Cubs

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

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USA TODAY

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

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:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu

Outlook

Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

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

Cubs Talk Podcast: Brewers scouting report with Jeff Levering

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Brewers scouting report with Jeff Levering

Luke Stuckmeyer catches up with Brewers radio broadcaster Jeff Levering to get the inside scoop on Milwaukee heading into the 2019 season.

The pair discuss how the potential addition of Craig Kimbrel would impact the Brewers bullpen (3:30), whether or not Christian Yelich can repeat his MVP performance (8:00) and how the NL Central will shake out this year (14:00) before Jeff gives us some personal insight into the great Bob Uecker (19:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Cubs option Ian Happ to Triple-A

In a surprise move, Ian Happ will not be on the Cubs roster on Opening Day.

Joe Maddon told reporters on Saturday afternoon that Happ will begin the season with Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs have since made the move official. Happ debuted with the Cubs in May of 2017 and had been up with the Cubs ever since.

The move means the Cubs will likely start the 2019 season with Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber as the team's outfielders. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant can also play in the outfield, but both are expected to be regular starters on the infield. With Addison Russell still serving his suspension, Zobrist is expected to start at second base. Bryant will occupy his regular spot at third, but can also play in the outfield with David Bote filling in at third as needed. Additionally, Daniel Descalso is expected to be ready for Opening Day after enduring a left shoulder injury and gives the team versatility on the infield.

Happ, 24, hit .253/.328/.514 with 24 home runs as a rookie in 2017. Last season his numbers dipped to .233/.353/.408, including .196/.313/.340 after the all-star break. He has played in 257 games in the past two seasons with the Cubs.

Happ has been struggling at the plate this spring. He is hitting .135/.196/.192 in 17 Cactus League games.

"We just want to make sure that he gets down there and really gets a lot of consistent at-bats, especially from the left side," Maddon said. "Obviously we consider him a huge part of our future, but just based on the conclusion of last year and what we're seeing at this point this year, we think it's really important."

Happ's move comes as a surprise, but it may not be a long-term move. With Happ being optioned to Triple-A, that gives the Cubs an extra roster spot that could be used for a reliever.

Additionally, pitchers Dillon Maples and Alec Mills and catcher Taylor Davis were optioned to Triple-A along with Happ. Two non-roster invitees, infielder Cristhian Adames and outfielder Johnny Field, were assigned to minor league camp.

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