. He'd be the best player on about 25 other teams, but on the Cubs, he's not, and that says a lot about the makeup of this Cubs' team. Behind him, Bryant will bat cleanup and Javier Baez will bat fifth. Willson Contreras bats sixth and is arguably one of the best young catchers in the game. He hit .282 with 12 HRs with a slugging percentage of .488, and he played in only 76 games.
Further down the lineup, Jason Heyward will need a bounce-back year after disappointing last season to the tune of .230, seven home runs and 49 runs batted in. Heyward signed a monster 8-year $148 million contract prior to the 2016 season, and many are already thinking he's a bust. Behind him you'll find the pitcher's spot, and batting ninth is shortstop Addison Russell. Maddon is known to have his ninth hitter as someone with speed who can be that "de facto" lead off man, so Russell fits the bill.
Cubs 2017 Projected Rotation & Closer
The projected pitching rotation looks about as solid as you could want as defending World Champions. Jon Lester is set to start opening day, and he had a tremendous 2016 season, pitching in more than 200 innings while accumulating a record of 14-9 losses to go along with a 3.03 ERA. Lester also stuck out 203 batters while surrendering just 49 walks on the season. He will be followed in the rotation by Jake Arrieta, who many would argue was the Cubs best pitcher last season. Arrieta posted a 14-8 record with a 3.00 ERA and struck out 196 while issuing 68 free passes. Arrieta ate up 195 innings last season, and I expect him to exceed the 200-inning mark this season. The projected third starter for the Cubs is no slouch, either. John Lackey is a very viable option that most teams would love to have. Last season, Lackey tossed 180 innings and owned a 11-9 record with a 3.80 ERA. Lackey will be eager to get his ERA down a tad, but there should be no complaints from the fan base with his body of work.
Behind those three, the Cubs will likely rely on Kyle Hendricks, Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery. Hendricks was the best of the bunch last year, tossing 186 innings and posting a 13-8 record with a 3.11 ERA. Anderson comes over from the Dodgers and will have his work cut out for him to keep his spot in the rotation.
The bullpen took a hit when it lost closer, Aroldis Chapman, in free agency this past offseason. However, the Cubs wasted little time to replace him and brought in Wade Davis from Kansas City and Koji Uehara from Boston. Davis earned 27 saves last season and pitched to the tune of a 1.87 ERA over 45 appearances. Uehara pitched in just 47 innings last season but had seven saves and an ERA of 3.45. Aside from the new faces, the Cubs still have Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop to trot out in the late innings.
Cubs 2017 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Chicago to regress a bit and finish with a record of 94-68. I find that hard to believe given how young and consistent the lineup has been over the last couple of seasons. The starting pitching staff remains intact, and in the opinion of a few people they strengthened their bullpen. The Cubs win total is hoovering at 95.5 (-115), so it would be hard to justify a play on either side. I'd lean over, but I'd also prefer to get plus-money on them to win the NL Pennant once again.
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