Arizona Cardinals

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

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AP

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

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:

St. Louis Cardinals

2018 record: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

Offseason additions: Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew Miller, Matt Wieters, Chris Beck, Drew Robinson

Offseason departures: Luke Weaver, Tyson Ross, Bud Norris, Matt Adams, Carson Kelly, Patrick Wisdom

X-factor: Marcell Ozuna

The Cardinals traded for Ozuna last winter, expecting to get the hitter that just put up 37 homers, 124 RBI, a .924 OPS and hit .312 while coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances.

Instead, they got a solid hitter who was only slightly above average (106 OPS+) and saw a major dip in power (23 homers, 88 RBI). 

Which player is the real Marcell Ozuna?

He's still only 28 and is a free agent after this season. The Cardinals are counting on him to be one of their big bats in the middle of the lineup, likely hitting cleanup and lending protection to Goldschmidt.

We know Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter are going to hit if they're healthy and we know guys like Paul DeJong, Yadi Molina, Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader will be thorns in the Cubs' side at various points in 2019. But we don't know what type of player Ozuna will be.

You could say the same thing about Dexter Fowler, who has hit just .230 with a .739 OPS in a Cardinals uniform after signing an $82.5 million deal with the organization before the 2017 season. He still has three years left on his contract and if he can't regain his form, will the Cardinals be forced to stick a guy making more than $16 million a year on the bench in favor of better offensive options Jose Martinez or Tyler O'Neill?

Projected lineup

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

Projected rotation

1. Miles Mikolas
2. Jack Flaherty
3. Adam Wainwright
4. Michael Wacha
5. Dakota Hudson

Outlook

The last time the Cardinals were in the playoffs, they watched as Javy Baez sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy with a blast to the right-centerfield bleachers. That 3-run shot came off John Lackey and both he and Jason Heyward had yet to don a Cubs uniform. Only one pitcher that threw for the Cubs in that game is still on the team (Pedro Strop).

Oh yeah, and the Cubs were still a year away from winning their first championship in more than a century.

In other words: It was a long time ago. It feels like a lifetime given how often the Cardinals were in the postseason prior to 2016.

So yeah, this organization and their fanbase are hungry as hell to get back to October. They proved that this winter.

The Cardinals didn't make a ton of moves over the offseason, but the decisions they made are very impactful — trading for Goldschmidt and signing Miller and Wieters.

Then they went out and reportedly extended Goldschmidt through the 2024 season. He is one of the best players in the NL and brings a legitimate stud to the middle of the lineup. Now the Cubs are forced to face him 19 times a season for at least the next half-decade and he carries a .353/.471/.699 slash line (1.170 OPS) against Chicago pitching in 43 career games. (The somewhat good news is that Goldschmidt also tears up Brewers pitching to the tune of a .366/.478/.652 slash line in 46 career games.)

Miller had a rough 2018 season, sporting a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching only 34 innings due to injuries. But he's still only 33 and was arguably the best reliever in the game from 2014-17 when he posted a 1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14.5 K/9 in 260 appearances. If he's even close to that pitcher again, that's a huge stabilizing force at the back end of the Cardinals bullpen. However, he's had a really rough go of it in spring training thus far:

Wieters has never turned into the star many were expecting him to become, but he'll be good depth for St. Louis behind Molina.

This offense should be just fine, especially once Jedd Gyorko returns from injury and if they can somehow find a way to get Martinez and O'Neill in the lineup often.

The defense is also going to be great, with speedster Bader chasing everything down in the outfield and Molina/Wong/DeJong up the middle.

The pitching staff is where most of the questions lie. 

Carlos Martinez has been their ace in the past, but he experienced shoulder issues this spring and it's unknown how much time he'll miss or if he'll be a starter or reliever when he returns. He only pitched 118.2 innings last year due to the same injury.

Veteran relievers Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson are also both dealing with arm injuries and not expected to be in the Opening Day bullpen.

Miles Mikolas was an incredible find for the Cardinals last year and after a fantastic season (18-4, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), they made sure to lock him up for another four years. 23-year-old Jack Flaherty was a Top-50 prospect entering 2018 and exploded onto the MLB scene with a very good season that included a ridiculous 10.8 K/9 rate. He looks like a potential Cy Young contender this year and gives the Cardinals a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation even without Martinez.

After that, however, it's up in the air. Adam Wainwright is 37, Michael Wacha has been injured/inconsistent and rookie Dakota Hudson (just named the team's fifth starter Thursday) has only 27.1 MLB innings under his belt.

Meanwhile, in the bullpen, 22-year-old Jordan Hicks is looking like the closer with his 100+ mph fastball, but he also has some control issues (5.2 BB/9 in his rookie season) and blew more games (7) than he saved (6) last year. After him and Miller, there's a hodge podge of unproven guys like John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, Chasen Shreve and others. Former top prospect Alex Reyes is looming as a potential X-factor in the bullpen, but he has pitched only 27 innings since he had Tommy John surgery after the 2016 season.

Expect this to be a three-team race in the NL Central all year and it would not be at all surprising to see the Cardinals on top come October. 

But for now, I'll put them just behind the Cubs only because I have question marks about their outfielders (Ozuna and Fowler) and some of their pitching. I also think the Cubs have more depth than any team in the division and are better built for the marathon that is a 162-game season.

Prediction: 2nd in NL Central, wild-card team

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
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Colorado Rockies
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New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
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Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear

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USA TODAY

'Grizzly' worst-to-first specialist Bobby Massie wants to stay a Bear

Bobbie Massie went through down times--both as a Bear and before that--over four years as an Arizona Cardinal. He is at the end of the three-year contract that brought him to Chicago, and the time is coming for him (and the Bears) to determine whether he is a Bear or headed to become something else.

