The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs.
It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.
With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:
2017 record: 68-94, last in NL Central
Offseason additions: Cliff Pennington, David Hernandez, Jared Hughes, Kevin Quackenbush
Offseason departures: Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman, Drew Storen
X-factor: Homer Bailey
Bailey appeared to be entering ace territory when the Reds locked him up to a six-year, $105 million extension before the 2014 season. Over the two years prior (2012-13), he went 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 367 strikeouts over 417 innings.
But in the four seasons since he signed that extension, Bailey has pitched just 271 innings, going 17-18 with an ugly 4.95 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. 2017 (6.43 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) was especially ugly.
There is cause for optimism, however. In the final seven starts of the season last year, Bailey posted a 3.58 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.
Bailey is only 31 (and turns 32 in May) so there is still time. He's getting the Reds' Opening Day start and if he can rekindle his top-of-rotation form, it'd go a long way in the team's rebuilding.
1. Billy Hamilton - CF
2. Jesse Winker - LF
3. Joey Votto - 1B
4. Eugenio Suarez - 3B
5. Scooter Gennett - 2B
6. Jose Peraza - SS
7. Scott Schebler - RF
8. Tucker Barnhart - C
1. Homer Bailey
2. Luis Castillo
3. Tyler Mahle
4. Sal Romano
5. Amir Garrett
When you replace Zack Cozart with Cliff Pennington and the "big" free agent splashes were a couple of 32-year-old relief pitchers (Hernandez and Hughes), you're not tryin', bro.
The Reds are in full rebuild mode, which is really sad for Votto in his age-34 season. Somehow, Votto seems to defy aging. He was the best hitter in the NL last year, leading the league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks while passing the 30-homer, 100-RBI threshold for the first time since 2010.
But poor Votto hasn't appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and the Reds are years away from another trip to October, especially in this suddenly-stacked division.
Castillo is a budding ace, Peraza and Winker could be nice pieces for the future, Suarez is locked up long-term and Barnhart is one of the more underrated backstops in the league. Top prospect Nick Senzel is also on his way soon, as are a gaggle of young starting pitchers.
There will inevitably be growing pains for all these inexperienced players, but things could be a lot worse for a rebuilding team. Still, by the time the Reds are ready to contend in 2020 or later, will Votto still be at the top of his game when he's at least 36?
Prediction: Last in NL Central