Cubs

Cubs opposition research: Are the Diamondbacks primed for another big season?

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AP

Cubs opposition research: Are the Diamondbacks primed for another big season?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

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:

Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 record: 93-69, second place in NL West

Offseason additions: Steven Souza Jr., Alex Avila, Jarrod Dyson, Brad Boxberger, Yoshihisa Hirano, Fernando Salas, Albert Suarez, Neftali Feliz, Antonio Bastardo

Offseason departures: J.D. Martinez, Chris Iannetta, Adam Rosales, Gregor Blanco, David Hernandez, Fernando Rodney, Brandon Drury, Anthony Banda

X-factor: A.J. Pollock

What happened to the guy that enjoyed the breakout 2015 season?

The dyanmic centerfielder was one of the best players in the game that year, finishing in the Top 15 in NL MVP, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove. He hit .315 with an .865 OPS, scored 111 runs, hit 20 homers and stole 39 bases while racking up 7.4 WAR in 157 games.

But Pollock has fallen on some tough times since then. Slowed by injuries the last two years, he's appeared in just 124 games since that 2015 campaign, posting a .264 AVG and .794 OPS. 

In his final year before free agency, Pollock will need to remain healthy and performing at the 2015 level if the Diamondbacks are going to have a repeat trip to the postseason. 

Projected lineup

1. David Peralta - LF
2. A.J. Pollock - CF
3. Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
4. Jake Lamb - 3B
5. Steven Souza Jr. - RF
6. Alex Avila - C
7. Ketel Marte - 2B
8. Nick Ahmed - SS

Projected rotation

1. Zack Greinke
2. Robbie Ray
3. Taijuan Walker
4. Patrick Corbin
5. Zack Godley 

Outlook

This lineup is still very good, but the loss of Martinez will hurt. Souza has a nice blend of power and speed and is a better defender than Martinez, but losing that absurd kind of power behind Goldschmidt is impossible to replace.

Health will be key for this team, as there isn't a ton of depth beyond the main players. Jarrod Dyson is a great fourth outfielder, but he's also 33 and on the downspiral in his greatest asset: speed.

Lamb and Peralta tear up right-handed pitching, but both are susceptible to lefties and serve in more of a platoon role. Goldschmidt is one of the best players in the game and Pollock has the potential to join that conversation. Marte may also be on the verge of a breakout.

The pitching staff has question marks. The bullpen lost Rodney and Hernandez, gaining a host of unknowns in the process. Archie Bradley has never closed before and Boxberger provides some experience there, but things are not very stable beyond those two.

The starting rotation was very good in 2017, but will need a repeat performance if they're going to once again make it to the NLDS. Former Cubs prospect Godley has impressed and Ray is one of the best strikeout artists in the game, but Greinke is getting up there in age (34) and Corbin has been inconsistent the last few years.

So much went right for the Diamondbacks last year and while their window of contention is open right now, the question is: For how long?

Prediction: Third place in NL West, just misses second wild card spot

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

 

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

Regardless of whether or not he misses any game action for this (a suspension here would be rather unprecedented for MLB, but the world is certainly changing), this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.