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:
New York Mets
2017 record: 70-92, 4th place in NL East
Offseason additions: Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas, Jose Lobaton, A.J. Griffin
Offseason departures: Neil Walker
X-factor: Pitching health
The Mets pitchers are suddenly not-so-young and they have zero World Series rings to show for it. In major part because they haven't all been healthy at the same time since that 2015 season in which they shut the Cubs right down out of the NLCS.
Will they ever be healthy again? Who knows? But if — somehow — Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman are all healthy at the same time and pitching like they're capable of, it's gonna be tough to keep this Mets team at bay (even with an aging lineup).
Of course, expecting that to happen is probably foolish, but it's definitely within the realm of possibility.
1. Brandon Nimmo - CF
2. Yoenis Cespedes - LF
3. Jay Bruce - RF
4. Todd Frazier - 3B
5. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
6. Asdrubal Cabrera - 2B
7. Travis d'Arnaud - C
8. Amed Rosario - SS
1. Noah Syndergaard
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Steven Matz
4. Matt Harvey
5. Zack Wheeler
We've already discussed the starting pitching health. The Mets also have a solid bullpen that will be improved with Jeurys Familia avoiding suspension and Swarzak's arrival after a breakout 2017 with the White Sox and Brewers.
This lineup has been productive in the past, but it's very old. The 2-through-6 hitters are all on the wrong side of 30 and on the bench, Jose Reyes is 34.
Rosario (22), Nimmo (24) and Michael Conforto (25) inject some youth into this club, but Conforto is hampered by a shoulder injury and doesn't expect to join the team until at least a few weeks into the 2018 season.
Still, if they can stave off Father Time, this lineup should score some runs, even if they're a station-to-station bunch of slow-footed fellows.
If the rotation is spinning the way they are capable of, the lineup should score enough runs to win a decent amount of ballgames. Thanks to depth on the bench (Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares), the Mets should be OK even if one or two of their old guys hit the 10-day DL.
But this all hinges on pitching. Syndergaard and deGrom are a dynamic 1-2 punch, but MAJOR question marks follow.
The Mets will probably be a part of the wild card race in the NL, but ultimately won't be playing come October. Too many "ifs".
Prediction: 2nd in NL East, no playoffs
Complete opposition research
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
New York Mets