With the Cubs 2016 season kicking off tomorrow night in Anaheim, it feels appropriate to post some predictions for the new season. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I don’t think my optimism for a season has ever been higher. Do I think this could be the season they finally win it all? It’s possible, but so could any team. Well, maybe not any team. I’d be surprised if the 2016 Atlanta Braves win 70 games. On paper, the Cubs have vastly improved a team that won 97 games in 2015. 97 games! It’ll be awfully hard to top that. The Cubs definitely do have a chance to win the World Series, but a lot of things will need to go their way.
Adding Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to the fold makes it a lot more difficult to pick who will carry the Cubs this season. Both are great players and add a lot to the mix, but I believe the best player on the team will be the same guy who was their best player last season: Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo will be great too, he’s a top-5 First Baseman in all of baseball, but he won’t put up the kind of all-around numbers that Bryant will. Bryant will bring his contact rate up this year, hit for more power, improve his skills at Third Base, and continue to run the bases at an elite level. In terms of great young players, now the whole country is represented. The people on the West coast have Mike Trout. The people on the East coast have Bryce Harper. The people in the Midwest have Kris Bryant.
Jake Arrieta is the easy answer here. In addition to being my favorite player to watch in the game right now, he also has the best stuff of any pitcher in the game not named Clayton Kershaw. Everything came together for Arrieta in 2015 as he had the most dominant second half of any pitcher ever, and took home the Cy Young Award for his efforts. The season he had was mind-blowing. Jake Arrieta will be the Cubs best pitcher in 2016. Jon Lester, much like Anthony Rizzo on the offensive side, will continue to quietly put up the great numbers. Outside of those two, lookout for Kyle Hendricks to continue to progress into one of the best pitchers in the National League. Hendricks has proven that he can get by successfully on intelligence and less than average stuff. He should only improve as he gets wiser and gains more experience in the league.
I must’ve wrote down or thought about this lineup at least a hundred times since Heyward signed in December 2015. Then Dexter Fowler resigned in February and threw a wrench in dream lineup. Now there are too many great lineups to even list. Before Fowler decided to come back, Javier Baez, a player with the talent to start on any team in the league, Cubs included, was already sitting on the bench most days. Now Soler, another player with immense skills, will also be starting most of his summer nights on the bench. Baez and Soler will be joined by the capable Tommy LaStella and Lester’s personal caddy David “Grandpa” Ross.
From a statistical standpoint, this team should put up some gaudy numbers. There are 10 better than league average bats to choose from. Russell, the every day shortstop, is set up for potential 25 homer season. He has hit the ball harder and farther than anyone this spring and is primed for a breakout season. A full season of Schwarber should be fun to see, he should easily eclipse 30 home runs. Overall, strikeouts will still be an issue from this group but the contact skills from Rizzo, Zobrist, and Heyward should keep the Cubs in the game against power arms. Hopefully this can solve some of the difficulties the team had against the Mets last October.
The bullpen filled with super utility pitchers will prove to be a moderate success. Adam Warren and Trevor Cahill will both throw around 100 innings, starting several games each. Travis Wood and Clayton Richard will throw above 80 innings and at times fill the lefty specialist role, the long reliever role, late inning support, and maybe even spot start from time to time. The backend of the pen will scuffle at times causing a lot of people to be uneasy, but they will get the job done. Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop have proven to have great stuff and they will continue to put up similar number to last year, but people will definitely question if they’re good enough for a championship caliber team. Justin Grimm, if he can stay healthy, will be the most valuable pitcher in the bullpen. His stuff is too good not be getting a few saves.
Any rotation fronted by Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester would be able to hold their own. Throw in two quality three-level-starters in John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks, a solid four in Jason Hammel, and you have a top five rotation. As with any starting staff, if the Cubs arms can stay healthy they will be exceptional. Hendricks is one of the most underrated starters in the game. Hammel looks rejuvenated as he worked hard to improve in the offseason. Adding the toughness of Lackey will help the staff even when he isn’t on the mound. Each starter should have more than 10 wins by the end of the year.
The Cubs will have their first 100-win season since 1935 when they went 100-54. That season they lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. This team is too deep not to improve on the record they had last year. From the on the field talent to the front office, everyone seems to be in sync and solely focused on winning the World Series. In addition to that, they have the perfect manager to guide them through all the situations they’ll encounter along the way in reigning Manager of the Year, Joe Maddon. The Cubs will win the NL Central and make the playoffs. As good as they’ll be, I don’t think they’ll win the series this year. As the 100-plus year championship drought on the Northside of the Chicago shows, it’s hard to win the World Series. We’ll just have to see how it all plays out in October, I can’t wait.
Published on 4/3/2016 6:06:20 AM