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:
San Diego Padres
2017 record: 71-91, fourth place in NL West
Offseason additions: Eric Hosmer, Chase Headley, Freddy Galvis, A.J. Ellis, Tyson Ross, Bryan Mitchell, Kazuhisa Makita
Offseason departures: Erick Aybar, Yangervis Solarte, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin
X-factor: Hunter Renfroe
Renfroe has been heralded as one of the top prospects in the game in recent years and while he hit 26 homers in only 445 at-bats in 2017, it was some pretty empty power. He posted just a .284 on-base percentage and struck out 140 times compared to only 27 walks.
With seemingly everybody hitting 20 homers nowadays, the Padres will need more out of Renfroe if they have even a prayer of contending in 2018.
But with Hosmer now in place at first base, it moves Wil Myers back into right field, leaving Renfroe without a position for the time being. He'll have to force his way into the lineup and back into the future of this rebuilding team.
1. Manuel Margot - CF
2. Carlos Asuaje - 2B
3. Wil Myers - RF
4. Eric Hosmer - 1B
5. Chase Headley - 3B
6. Jose Pirela - LF
7. Freddy Galvis - SS
8. Austin Hedges - C
1. Clayton Richard
2. Tyson Ross
3. Bryan Mitchell
4. Dinelson Lamet
5. Luis Perdomo
Look, when 34-year-old Clayton Richard is your ace and your projected No. 2 starter is a guy in spring training as a non-roster invitee, you don't have much hope of contending.
Richard joins Matt Szczur and Christian Villanueva as former Cubs projected to make the Padres' Opening Day roster, but the Friars are still probably a couple years away from challenging the Cubs in the National League.
Don't get me wrong: The Padres have some nice pieces. Myers is only 27, Hosmer brings instant credibility as a very good (but not superstar) player, the 23-year-old Margot is one of the most exciting young outfielders in the game and Hedges is an intriguing catcher with pop and solid skills behind the plate. Lamet and Perdomo could wind up as being staples in the San Diego rotation for the next half-decade or more.
But there's just not enough pitching depth or high-end talent to really classify the Padres as a serious contender in 2018.
Prediction: Fifth place in NL West, no playoffs
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