We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.
Next up: Are the Cubs the best team in the NL Central?
The entire National League is much improved, with superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper staying in the league despite signing with new teams and other really good players moving over from the American League - Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Josh Donaldson, etc.
The NL Central is also quite a bit better, with the Reds making big moves to jump into potential contention and join the other four teams in the division that all finished over .500 a year ago.
The Pirates didn't have a busy offseason (do they ever?), but the Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt (then locked him up long-term) and Andrew Miller while the Brewers filled a major hole by adding Yasmani Grandal and bringing back Mike Moustakas and now they might add Craig Kimbrel, too.
You already know the story about the Cubs' offseason, where their biggest signings were Brad Brach and Daniel Descalso. Coupled with a return to health from some big names (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, eventually maybe Brandon Morrow), is that enough to vault the Cubs to the top of the division once again?
It's very possible. The Cubs won 95 games last year despite a whole bunch going wrong - from injuries to a grueling schedule to steps back from key young players like Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.
Right now, I like the Cubs' chances at outlasting the rest of the division because of their depth. The bullpen is the only hole on the roster, and there's no guarantee it will even be a sore spot for the team this year given how volatile relievers are from year to year.
They also have the star power with three of the best all-around players in the division (Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez) and a supporting cast that certainly has the potential to be excellent (Contreras, Schwarber, Descalso, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr., Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, David Bote).
Then there's the starting rotation. No team in the NL can boast the type of track record the Cubs have 1-through-5. However, track record is not always an indicator of future performance and the Cubs rotation is aging - Jon Lester and Cole Hamels are 35 and only Kyle Hendricks (29) is under 30.
Also, depth can be erased in a hurry with a few poorly-timed injuries, as the 2018 Cubs proved. And the current bullpen has obviously seen better days.
The Cubs have a chip on their shoulder for 2019 - they're on a mission and feel like they have something to prove.
Between that sense of urgency, their talent, experience and depth, give me the Cubs to win the NL Central this year, though the Cardinals and Brewers are close behind and the Pirates and Reds might both finish with winning records.
- By Tony Andracki
In a word? Nope!
I don't know how anyone can definitively say, today on March 25, that the Cubs are the class of the NL Central. A recap of their last 8 months will show that:
1. They did not, actually, win the NL Central last year
2. Their only offseason addition was Daniel Descalso
There's plenty of reasons to believe in the Cubs. They won 95 games without Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, or Brandon Morrow. They have rotational depth that most teams can't match. Their everyday lineup will almost always feature two bonafide MVP candidates. Still, this is a team that couldn't hold off the Brewers after going into September with a 5-game lead. This is also a team that could not win either game of a do-or-die, 2-game home series.
As it stands now, another NL Central team matches up well against the Cubs in each facet of the game. The Cardinals and Pirates have equally talented rotations, the Reds offense will hang, and the Brewers bullpen still looks pretty damn good.
By no means is it a stretch to expect the Cubs to be better than what the Projection-System-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named suggested. A 3rd place, 80-82 season would be nothing short of a disaster. People would lose their jobs. Still, there was a clearly a complacency issue last season, and it sounds like the Cubs and their fans were shocked by last year's outcome in part because they assumed that the Cubs were the class of the NL Central and were going to fall backwards into the NLCS. Defaulting to that again seems ... curious? A 95-win team doesn't overhaul day-to-day operations if they think the status quo was working.
Going into 2019, the Cubs aren't the class of the NL Central. The good news is that it doesn't really feel like there *is* a team that could be considered that, anyways.
- By Cam Ellis
19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
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?