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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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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