Massie has already made that determination.

“I’m a Bear. Grizzly as hell,” Massie said, laughing. “I am a Bear through and through.”

Massie still spends some offseason time back in Phoenix, training at LeCharles Bentley’s “LB O-Line Performance” facility, but “[Chicago is] a place I call home. This is my home. I would love to be back here.

“We’ve built something. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a culture change, and it’s like night and day from when I first walked through the door to now. It’s an amazing thing to see, just to see players who’ve grown so much. I’ve had a chance to see Mitch [Trubisky] grow from day one to now. It’s just amazing.

“I am invested. I’ll just keep playing, doing my job and the rest’ll take care of itself.”

It has so far for Massie, who knows something about turnarounds like the one in process for the 2018 Bears. If anything, he could be excused for wondering why it took so long.

The Bears right tackle was drafted in 2012, into what would be Ken Whisenhunt’s last year as Arizona head coach, the Cardinals finishing 5-11. After suffering through that, he was part of the turnaround under Bruce Arians to get their record 10-6, then to 11-5 and a wild card postseason berth in 2014, and finally 13-3 and the NFC Championship game in 2015.

After that the Bears enticed him to Chicago with a three-year deal for $18 million, of which $6.5 million was guaranteed. The Bears were coming off a 6-10 first year under John Fox, improving by one victory over Marc Trestman’s final year, and Massie was part of a free-agency sweep that netted Massie, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, plus draft picks Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair and Jordan Howard – all players from winning programs.

The result instead was a colossal spiral downwards sparked by quarterback injuries, all cascading into 2017 and a deepening quarterback quagmire in the form of Mike Glennon. The tumbling led to the firing of two-time turnaround engineer Fox.

Massie had seen the turnaround impact possible with the right coaching hire, when the Cardinals went from Whisenhunt to Arians. He has seen it, and been part of it, again in the Fox-to-Nagy course correction.

“Fox was obviously defensive-minded and this thing was built around defense,” Massie said. “Nagy came in and if you really look at it, it’s the same team, just a few pieces here and there. No drastic changes, just little things.”

He paused, then laughed: “Maybe a little more passing.

“But it’s fun again. Guys here love coming to work, practicing to get better. And considering how long we’ve been going – we were the first team to start camp – we’re still hungry.”

 

Live Blog: Bears head to Arizona for Week 3 matchup

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NBC Sports Chicago

Live Blog: Bears head to Arizona for Week 3 matchup

Welcome back, gang. It feels like it was only 5 days ago that we were here On The Web, blogging together.

Today we've got the Bears (1-1) headed to Arizona to play the Cardinals (0-2). It's a prime chance for Chicago to get above .500 for the first time since 2014 (!!). 

As always, J.J. Stankevitz and John Mullin will be your eyes and ears from Arizona; give 'em a follow. Lorin Cox's tweets are also worth your time. 

Fourth Quarter

620 PM - Big 3rd and 2 stop for Bilal Nichols! Cardinals go for it on 4th and 5 and Bryce Callahan gets the INT! Bears defense is OUT HERE COOKIN

615 PM - Did Khalil Mack just end Sam Bradford's career? Josh Rosen's in for the Cardinals now

610 PM - FIELD GOAL IS GOOD. Parkey splits it down the middle and the Bears lead! BEARS 16 CARDINALS 14. 

600 PM- it's stupid how good Khalil Mack is:

547 PM - not great bob: 


Third Quarter

535 PM - WHO NEEDS DEPTH WHEN *Sherrick McManis* is out here makin' plays. McManis gets a INT, Bears are in action again. Football is fun! 

535 PM - All of a sudden the Bears' secondary looks REAL thin:

530 PM - TOUCHDOWN BEARS. Jordan Howard punches it in after a nice Tarik Cohen run and the Bears are back in it! CARDINALS 14, BEARS 10. 

510 PM - 3 and out for the Bears on their first drive out of the break and let's just smash that panic button now and get it over with

Second Quarter

450PM - The Bears D gets a stop and Trubisky ... throws an interception. Wasn't his fault, but still. 

440 PM - Bears put together a nice drive, but opt to kick a 20 yard field goal on 4th and goal from the 2. CARDINALS 14, BEARS 3

420 PM - Give the Bears credit - after two weeks of pretty conservative play calling, they're taking their shots downfield this game. WE'RE TRYING HERE OK

406 PM - We're in the Sad Office Gif portion of the game already:

https://twitter.com/Young_Reck23/status/1043971951339814912

First Quarter

355 PM - Trubisky fumbles the ball while scrambling on 3rd down and the Cardinals recover. They score literally the next play. CARDINALS 14, BEARS 0. 

345 PM - Welllllll. Bears march down the field, get stopped on 3rd down after coverage breaks down, and Cody Parkey pushes it right. Bears have had better starts.

330 PM - Wellllllllllll. Cardinals score in 3 minutes and it's Cardinals 7, Bears 0. Terrific start! 

PREGAME

Inactives are here! 

Some Pregame Reading

Three Keys and one prediction - J.J. Stankevitz

The Mahomes-Trubisky debate isn't going anywhere - Cam Ellis

Taylor Gabriel is doing the little things right - J.J. Stankevitz

(Too) Bold Predictions - Stankevitz and Ellis

Bears O-Line has been terriffic so far - Lorin Cox