We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.
Next up: How much better will the Cubs offense be in 2019 compared to the second half of last year?
After the Brewers caught the Cubs from behind and vaulted into first place in the division last fall, Theo Epstein classified his team's offense as "broken."
That's a fair assessment, as the Cubs scored only 2 runs in 22 innings when their season was on the line in Game 163 and the NL Wild-Card Game. After posting the best offense in baseball prior to the All-Star Break, the Cubs suddenly lost the ability to drive the ball, ranking 27th in slugging percentage in the second half.
So how much of a step forward can we expect for 2019?
A healthy Kris Bryant should do wonders for this lineup. He had a career .915 OPS coming into 2018, but saw that number dip to .721 from mid-May on last season. And that's when he was able to even be in the lineup while dealing with the shoulder injury.
Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez carried the Cubs offense for most of last year and they figure to be huge factors in the lineup again this year, too. This team probably can't afford Baez to take much of a step back after his career season, nor would they want to weather another storm of Rizzo hitting .177 with a .561 OPS through the first six weeks of the campaign.
But Bryant's return takes the pressure off both those guys. It's adding an MVP level hitter - one of the best hitters in the entire game - to a lineup on an everyday basis.
That alone should make the Cubs' offense better this year.
But they also might be able to factor in steps forward from young players like Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ (when he returns from the minors).
Contreras admitted he got complacent last year, Schwarber continues to prove development isn't always linear, Happ was sent down to the minors to fine-tune his game and Almora is working to add some more power to his game instead of hammering everything into the ground.
On sheer talent, the Cubs lineup has the capability to be the best offense in the NL.
When you factor in the age - Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso are the only position players over 30 - it paints an even rosier picture about the potential of this group.
- Tony Andracki
This will hopefully be, by the grace of the Old Gods and the New, the last time we have to talk about the Cubs' two-faced 2018 offense. Sing along with me!
1st Half: Top-3 in WAR, top-5 in wRC+, wOBA, OPS, and top-10 in SLG. They were good.
2nd Half: 17th in WAR, 24th in wRC+, wOBA, 23rd in OPS and 27th in SLG. They were bad.
Tony lays it out pretty perfectly; Kris Bryant makes this engine go. Teams spend $30 million a year to get players of Bryant's caliber into the lineup, and for now, the Cubs are getting that for less than half market value.
You COULD look at Javy Baez's numbers and predict some negative regression, I guess. Though as we went over earlier in this series, Baez's otherworldly season looked more like The Next Step than a one-off, career-best campaign. You can probably bank on Kyle Schwarber not having a .210 BABIP with runners in scoring position again. Rizzo, Byrant, Baez, and Schwarber at even their career-norms is a Top-5 offense in baseball.
It's outside that core where things get ... dicey. Ian Happ's gotten all the attention this week, and maybe some time in Iowa helps him out, but there's also the fact that he's [whispers as quietly as humanly possible] not that good a hitter. What's more, he's going to turn 25 this season, an age that hasn't been considered young by baseball standards for, what, a decade?
While we're talking outfielders, Albert Almora Jr. has almost 1,000 plate appearances with a 96 wRC+ and not a lot of optimistic peripherals to show for it. He's a singles hitter with diminishing power and a league-average on base percentage. He's also a real liability against right-handed pitchers, which in a league where 60% of them are right-handed is, you know, a problem.
The good news is that the Cubs have 3 or 4 insanely talented hitters that are capable of carrying the team. The bad news is that, like we saw in 2018, they're going to need each one of them to perform up to expectations. The ceiling is high, but the cliff is steep.
19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
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18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?