Outside expectations for the Cubs in 2021 may be as low as they’ve been since Jason Heyward arrived in 2016, but count the right fielder as someone who thinks the team could surprise this season.
“Oh, I love that, not being picked to win,” Heyward said Wednesday of outside projections for the NL Central in 2021. … “Preseason numbers and picks don’t mean anything.”
The NL Central has no clear favorite in 2021, but preseason projections aren’t too bullish on the Cubs. As of Wednesday, FanGraphs projects them to win about 79 games and finish fourth in the division. PECOTA pegs them to finish second with 85 victories.
The Cubs roster underwent significant changes this past offseason following the club’s 2020 division title, highlighted by the trade of ace Yu Darvish to the Padres. Zach Davies, Trevor Williams and Jake Arrieta join the rotation, which also lost Jon Lester, José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, and Joc Pederson takes over in left field for Kyle Schwarber.
Even with all the upheaval, the Cubs’ hitting core remains largely intact from last season, when a lineup full of pedigree underperformed compared to the individual numbers they've historically produced.
Whether Cubs fans believe the team can do big things in 2021, Heyward noted the season is a marathon and not a sprint and it’s up to the players to block out the noise.
“Just come to work every day, play baseball,” he said. “The great thing about our fans is that when we do well and positive things happen, they're right there waiting for that moment and they applaud that. And I think we can give them a lot to be excited about this year.”