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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Diamondbacks

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Diamondbacks

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

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

2018 record: 82-80, 3rd in NL West

Offseason additions: Wilmer Flores, Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Merrill Kelly, Greg Holland, Nick Green, Matt Szczur

Offseason departures: Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Descalso, Chris Owings, Jeff Mathis, Jon Jay, Shelby Miller, Brad Boxberger, Randall Delgado, Jake Diekman

X-factor: David Peralta

Arizona's once-thunderous lineup is now down to basically just Peralta, a converted pitcher who flew under the radar as a hitter for years before enjoying a true breakout in 2018 (30 HR, 87 RBI, .868 OPS). 

He's already nearing the end of his prime (he turns 32 in August) and is only under control for another two seasons, so he probably won't be a part of the future as the D-Backs rebuild. If he continues to hit, he could be a huge trade piece this summer and possibly bring back a nice haul to set the organization up better for the future.

Projected lineup

1. Ketel Marte - CF
2. Eduardo Escobar - 3B
3. David Peralta - LF
4. Steven Souza Jr. - RF
5. Jake Lamb - 1B
6. Wilmer Flores - 2B
7. Nick Ahmed - SS
8. Carson Kelly - C

Projected rotation

1. Zack Greinke
2. Robbie Ray
3. Zack Godley
4. Luke Weaver
5. Merrill Kelly

Outlook

Not good.

For the first time since 2007-08, the Diamondbacks put up a winning record in back-to-back seasons, but that's about the only silver lining. After making the playoffs in 2017, the '18 squad expected to contend and instead barely made it over .500.

Then their purge began, losing their two best hitters (Goldschmidt, Pollock), their best pitcher (Corbin), their closer (Boxberger) and a host of other valuable role players (Descalso, Owings, Jay, Miller, etc.). The Cubs were benefactors of that purge in the form of Descalso, but also now have to face Goldschmidt an extra 13 games this season with his trade to the Cardinals.

This is a Diamondbacks team without a discernible direction, as they have a payroll north of $120 million (much of that tied up in Greinke, who will make more than $34 million in 2019) yet have apparently begun the early stages of a rebuild. 

The organization will have to move on knowing this once-strong young core never won anything and the window of contention is all but slammed shut. Only a handful of guys are signed beyond 2020, the remaining top players (Peralta, Ray, Lamb, Souza) are probably going to be shopped on the trade market this summer and Greinke turns 36 in October.

This roster isn't barren, but it's nowhere near the team Arizona has put out on the field the last couple years. Props to the front office for turning Goldschmidt into Carson Kelly and Weaver, but the farm system isn't anything to write home about and the bullpen looks like it could be a mess after Archie Bradley and 35-year-old Yoshihisa Hirano.

The Cubs probably won't have to worry about the D-Backs as a contender this year or anytime in the near future.

Prediction: 4th in NL West

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here. 

Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return

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USA TODAY

Brandon Morrow sidelined with upper chest strain, no timetable for return

Brandon Morrow’s comeback attempt has hit a bump in the road.

Morrow, the Cubs reliever and former closer, has what the club is calling a “mild right upper chest strain,” according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. Bastian added Morrow felt the strain in his last bullpen session and there is no clear timeline for his return.

The strain is the latest ailment to sideline the oft-injured Morrow, who hasn't pitched since July 2018 due to a series of arm troubles. The 35-year-old has undergone two elbow surgeries since then (November 2018, September 2019) before becoming a free agent this winter. He rejoined the Cubs on a minor-league deal.

Morrow entered camp optimistic the latest procedure did the trick to get his elbow healthy. The Cubs have been easing him into action — the right-hander is throwing one bullpen every four days. Morrow said earlier this month he’s experienced some aches and pains but attributed those to being part of the rehab process.

Morrow is listed as day-to-day, according to Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune. But considering his injury history — and the fact he was already unlikely to crack the Opening Day roster —  the Cubs will proceed with extreme caution. There's no need to expedite his return, mild strain or not.

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