Cubs

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Cardinals have their sights set on that NL Central crown

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USA TODAY

Scouting the Cubs' competition: The Cardinals have their sights set on that NL Central crown

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:

St. Louis Cardinals

2017 record: 83-79, 3rd in NL Central

Offseason additions: Marcell Ozuna, Francisco Pena, Yairo Munoz, Miles Mikolas, Dominic Leone, Bud Norris, Luke Gregerson

Offseason departures: Lance Lynn, Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, Juan Nicasio, Zach Duke, Seung Hwan Oh, Trevor Rosenthal, Stephen Piscotty

X-factor: Paul DeJong

The Illinois State University product burst onto the scene in 2017, making his MLB debut, smacking 25 homers and finishing second in the NL ROY voting. 

As a reward, the Cardinals locked him up to a six-year, $26 million deal that will take him through the 2023 season (plus two team options after that). 

DeJong performed admirably at shortstop — a position he did not spend much time at in the minors (just 50 games across two seasons) — and despite a terrible walk rate, posted a .285/.325/.532 slash line (.857 OPS).

Can he do it again? The Cardinals are counting on it, having traded away Diaz and ensuring shortstop is DeJong's job for now and long term.

Diaz is a cautionary tale of a one-hit wonder in St. Louis while Piscotty and Grichuk were also once the Flavor of the Week and wound up being sold for pennies on the dollar. Can DeJong avoid following their footsteps?

Projected lineup

1. Dexter Fowler - RF
2. Tommy Pham - CF
3. Matt Carpenter - 1B
4. Marcell Ozuna - LF
5. Yadier Molina - C
6. Paul DeJong - SS
7. Jedd Gyorko - 3B
8. Kolten Wong - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Carlos Martinez
2. Michael Wacha
3. Luke Weaver
4. Miles Mikolas
5. Jack Flaherty

Outlook

The Cardinals did plenty to address their biggest needs this offseason, acquiring a big bat and picking up a few relievers via trade and free agency. 

More than anything, the Redbirds just need good health. Fowler, Molina and Carpenter were hampered last year, as well as top pitching prospect Alex Reyes.

Reyes should be returning from Tommy John surgery soon, but when he does come back, how will the team use him? As a starter or a long reliever? Either way, his innings will be vastly limited.

Martinez is a stud and bonafide Cy Young contender atop the rotation, but after that, only questions remain whether because of injury (Reyes), age (Adam Wainwright), inexperience (Weaver, Flaherty, Reyes), inconsistency (Wacha) or just a relative unknown (Mikolas, coming over from Japan).

Assuming Pham's 2017 breakout was for real and the other key players can avoid major injury, this lineup should be among the best in the NL. The bullpen has its share of question marks, but Leone is an underrated arm who will fill the closer's role until Gregerson returns from injury.

The Cardinals will absolutely be near the top of the division all season, reigniting the rivalry with the Cubs.

This is a three-team race, but for now, the Cardinals appear to come up just a bit short compared to the Cubs and Brewers.

Prediction: 3rd in NL Central, misses out on wild card

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

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USA TODAY

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

What Chicago sports team is worth the most money in 2018?

As reported by Kurt Badenhausen in a Forbes article about the 50 richest teams around the globe, the Cubs are the most valuable organization in the Windy City.

Chicago’s North Side baseball team ranks as the 16th wealthiest team in the world, valued at $2.9 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The Cubs are the third-most affluent franchise in Major League Baseball, behind the New York Yankees ($4 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3 billion).

This year, the baseball club owned by the Ricketts family surpassed the wealth of the Boston Red Sox ($2.8 billion), who the Cubs were ranked behind last season at $2.68 billion. In the span of a year, the North Siders gained two spots in the top 50 from 18 to 16 on the list.

What could be the reason for this increase?

Could it be that the Cubs are in first place in the NL Central? Or could it be the incredible performances from players like Jon Lester and Javy Baez?

Whatever the reason is for the Cubs’ prosperity, the team is doing something right.

The club also surpassed the Bears on the list this year. In 2017 the Bears (worth $2.7 billion last year) were tied with the Red Sox as the 16th most valuable sports team on Earth. The McCaskey-owned football team has fallen to a tie at 17 with the San Francisco Giants, both valued at $2.85 billion in 2018. The Bears even increased by 6 percent in the last year, making the Cubs’ jump seem greater.

The Bulls, owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, are the last team from Chicago to make the cut. They stand at 23 in the top 50, tied with the Denver Broncos. Both franchises are worth $2.6 billion. Chicago’s NBA team even fell a spot from 2017, but they still increased their value by 4 percent (worth $2.5 billion last year).

The Bears are the seventh richest team in the NFL, while the Bulls are fourth wealthiest in the NBA.

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:

He won't be suspended by the league and will instead under go sensitivity training, but 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...