Cubs

Cubs opposition research: Are the Diamondbacks primed for another big season?

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AP

Cubs opposition research: Are the Diamondbacks primed for another big season?

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:

Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 record: 93-69, second place in NL West

Offseason additions: Steven Souza Jr., Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Brad Boxberger, Yoshihisa Hirano, Fernando Salas, Albert Suarez, Neftali Feliz, Antonio Bastardo

Offseason departures: J.D. Martinez, Chris Iannetta, Adam Rosales, Gregor Blanco, David Hernandez, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Drury, Anthony Banda

X-factor: A.J. Pollock

What happened to the guy that enjoyed the breakout 2015 season?

The dyanmic centerfielder was one of the best players in the game that year, finishing in the Top 15 in NL MVP, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove. He hit .315 with an .865 OPS, scored 111 runs, hit 20 homers and stole 39 bases while racking up 7.4 WAR in 157 games.

But Pollock has fallen on some tough times since then. Slowed by injuries the last two years, he's appeared in just 124 games since that 2015 campaign, posting a .264 AVG and .794 OPS. 

In his final year before free agency, Pollock will need to remain healthy and performing at the 2015 level if the Diamondbacks are going to have a repeat trip to the postseason. 

Projected lineup

1. David Peralta - LF
2. A.J. Pollock - CF
3. Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
4. Jake Lamb - 3B
5. Steven Souza Jr. - RF
6. Alex Avila - C
7. Ketel Marte - 2B
8. Nick Ahmed - SS

Projected rotation

1. Zack Greinke
2. Robbie Ray
3. Taijuan Walker
4. Patrick Corbin
5. Zack Godley 

Outlook

This lineup is still very good, but the loss of Martinez will hurt. Souza has a nice blend of power and speed and is a better defender than Martinez, but losing that absurd kind of power behind Goldschmidt is impossible to replace.

Health will be key for this team, as there isn't a ton of depth beyond the main players. Jarrod Dyson is a great fourth outfielder, but he's also 33 and on the downspiral in his greatest asset: speed.

Lamb and Peralta tear up right-handed pitching, but both are susceptible to lefties and serve in more of a platoon role. Goldschmidt is one of the best players in the game and Pollock has the potential to join that conversation. Marte may also be on the verge of a breakout.

The pitching staff has question marks. The bullpen lost Rodney and Hernandez, gaining a host of unknowns in the process. Archie Bradley has never closed before and Boxberger provides some experience there, but things are not very stable beyond those two.

The starting rotation was very good in 2017, but will need a repeat performance if they're going to once again make it to the NLDS. Former Cubs prospect Godley has impressed and Ray is one of the best strikeout artists in the game, but Greinke is getting up there in age (34) and Corbin has been inconsistent the last few years.

So much went right for the Diamondbacks last year and while their window of contention is open right now, the question is: For how long?

Prediction: Third place in NL West, just misses second wild card spot

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

 

Cubs hope starting rotation showing signs of thawing as wild first month comes to an end

Cubs hope starting rotation showing signs of thawing as wild first month comes to an end

CLEVELAND — The Cubs offense has looked unstoppable the last week and the bullpen still ranks among the best in the National League.

Now it's time for the starting pitching to step up.

In a rotation packed with the resumes and reputations of Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, it was Tyler Chatwood who became the first Cubs starter to throw a pitch in the seventh inning this season when he did so in the Cubs' 10-3 win over the Indians Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

It took until the 20th game of the year, on Chatwood's fourth start in a Cubs uniform. It also was the team's 8th quality start of the campaign, tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the worst mark in the National League and only the Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox have fewer in the AL.

However, Chatwood didn't even get an out in that seventh inning as Cleveland's Tyler Naquin reached on an infield single to lead off, prompting a pitching change to Steve Cishek.

The Cubs began the day ranked 17th in MLB in starter's ERA, a far cry from where they thought they might be after signing Darvish and leading a lot of people (myself included) to boldly claim this as the best rotation in baseball.

It obviously hasn't played that way, despite some terrible hitting conditions in frigid weather in the season's first month.

The weather has actually been working against the Cubs pitching staff thus far, which Chatwood used to explain the fact he has walked 19 hitters in 21.2 innings in 2018, with three separate starts of at least 5 free passes.

"There's really no excuses, but we haven't really had ideal weather yet. I think that was the best start I've had for weather-wise," Chatwood said after he pitched in a constant light drizzle throughout Tuesday's game.

"I think it's just a matter of clicking. We've had a lot of rest; it's tough to get into a routine, but I think once we get rolling, I'll clean that up. I need to."

Chatwood went a week in between starts the last two times out and before that, it was 8 days. All these rain/snowouts has really done a number on the routines and habits of the Cubs starting pitchers. Lester admitted the same thing last week.

The Cubs are currently in a stretch of 8 games in 8 days and — knock on wood — it appears the snow and wintry weather is gone from Chicago until far later this year. So every member of the Cubs rotation is on track to throw on regular rest for the first time all year.

That being said, the weather hasn't been the reason behind Darvish's fifth-inning meltdowns and the walks are troublesome with Chatwood, who has a history of control issues. He walked 4.7 batters per nine innings with the Rockies last season and sits at 4.3 per nine for his career.

"I don't think it's a good recipe for success any time you let free baserunners on," Chatwood said. "Throughout my career, I don't really get hit around. It's whenever I walk guys and give up the basehit is when I get hurt.

"Obviously clean that up and I don't think there's any doubt in my mind that I will."

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field

CLEVELAND — Even the Indians can't deny the lasting impact Cubs have on Progressive Field.

Namely, the impact the Cubs left on the floor of the visiting locker room.

With 18 months in between visits, one of the first things the Cubs noticed about their clubhouse at Progressive Field was the new carpet.

"It's probably necessary," Joe Maddon said with a smile. "So some good things have come from all that stuff, too, for the visitors. You get new interior decorating."

After the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 World Series, the Cubs — and Bill Murray — dumped an awful lot of champagne and Budwesier on the old carpets.

Like, A LOT. 

"Oh yeah," Addison Russell said, "I think we messed it up pretty good."

It'd be hard to fault the Cubs for an epic celebration to honor the end of a 108-year championship drought, especially the way in which they accomplished the feat with maybe the most incredible baseball game ever played.

As the Cubs returned to the emotional, nostalgic-riddled scene of that historic fall, the parallels were striking.

Exactly 18 months before Tuesday, the Cubs walked into Progressive Field for the start of the World Series in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

Tuesday, the Cubs walked back into Progressive Field in 54 degree Cleveland weather with overcast skies and a pestering little drizzle.

A bunch of Cubs also found their lockers in the same place in that visiting locker room.

Russell, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester all have their lockers in the same spots this week as they had for the 2016 Fall Classic.

Some clubhouses go in numerical order, some go based on position groups. The Indians don't really seem to fall under either camp, considering Lester was surrounded by all position players in the corner of the locker room, where — before Tuesday —was last seen giving a heartfelt "thank you" to the media for "putting up with him" all season.

"Just walking back into the stadium from the bus into the clubhouse, you get the sense of nostalgia," Russell said. "I see that they replaced the carpet, which is nice. But yeah, the weight room, the food room, I just remember walking around here having that World Series Champs shirt on.

"It's a great memory. I think this is the same locker I had as well. Everything's just fitting like a puzzle piece right now and it's pretty awesome."