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

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USA TODAY

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

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 Diego Padres

2018 record: 66-96, 5th in NL West

Offseason additions: Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler, Greg Garcia, Adam Warren, Aaron Loup, Garrett Richards

Offseason departures: A.J. Ellis, Freddy Galvis, Cory Spangenberg

X-factor: Joey Lucchesi

The Padres made a huge splash with the Machado deal, but they're not necessarily expected to contend in 2019. 

That being said, this is not a bad roster by any means. It wouldn't be all that shocking to see Machado and Co. making a push for the second Wild-Card at some point this year, but if they're going to, it will be because the pitching staff exceeded expectations.

You could put any pitcher's name in here as an X-factor — I just chose Lucchesi because hes lined up as their ace on paper at the current moment. The pitching staff is filled with a bunch of question marks and will likely be the main force holding this team back in 2019. Lucchesi was impressive at times in his rookie season last year, striking out 145 batters in 130 innings, but posting a 1.29 WHIP, 4.08 ERA and serving up 23 homers even while making half his starts in one of the best pitcher's parks in the game.

The 25-year-old southpaw may not turn into anything all that impressive as a starting pitcher or maybe he takes another step forward and emerges as a surefire long-term piece in the Padres rotation. Either way, he will have a pretty sizable impact on the team's overall pitching situation.

Projected lineup

1. Ian Kinsler - 2B
2. Manny Machado - SS
3. Eric Hosmer - 1B
4. Wil Myers - LF
5. Hunter Renfroe - RF
6. Manuel Margot - CF
7. Luis Urias - SS
8. Austin Hedges - C

Projected rotation

1. Joey Lucchesi
2. Robbie Erlin
3. Bryan Mitchell
4. Eric Lauer
5. Luis Perdomo

Outlook

This is a really interesting team that could go either way — challenge for one of the NL Wild-Card spots or challenge for 90+ losses.

Ultimately, I'm pegging them for somewhere in between. I think they're still a year away from emerging as a true contender, but there's a lot of exciting talent here and the arrow is pointed firmly up. 

The Padres are widely considered to have the best farm system in the game, with one of the game's brightest young stars on the verge of the big leagues in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. But there's so much more beyond him, including a wide array of pitchers coming up through the farm system. Urias and catcher Francisco Mejia are only 21 and 23, respectively, and have high ceilings as well. 

Then there's the young outfield with Myers (28), Renfroe (27), Margot (24), Franchy Cordero (24) and Franmil Reyes (23). It remains to be seen how all those young players will get enough playing time, but there's so much upside here. Myers is already a borderline star when healthy, Renfroe is a slugging machine with a cannon in the outfield, Margot is a perfect post-hype sleeper as a former top prospect who has yet to break out in the majors and Cordero and Reyes are Statcast dreams with their impressive exit velocities.

And now the Padres are adding one of the game's truly elite players to the lineup in the form of a 26-year-old Machado who will be in his prime right as the rest of the top prospects are getting comfortable in their big-league skin.

Kinsler was also a solid add this winter on a relative bargain ($8 million over 2 years). He'll turn 37 in June, but he's still a good defender and decent hitter and will provide valuable veteran leadership. Plus, they eventually won't need to play him every day by the time Tatis is in The Show and forming a middle-infield punch with Urias.

The Hosmer deal last spring (8 years, $144 million) was a terrible decision and the Padres have to be kicking themselves on that to some extent a year later. But it's the only bad contract on the books and there's at least some reason to expect a bit of an offensive rebound. Before posting a .720 OPS and .253/.322/.398 slash line with San Diego a year ago, Hosmer put up a .799 OPS with a .292/.351/.449 slash line over the previous 5 seasons with the Royals. He's in a much tougher hitter's park now than he was in Kansas City, but some regression to the mean is probably in store for the 29-year-old.

As I mentioned above, it will probably come down to pitching with this team more than anything else. The arms just aren't there yet to help supplement an exciting young lineup. 

Padres starting pitchers combined for the 4th-worst ERA a year ago (5.09) despite playing in such a spacious ballpark. That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon, with Richards expected to miss most — or all — of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

The saving grace for this staff may be in the bullpen. San Diego finished 6th in baseball in reliever ERA (3.53), even including spending 1/3 of the season without Brad Hand and Adam Cimber at the back end of the bullpen. 

Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen and Matt Strahm are certainly not household names, but they're all coming off fantastic seasons. Warren and Loup are not big signings, but they could be solid adds to help give manager Andy Green an underrated bullpen.

Don't count on seeing the Padres in October this fall, but those days are certainly coming...and fast.

Prediction: 3rd 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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Cubs Talk Podcast: Ross-ter Rundown: Can Jon Lester bring it for 1 more year?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ross-ter Rundown: Can Jon Lester bring it for 1 more year?

As the season draws closer, it's time to discuss every player that will be on the final roster on Opening Day. We start with Cubs veteran pitcher Jon Lester.

Jeff Nelson sits in for David Kaplan and is joined by NBCS Cubs writer Tim Stebbins and NBCS producer Nate Poppen to debate if Jon Lester can help stabilize the starting rotation for at least one more season, and where do you place him in the rotation.

(1:37) - One word to describe Jon Lester

(5:42) - Lester didn't start his Cubs career very well

(10:40) - Lester eventually proved why he got the contract

(14:40) - How will the relationship change between Jon Lester and David Ross

(19:00) - Lester's inability to throw to first base

(23:00) - Projections for Lester in the 2020 season

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs reliever Brad Wieck undergoes procedure for irregular heartbeat

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USA TODAY

Cubs reliever Brad Wieck undergoes procedure for irregular heartbeat

Cubs reliever Brad Wieck underwent a cardiac ablation procedure on Monday for an abnormal heartbeat, the club announced on Thursday.

Cubs head physician Dr. Stephen Adams discovered an intermittent atrial flutter during Wieck's pre-spring training physical earlier this month. The left-hander returned to Chicago and underwent a procedure on Monday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to prevent a recurrence of the flutter.

Wieck returned to Arizona on Wednesday and will rest for the next week or so. The Cubs will then determine when the 28-year-old will begin his throwing program.

Former Cub Mark DeRosa underwent a similar procedure in spring training 2008 and did not miss the start of the season.

Wieck entered camp as a favorite to claim a job in the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen. He impressed after the club acquired him from the Padres last July, posting a 3.60 ERA in 14 appearances.

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