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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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Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

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USA TODAY

Looking back on Rick Monday's flag-saving incident in 1976

"I would rather be remembered as someone who stood up and did something about something I felt strongly about, than as someone who just stood there and watched the parade go by."

When you least expect it, life can come at you pretty quickly. The way Rick Monday reacted 43 years ago in a Cubs uniform is still worth remembering.

The Cubs were playing at Dodger Stadium on April 25, 1976. Monday was in his fifth season with the Cubs and playing in center field. Steve Stone was the starting pitcher and in the bottom of the fourth inning, Monday heard something going on around him. Two fans ran onto the field and then past Cubs left fielder Jose Cardinal.

"Is it because they have a bet with somebody?" Monday said. "Is it because they've had too much to drink? Is it because they don't like you?”

The fans turned out to be protesters and one of them was carrying the American flag under his arm. As they laid down the flag and doused it with a can of lighter fluid, Rick Monday darted at them from center field.

"It angered me for a lot of reasons," he said. "First of all, you're interrupting the game. Secondly, now you're bringing out a flag and I was only about three or four years removed from being in the Marine Reserves."

Monday considered bowling them over if he got there on time, but the first match blew out as they tried to ignite the flag. Monday improvised. He scooped up the soaking wet flag and kept running with it. By the time he'd handed it to a teammate near the dugout, Tommy Lasorda let the protesters have a few choice words. At the time, Lasorda was the third baseman for the Dodgers.

"He [Lasorda] came running past me yelling about every expletive that a longshoreman would utter on a bad, bad day!" Monday said.

The fans were arrested, and when Monday came to the plate for his at-bat in the top of the fifth inning, the scoreboard in center field paid tribute with - "Rick Monday...you made a great play" and the California crowd gave the Cubs outfielder a standing ovation. One year later, they'd be cheering for him again. The Cubs traded Rick Monday in a five-player deal that brought Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus to the North side. Rick Monday went on to play a total of 19 seasons in the Majors. He was part of the Dodgers World Series championship team in 1981.

43 years after the flag incident, Rick Monday works in the Dodgers radio broadcast booth and that American flag is still a part of his life. He and his wife take the flag around the country while raising money for military charities. Monday says he reacted quickly that day because that's the way he was raised. Six years in the United States Marine Corps Forces Reserves only reinforced those instincts.

"It's a good thing I did get it, because I did not want any of my former drill instructors from the Marine Corps to come and say, 'Hey Marine! Why did you stand there and watch when they ignited the American flag?" Monday said.

An All-American play by a two-time All-Star outfielder

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Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell goes 1-for-4 in rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs

Addison Russell is nearing the end of his 40-game suspension for violating the MLB's domestic abuse policy. He made his first rehab start with the Iowa Cubs on Wednesday night, performing quite well in the stint.

He was 1-for-4 with an RBI, one walk and a stolen base to boot in Iowa’s 6-4 win over the Nashville Sounds. Unless there any changes in the expected gameplan, Russell will be able to rejoin the big league club on May 3 at the earliest, when they begin a series against the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

Russell was a key piece of the 2016 World Series team but it will be interesting to see how he fits into the mix with Javier Báez in the midst of an excellent season at shortstop.

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