Cubs

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

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USA TODAY

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

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:

San Francisco Giants

2018 record: 73-89, 4th in NL West

Offseason additions: Gerardo Parra, Drew Pomeranz, Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt, Yangervis Solarte, Cameron Maybin, Drew Ferguson, Travis Bergen, Pat Venditte

Offseason departures: Hunter Pence, Hunter Strickland, Nick Hundley, Gregor Blanco

X-factor: Dereck Rodriguez

You could easily make the case that Madison Bumgarner should be the X-factor for the Giants in 2019, given that if he pitches like an ace, he could either draw a huge return in a deal before the trade deadline or stay in town and possibly help the team emerge as a surprise contender in his final season by the bay.

But Rodriguez also has the potential to impact the present and future of this franchise. Pudge's son exploded onto the scene with a surprising rookie season (6-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) last year and certainly showed flashes of ace-level. Can he duplicate it and build off those numbers in 2019 or will he take a step back and that will go down as his flash-in-the-pan season?

Rodriguez already turns 27 in June, but if his breakout was legit, the Giants have a staple in their rotation for the next six seasons. And that might be the best they can hope to accomplish in 2019 — find pieces for the future amid an aging core.

Projected lineup

1. Steven Duggar - CF
2. Joe Panik - 2B
3. Buster Posey - C
4. Brandon Belt - 1B
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Brandon Crawford - SS
7. Mac Williamson - LF
8. Gerardo Parra - RF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Dereck Rodriguez
4. Derek Holland
5. Drew Pomeranz

Outlook

This does not have the makings of a playoff team.

The Giants' offseason was only notable because of the moves they did not make: They could not land Bryce Harper after swooping in at the 11th hour and they did not trade away Bumgarner.

It's interesting that they were even engaged in talks with Harper. His addition would've been huge for the roster, but would they even be in the mix for October even with the slugger holding down the middle of the order? And if they had the payroll to climb above $300 million for one player, why didn't they use any of it to bolster any other weaknesses on the roster?

The Giants still have a championship core in Bumgarner, Posey, Belt and Crawford, but they're all either entering their mid-30s or in the final year of their deal.

And there's not much else to get excited about. Johnny Cueto had Tommy John surgery and isn't expected to pitch in 2019, Longoria is still a good fielder but wasn't even a league-average hitter a season ago and the starting outfield of Williamson-Duggar-Parra may well be the worst trio in the game.

The bullpen is a potential saving grace, as they return all five of their top arms (Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta).

Who knows, maybe everything breaks right for the Giants in 2019 — Posey rejoins the MVP race, Longoria returns as an above-average hitter, Bumgarner regains ace status, Samardzija and Pomeranz finally put it all together, Panik enjoys a breakout season, every player stays healthy, Duggar becomes a star, and on and on.

Hey, it *could* happen. But it probably will not. This is one of only three teams in the NL that I don't expect to be a part of the playoff race in 2019.

Prediction: 5th 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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According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

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USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He always knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Kris Bryant just expected the climb to last a couple weeks, not a couple years. 

“Yeah, jeez. That took forever,” he said on Saturday, in regards to the grievance he filed against the Cubs back after the 2015 season. “It really did. At the beginning of it, I was told that it’d take maybe a couple weeks, so I was ready for it. And then the off-season kept going on and I was like, ‘All right, come out with it, let’s go.’”

Fast-forward 200 or so weeks, and the Cubs’ star third baseman got an answer – just not the one he, his agent Scott Boras, and the MLB Players Association was looking for. An independent arbitrator disagreed with the notion that the Cubs had manipulated Bryant’s service time in order to keep him under contract longer, and ruled that he would remain under team control until after the 2021 season. While many felt that what the Cubs did violated the spirit of the law, ultimately they didn’t infringe on the letter. 

“Obviously we had a disagreement. We handled it respectfully,” Bryant said. “I’m very thankful that Theo and the team saw it through. I saw it through to the end because it was something that I really believed in. My Mom and Dad told me to always stand up for what I believed in, and I was going to see the process through, and I saw it through. Respect on both ends, there’s definitely no hard feelings, so let’s definitely put that narrative to bed.” 

Despite one of the strongest cases in the history of these contractual disputes, there were ultimately too many ambiguities involved to reward Bryant with free agency one year earlier. Getting a substantial raise would have been nice, but much of Bryant’s motivation behind filing the grievance in the first place came from a sense of responsibility to bring to light what many feel are unfair labor laws within the current collectively-bargained agreement. It’s certainly not one extra year of market value salary, but as baseball barrels towards a contentious stretch of negotiations, bringing the issue to light – according to Bryant – is a win within itself. 

“I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on and be like, I want to be the guy that fights for this because I believe this is right,” he said. “And it’s going to help us in 2 years.

“I think it’s good for us to go through stuff like this. You identify the problems that you see, and you try to make it better. This last round, I think we, as players, really took a whoopin’. It’s up to us to fight for things that we think are right.” 

Don’t be surprised when Bryant continues to be a public figure throughout the next 24 months (or more) of discussions. He’s one of the game’s most recognizable faces, and from the very start, his five-year career has been tied to the hip of MLB’s service time manipulation controversy. He was vocal about squashing any idea that he held ill-will towards the Cubs front office, but did concede that the gray area which many front offices love to exploit has opened the door for uncomfortable, unnecessary friction. 

“The team doesn’t want to go through it,” he said. “I mean, Theo doesn’t want to have to make decisions like that, and cause … I wouldn’t say problems, but disagreements between players and the front office. I don’t want to be put in that situation either, so let’s just make it black and white. It’d make things a whole lot easier.” 

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