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


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 


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

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants


White Sox add prospect with intriguing power potential


White Sox add prospect with intriguing power potential

The White Sox already boast one of the most loaded farm systems in all of baseball, and on Saturday they added another interesting prospect to their stable. 

The South Siders claimed outfielder/first baseman Daniel Palka off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Palka was placed on waivers earlier this week after the Twins had to trim their 40-man roster.

Palka, who was a third-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Georgia Tech in 2013, was the Twins' Hitting Prospect of the Year in 2016 after slashing .254/.327/.521 with 34 home runs and 90 RBI.

The left-handed hitting Palka slashed .274/.330/.431 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI in 90 games between the Gulf Coast League and Triple-A Rochester in 2017. 

Palka, 26, has a career minor-league slash line of .269/.343/.496 with 106 home runs and 354 RBI in 538 games.

Considered a bat-first prospect, Palka possesses raw plus power. Check out his scouting report from MLB Pipeline.

Here are some highlights showing why scouts are intrigued by Palka's power potential.

A two time All-Star, Palka was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Twins' No. 22 prospect before he was claimed off waivers by the White Sox.

The White Sox 40-man roster now stands at 35 after Saturday's move.

Cubs could see this heavyweight rematch coming: Bring on the Dodgers


Cubs could see this heavyweight rematch coming: Bring on the Dodgers

WASHINGTON – Joe Maddon plays mind games and sends messages through the media and sometimes just runs with whatever idea pops into his head.

Maddon turned on a big-picture question from a New York Times reporter in late August, essentially skipping over the comparisons between the 2016 Cubs and the 2017 Dodgers and jumping to how much he would love to face the group on the Sports Illustrated cover labeled as: “Best. Team. Ever?”

Bring it on, Maddon signaled, looking forward to when the defending World Series champs would be at full strength and saying how much he would love that matchup against the Dodgers in October.

Well, here it is, a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, Game 1 on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw and the rest of a $200-plus million team knowing this season will be a failure if they don’t win an iconic franchise’s first World Series title since 1988.

“You have to beat the best to be the best,” Maddon explained this week in the middle of a grueling first-round, five-game series against the Nationals. “You can’t run away from any of this stuff. The question could have been about any team, not just the Dodgers.

“Pick the ’27 Yankees. Pick the ’64 Cardinals, the Big Red Machine, whatever, the We Are Family (Pirates). You just want to believe your guys can match up with anybody. And I want our guys to believe the same thing.”

The Cubs had credibility issues when Maddon made that declaration in Philadelphia during a 3-3 road trip against the last-place Reds and Phillies, part of the same overall pattern that led to a 43-45 first half and Milwaukee’s three-game sweep at Wrigley Field in the middle of September.

From that point, the Cubs buried the Brewers and Cardinals in the division race, going 15-4 to close the regular season and devastating a 97-win Washington team in the playoffs.

“That was brought up to me,” Maddon said, “and all I said was I was just agreeing with the comment. Somebody brought up the Dodgers. They could have brought up the ’27 Yankees. I was not pointing anything out.

“When that was all going on, there was a lot of nonbelievers. We have really, obviously, picked it up in the second half in general, and then I’m using Milwaukee as the benchmark. In 2015, I used the Giants in August as being that seminal moment that all of a sudden it seemed to get right. Since (then), our mental intensity has really been outstanding every game.

“I wasn’t talking about the Dodgers. Somebody else was.”

The Dodgers still have the main elements in place that held the Cubs scoreless for 21 straight innings during the 2016 NLCS — the great Kershaw, lefty curveball specialist Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen imitating Mariano Rivera — but their roster isn’t quite as top-heavy anymore after making a trade-deadline splash with Yu Darvish and developing Cody Bellinger into a 39-homer, 97-RBI force and probably the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year.

While the Cubs felt like they blacked out during a crazy NLDS —  and the team’s West Coast charter flight got diverted to New Mexico on Friday morning — the Dodgers relaxed and set up their pitching after sweeping the Diamondbacks in three games.

“I can’t wait,” said shortstop Addison Russell, whose 2016 postseason could be divided into through (1-for-24) and after (12-for-40) Game 3 at Dodger Stadium. “We’re willing to take on each challenge. I know that we got another big challenge ahead of us against the Dodgers.”

Remember, the Dodgers had to play a one-run elimination game at Nationals Park on Oct. 13, 2016, using Jansen and Kershaw to nail down the final nine outs, the same urgency/desperation the Cubs showed Thursday night in using Jose Quintana and Wade Davis for the last three innings against Washington.

Will the 2017 Cubs run out of gas like the 2016 Dodgers? Can the 2017 Dodgers withstand the pressure and freak-out moments as well as the 2016 Cubs? Stay tuned.  

“They’ve been the best team in baseball since Day 1,” said Jon Lester, last year’s NLCS co-MVP with Javier Baez. “The roles are reversed. We were that team last year — and we moved on — and they’re that team this year.

“But we know going into L.A. that it’s going to be a hard series, regardless. They got a great staff. They got a great lineup, so we got to respect them. Hopefully, they respect us, and it’s a good series.”