Los Angeles Dodgers

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

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:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

The Cubs should roll with a 6-man rotation in 2018

The Cubs should roll with a 6-man rotation in 2018

Joe Maddon's former team — the Tampa Bay Rays — is planning on going with a four-man starting rotation in 2018.

But Joe Maddon's current team may be better served by going the opposite route.

The Cubs are in a completely different place than the retooling Rays and with World Series expectations on Chicago's North Side, the season turns into a seven-month-long marathon, not just the six months of regular season.

Theo Epstein's front office has built a team with an eye on playing all the way through the end of October and will need Maddon's coaching staff to keep everybody healthy and peaking at just the right time.

A six-man rotation could be the best way to accomplish that.

The Cubs are always trying to stay ahead of the curve, setting new trends instead of following. Maybe the way the Rays are thinking of things will ultimately be the newest fad, but that also places a lot of pressure on the bullpen to fill more innings than ever before.

The bullpen bubble burst — at least partially — last fall when every team struggled to get consistent outings from their relievers. The World Series was riveting and intense, but part of the reason it went that way was the inability of almost every Astros and Dodgers reliever to consistently get outs.

Cubs relievers faded down the stretch, too, struggling through a couple of rocky months before a rough October. Part of the reason for that was fatigue.

In 2017, the Cubs were coming off a season that stretched past Halloween and featured career highs in innings for several players. They were hoping to ease that burden and in turn, inadvertently put too much on the plate of the bullpen.

Maddon let his starting pitchers throw more than 100 pitches just 46 times last season and only nine times did a starter toss more than 110 pitches. The season high was 116 by Jose Quintana on Sept. 24 in a complete game shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The thought process was simple: Keep your starters fresh and feeling good in hopes of making another World Series run.

But that didn't quite work out for multiple reasons, including the bullpen issues.

Moving to a six-man rotation could be the best of both worlds in 2018. It would give the Cubs a chance to rest their starters more than normal, giving them an extra day in between outings.

And with that extra day of rest, that could mean Maddon may feel more comfortable unleashing his starters for 115 or more pitches when their performance warrants it, thus taking some of the burden off the bullpen. 

The Cubs also have the personnel to do it, with Mike Montgomery ready to step into the rotation at any time. He gives the team six good options in the rotation and even if any starter goes down to injury, they're in a fine position to simply move back down to a five-man turn.

Thanks to the versatility of the Cubs position players, they don't have to carry as many bench bats and can subsequently roll with 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster. So even with a six-man rotation, the Cubs could still have a normal seven-man bullpen.

There are a couple of issues with the whole six-man rotation, however.

For one thing, starting pitchers are extreme creatures of habit and they plan their bullpens and workouts in between starts around the fact they are throwing every five days. It's tough to see a seasoned veteran like Jon Lester easily adapting to getting an extra day in between outings.

When the Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation in the past, Lester and the other starters have been unhappy with the move. If the players won't buy in, obviously there's no real advantage to going against the grain with an unconventional rotation.

There's also the numbers, which indicate nearly every MLB pitcher struggles when facing the opposing order a third time through. The reasoning is simple: Each hitter in the big leagues is the best of the best and the more often they see a guy's stuff or arm angle on a given day, the easier it is to make adjustments.

However, this Cubs rotation may be the bunch to try something new.

Lester, Montgomery, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish all get better as the game goes on and Jose Quintana's jump is hardly worrisome — .690 opponent OPS first time through the order, .675 OPS second time through and .754 OPS third time.

If ever there was a team and a time to move to a six-man rotation, the 2018 Cubs could be it.

A Matt Kemp trade makes no sense for White Sox, but what about other available DH options?


A Matt Kemp trade makes no sense for White Sox, but what about other available DH options?

The White Sox aren't going to trade for Matt Kemp.

