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: 66-96, last place in NL East
Offseason additions: Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Drew Hutchison, Will Middlebrooks
Offseason departures: Daniel Nava, Clay Buchholz, Hyun-Soo Kim, Freddy Galvis
X-factor: Odubel Herrera
Rhys Hoskins won't continue to hit homers at such a historic rate, but everything points to another very strong season for the young outfielder/first baseman.
Instead, it's Herrera who enters the season with the most questions surrounding his impact. He's penciled in as the Phillies' No. 3 hitter in his age-26 season and saw regression in 2017 in strike zone organization.
Herrera's walk rate was cut nearly in half and saw an increase in strikeouts. As a result, his on-base percentage dropped 36 points despite a batting average just 5 points lower than 2016. He did flash more power (59 extra base hits compared to 42 in '16), but he will need to correct the recent trends of patience at the plate if the Phillies are actually going to take a step forward this year.
1. Cesar Hernandez - 2B
2. Carlos Santana - 1B
3. Odubel Herrera - CF
4. Rhys Hoskins - LF
5. Nick Williams - RF
6. Maikel Franco - 3B
7. Jorge Alfaro - C
8. J.P. Crawford - SS
1. Aaron Nola
2. Jake Arrieta
3. Vince Velasquez
4. Nick Pivetta
5. Ben Lively
The Phillies are probably at least a year away from being legit contenders, but adding Arrieta was a huge step in that direction. This team needed more starting pitching and they got it with the second-best starter on the free agent market.
The Santana signing was curious given Philly already had Hoskins at first base, so they have to pray the kid won't miss a step adjusting to a full-time role in left field. Santana is a very good player and still only 31, so it's not a bad move at all.
The rest of the Phillies lineup features a bunch of young players beginning their post-prospect life, packed with a bunch of questions. Franco and Crawford were projected to be stars and Alfaro and Williams very well could be important pieces in the core. But 2018 will feature growing pains with a lineup featuring five players under the age of 26.
Hernandez is one of the more underrated players in the game — a solid leadoff hitter who has turned into a very patient player. With a full season of at-bats, he and Santana could combine for over 200 walks.
The starting staff is still lacking depth, but if Velasquez can actually stay healthy for once, that would go a long way toward legitimizing this staff.
The bullpen is solid with Hector Neris set for the closer's role and veteran additions Hunter and Neshek helping bridge the gap.
Even if the Phillies don't make the postseason in 2018, their time is coming and they would be a scary team to face this summer when they're hot.
Prediction: 4th in NL East, no playoffs
Complete opposition research
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres