2016 was the best season the Chicago Cubs have ever compiled. I don't think it will ever be able to be topped, by any team. It wasn't a dream, the 2016 Cubs won the World Series. I'll repeat that again: the 2016 Cubs won the World Series. A 108 year world series drought is the perfect recipe for the best season ever. The crazy postseason, with the amazing game 7 victory in Cleveland, just makes it all the more special. Now that we've acknowledged that, there's a new season on the horizon and for the first time in 108 years the Cubs will start a season as defending champions.
I'm going to throw out some predictions for the 2017 Cubs. Some will hit the mark, some will not, either way, the 2017 Cubs will be a formidable team. The fruits of the lean years through the early 2010s have finally come to fruition. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the rest of the front office have carried out their plan and are poised to build upon it for the next half decade. It's a fun time to be a Cubs.
Kris Bryant won the 2016 National League MVP and is the odds on favorite to win the award in 2017. Bryant was the best player on the best team in the league in 2016. A big part of his value is his amazing versatility. He can play third, first, and all the outfield spots and Joe Maddon can write him into the lineup where ever he is needed on any given day. In addition to that, he will probably hit around 40 home runs, show off elite base running skills, have an OBP close to .400, and be the most marketable player in the league. He's also going to be the best position player on the Cubs in 2017. Kris Bryant is an absolute force and he will be even better this year.
In the offseason Bryant worked on hitting the ball the other way with authority. Power to the opposite field was something that he lacked in 2016. Between 2015 and 2016, Bryant's goal was to flatten out his swing in order to make more contact. This change was extremely successful as he lowered his K% from 30.6% in 2015 to 22% in 2016. I wouldn't be surprised if KB hits 15 opposite field home runs this year. The guy is driven to be the best baseball player he can be and he won't disappoint in 2017.
Picking the best pitcher for the Cubs is quite a bit more challenging than picking the best position player. The last two years the Cubs have had Jake Arrieta win the Cy Young in 2015 and then Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks finish 2nd and 3rd respectively in 2016. Any of these three could step up and be the best pitcher on the team. From seeing his first three seasons I think Kyle Hendricks will lead the staff in 2017. Hendricks has improved in each of his first three big league seasons and he will improve upon the heights he reached 2016. Hendricks won't overwhelm hitters with his stuff, his fastball rarely touches 90 MPH, but he will break them down through technique and strategy. It's almost as if Hendricks is playing chess while the hitters are playing checkers.
The Cubs are loaded with premium position players. Baez, Bryant, Contreras, Rizzo, Russell, Schwarber, and Zobrist are all elite talents and would be the single best position player on as many as 10 teams. The Cubs have them all. To hammer home how loaded this team is, Javier Baez is the most exciting player in baseball and he doesn't even have a full time starting position on this squad. This is a great problem to have.
Probably the biggest story about the Cubs lineup is the plan to have slugger Kyle Schwarber leadoff. Schwarber replaces the great Dexter Fowler, who is now a Cardinal. Schwarber, who hasn't played even a half season in the big leagues, will thrive at the top of the lineup. With all the at bats he will get, Schwarber will challenge for the home run title. I'd also be surprised if he didn't lead the league in runs scored. A high on base percentage and having a pair of 30+ home run guys batting behind him will do that.
On any given day, Joe Maddon can fill out a lineup card that can not only put up a lot of runs, but is filled with gold glove caliber players on the field. Both Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo won gold gloves in 2016. Addison Russell and Javier Baez were both worthy of taking home hardware as well. Rookie Albert Almora has shown gold glove potential in his short career too. Teaming Almora and Heyward up in the outfield would mitigate any deficiencies created by having Schwarber in left field. The end result of having so many elite fielders on the diamond is less hits allowed and fewer runs scored against. Combine the fielding with a bunch of pitchers who give up a lot of weak contact and success will follow.
The only notable addition that the Cubs made in the offseason was to bring in Jon Jay. At this point in his career, Jay is best suited for a 4th outfielder role. Jay will bring a professional approach at the plate and can play passable defense at all three outfield positions. Jay's biggest impact will probably be as a mentor to Almora and as a good clubhouse guy. Other reserve players Tommy LaStella and Matt Szczur are both solid fill in options.
The starting pitchers are a major strength. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks are all top of the rotation pitchers. All three of these guys could be a 20 game winner this year. Arrieta has a lot to prove in his free agent year and I wouldn't be surprised if he looked more like his 2015-self than what he showed in 2016. John Lackey, though old and potentially an injury liability, keeps on putting up great stats. Lackey is a true horse. Rounding out the rotation is lefty offseason free agent acquisition Brett Anderson. Anderson, when he hasn't been injured, has been a very good pitcher. Anderson produces a lot of groundballs which fits perfectly with the infield he'll be pitching in front of. Should any of these starters struggle or get hurt, the Cubs have Mike Montgomery ready to pick up the slack.
The last couple of years, the Cubs have filled their bullpen full of former starting pitchers. Guys like Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, and Clayton Richard are all gone. Having these versatile swing man type arms was largely a success but this year's pen is more of a typical bullpen. The only guy who will typically pitch multiple innings will be Montgomery. Stalwarts Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Justin Grimm are all back and should continue to lock down the middle and late innings. Carl Edwards Jr. and closer Wade Davis rack up the majority of the saves. I'm expecting big things from Edwards. The pen will be a strength this year. Both Davis and Rondon have been awful this spring but they have too good of stuff to keep running into bats they way they have this spring. Look for Davis to have a season in his walk year in 2017.
101 Wins 61 Losses
The 2017 Cubs are going to be really good. The only reason I can see them missing the playoffs is if they're decimated by injuries. The core group of players is largely the same and too good to experience a major letdown. The loss of David Ross and Dexter Fowler hurts, but it shouldn't have too big of an impact on performance. The Cubs will win at least 100 games again this season. The playoffs, as unpredictable as they are, will pose a challenge to the Cubs. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants all would be tough to beat in a playoff series. The 2016 Cubs proved they can win the World Series, I wouldn't bet against them to repeat it in 2017.
Published on 4/1/2017 10:16:06 AM