There's no inside info to support that declaration, but come on. Why in the world would a rebuilding team give up anything to bring aboard a 33-year-old who is owed an outrageous $43 million over the next two seasons?

FanRag's Jon Heyman proposed the White Sox as a possible landing spot for Kemp, who has nowhere to play in the Los Angeles Dodgers' crowded — not to mention contending — outfield. He acknowledged that the likelihood of a trade is low, which is pretty obvious, but connected the two parties because of the White Sox earlier reported interest in adding a designated hitter before the 2018 campaign gets going.

The way this free-agent market has moved means there are plenty of options available should the White Sox want to go down that road. And if the Dodgers can't find a trade partner to take Kemp off their hands, they could just flat out release him, adding him to the group of free agents still looking for 2018 homes.

Taking his contract out of the equation, Kemp undoubtedly becomes more attractive. But would he be the most attractive option out there? He played in just 115 games last season, slashing .276/.318/.463, though he showed some power potential with 19 home runs — not to mention the homer he hit against the White Sox in this spring's Cactus League opener. But only 45 of his 64 RBIs last year came from driving in someone besides himself for the 72-win Atlanta Braves. Granted, he's just two seasons removed from hitting 35 homers and driving in 108 runs in 2016.

Is Kemp an upgrade over the guy currently slated to get the majority of the at-bats at designated hitter? Matt Davidson bested Kemp in the home-run department last season, smacking 26 of them, the second most on the team after Jose Abreu's 33 roundtrippers. But Davidson had some glaring holes in his offensive game last season, most specifically when it came to getting on base. He had a .260 on-base percentage last year and walked just 19 times in 118 games. Kemp wasn't much better, walking only 27 times in his 115 games.

If Kemp is the lone alternative, why deprive Davidson of the chance to prove himself worthy of future consideration? After all, this White Sox team isn't expected to compete for a championship in 2018. Plus, Davidson already has five hits, two homers and two walks in 12 spring plate appearances.

But Kemp isn't the lone alternative. Because baseball's offseason has extended deep into spring training, there are a bunch of options out there, even if few of them really get White Sox fans' revved up about the possibility of them coming to the South Side. Here are five unsigned guys: Adam Lind, Mark Reynolds, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Carlos Gonzalez.

Lind had a .362 on-base percentage in a reserve role for the Washington Nationals last season. Reynolds hit 30 homers and drove in 97 runs for the Colorado Rockies. Cabrera has familiarity with the White Sox and bashed out 30 doubles in 2017. Bautista was not good in his final season with the Toronto Blue Jays but is just two years removed from posting a .366 on-base percentage and three years removed from a 40-homer season. Gonzalez also had a down year in 2017 with the Rockies but has a heck of a track record and is just two seasons removed from 100 RBIs and a .298/.350/.505 slash line in 2016.

It would figure that any of those guys would be an improvement over what Davidson gave the White Sox in 2017. But the same point made in regard to Kemp applies to most of those guys, as well. These would all be short-term moves for a team in long-term mode. Only one of those five names, Gonzalez, is under 33 years old (and he's 32). What does adding Reynolds or Bautista for 2018 do for the White Sox and their much-discussed plan to build a perennial contender? What does taking at-bats away from Davidson and giving them to someone in their mid-30s accomplish? Perhaps it makes the White Sox more competitive in 2018, but none of the available free agents seem to be a big-enough impact bat to push the White Sox into the postseason.

The best-case scenario, given what the White Sox are expected to do this season, is that adding one of these veterans would provide a potential midseason trade chip. And that could be valuable, depending on how the addition would perform in the season's first half. But remember the White Sox had Cabrera and traded him last year, acquiring a pair of prospects who aren't exactly among the most buzz-worthy in the farm system.

The good news is that there's really no wrong answer considering how the offseason has played out league-wide. If the White Sox want to add a veteran bat, there's likely a bargain to be had. Any move would be a low-risk one considering the White Sox expectations.

Any move except a trade for Kemp.