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

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USA TODAY

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

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 bolstered 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:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2018 record: 92-71, 1st in NL West

Offseason additions: A.J. Pollock, Russell Martin, Joe Kelly, Brad Miller

Offseason departures: Manny Machado, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Brian Dozier, Yasmani Grandal, John Axford, Ryan Madson, Daniel Hudson

X-factor: Clayton Kershaw's health

This still an incredibly talented team even if Kershaw never throws a pitch in 2019, but that obviously would make their road to another division title much more difficult.

Kershaw has a shoulder issue that leaves his short-term future in doubt and certainly no pitcher wants to start out the year with an injury like this that could linger. He's about to turn 31 later this month and has only averaged 27 starts the last five seasons, topping 30 starts just once.

The southpaw is still one of the best pitchers in the game, but he looks a whole lot more human than he used to. 2018 was the first time he failed to average more than a strikeout per inning since 2013 and notched fewer than 10 wins for the first time since 2009. 

There's still so much pitching depth on this team (even without Kershaw, big-league ready arms like Julio Urias, Brock Stewart and Caleb Ferguson could all start the season in the minors), but the 3-time Cy Young winner remains their most important player.

Projected lineup

1. A.J. Pollock - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Justin Turner - 3B
4. Cody Bellinger - RF
5. Max Muncy - 1B
6. Chris Taylor - 2B
7. Joc Pederson - LF
8. Austin Barnes - C

Projected rotation

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu
2. Walker Buehler
3. Rich Hill
4. Kenta Maeda
5. Ross Stripling

Outlook

The Seager return is huge for the Dodgers and you can look at it as something of an offseason addition given he played just 26 games in 2018. When he's been on the field, the 24-year-old shortstop is one of the best all-around players in baseball and he's now expected to be healthy after surgeries on his elbow and hip this winter.

A healthy Justin Turner would also be a big boost, as he missed 60 games a year ago. Pollock was a nice addition, but he fits in among the Dodgers' stars in that he also has not been able to stay off the disabled list (now injured list) recently. But he's still a great option as a leadoff hitter and centerfielder when in the lineup.

Even with all the purging of depth and star power this winter, the Dodgers still have an awful lot of talented players. They probably won't miss guys like Wood, Puig, Dozier or Kemp much and Seager's return helps make up for the loss of Machado in free agency. The same can be said of the trade for Russell Martin, replacing the departed Grandal. 

It's going to be very interesting to see how manager Dave Roberts maneuvers the lineup to get playing time for everybody, but he has plenty of options at his disposal, especially if top prospect Alex Verdugo is going to be in the big leagues all year.

The bullpen could still be a bit of a question mark, especially if Kenley Jansen has more health problems with his heart issue. He's one of the best relievers in the game and the Dodgers are adept at getting the most out of under-the-radar pitchers in the bullpen. But there are definite concerns about how good Joe Kelly will be (even after an awesome postseason run with the Red Sox) and the arms at the back of the bullpen. 

Still, the Dodgers are so talented, so well-run and so deep this team should once again be the class of the NL West and very well may be the class of the entire NL. Who knows if they'll make it to a third straight World Series, but that would not be even remotely shocking if that's how 2019 played out.

Prediction: 1st 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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Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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