Starlin Castro

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Marlins (hint: pretty darn well)

starlin_castro_marlins_around_the_nl_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Marlins (hint: pretty darn well)

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:

Miami Marlins

2018 record: 63-98, 5th in NL East

Offseason additions: Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Jorge Alfaro, Sergio Romo, Riley Ferrell, Austin Brice, Julian Fernandez, Pedro Alvarez, Hector Noesi

Offseason departures: J.T. Realmuto, Derek Dietrich, Kyle Barraclough

X-factor: Derek Jeter?

Does it matter anymore? Poor Starlin Castro and Curtis Granderson, having to hang out on this team all year (or until they're traded, too). 

With how good the rest of the NL East is, a realistic projection for the Marlins might actually be the 2018 Balitmore Orioles (115 losses). This roster is that bad and the rest of the division is much improved this winter.

So there's no X-factor with the 2019 Marlins, beyond their famous owner who is in the midst of a complete teardown, especially now that Realmuto is gone.

Projected lineup

1. Curtis Granderson - LF
2. Starlin Castro - 2B
3. Brian Anderson - 3B
4. Neil Walker - 1B
5. Peter O'Brien - RF
6. Jorge Alfaro - C
7. J.T. Riddle - SS
8. Lewis Brinson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Jose Urena
2. Wei-Yin Chen
3. Dan Straily
4. Trevor Richards
5. Pablo Lopez

Outlook

Let's put it this way: The "rebuild" (or whatever it is Jeter and Co. are doing) is not going well. 

How bad? Well their projected Opening Day starting lineup 1-through-8 has an average age of 29.1 years old. The Cubs' projected starting lineup 1-through-8 has an average age of 28.5 years...and that's including soon-to-be-38-year-old Ben Zobrist.

So the Marlins have a bad roster...AND an old roster. Yikes.

That's not to say Castro and Co. won't have a big impact on the NL playoff race, however. They're going to be so bad, they'll give every other team in the NL East a big bump up over a division like the NL Central, where all five teams figure to be competitive. 

So the Cubs will absolutely have to take advantage during the 7 games they play against the Marlins (in Miami April 15-17, and then at Wrigley May 6-9). The Cubs would be best served going at least 5-2 against the worst team in the NL if they're going to use the schedule to their advantage.

Prediction: 5th in NL East

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Cubs Mailbag: What does the future hold for David Ross and Bote?

Cubs Mailbag: What does the future hold for David Ross and Bote?

Welcome to the weekly Cubs mailbag. This edition is jam-packed with plenty of valid Cubs/MLB questions, but we threw in a few fun ones at the end. 

As always, thanks for all of your submissions and enjoy!

How about John Lackey as asst Pitching Coach and David Ross as Asst Hitting Coach or Bench Coach - John Barger (@Jbarger1967)

Good question, John, but I know you're just joking about Lackey as assistant pitching coach — though that would certainly be fun as hell to cover. Imagine how those mound visits would go...

As for the David Ross question, it's an interesting one and totally valid. Theo Epstein and the Cubs want Ross to be around a little bit more in 2019 and for good reason. He's still a very well respected and popular voice in that clubhouse and it's entirely possible he emerges as a potential successor for Joe Maddon at manager — possibly even as soon as 2020. 

Ross will be a manager somewhere someday, whenever he's ready and willing to put in the extreme time committment away from his family and kids. He's been enjoying retirement — and "Dancing With The Stars" — the last couple years, but if he's in line to become the Cubs skipper in the near future, ramping up his time around the team next year is a great precursor.

Could David Bote play 3d base for the Cubs next year if Kris Bryant  is moved to Lf? - Rowan Campbell (@RustaRow)

Could that scenario happen? Of course. Will it? Probably sometimes and mostly against left-handed pitchers, but it likely will not be a regular occurrence barring injury. 

Bote certainly looks like a better defender than Bryant at third base and Bryant is a better left fielder than Kyle Schwarber even with Schwarbs' weight loss and improvement in that regard, so this could be a "victory formation" type of alignment late in close games. 

But it's more likely Bote will be a role player in 2019, drawing a start a couple times a week but mostly backing up each infield position and the Cubs also want to work him out in the outfield this spring to become a super utility guy. It's still a question as to how much Bote will hit in the big leagues as he struggled over a larger sample after a hot start. 

With Jesse Chavez heading to Texas, where do the Cubs look for a lower priced BP arm? Or do you imagine they spend some $$ to get a higher type. Miller, Allen, Britton, etc - Brandon Spinner (@wxSpinner89)

Well Mr. Spinner, the easy answer to the question of "where" is: EVERYWHERE. Low-priced bullpen arms are found everywhere, with Chavez serving as recent proof of that. Relivers are so volatile, so those who were good last year are not necessarily guaranteed to be good in 2019, which ultimately means there are a lot of bargains to be had out there.

Brian Duensing was a great example of this in 2017 and while he struggled after the Cubs handed him $7 million on a two-year deal, it's entirely possible he puts the shoulder injury in the past and becomes a reliable option again. Same for Brandon Kintzler. Maybe the recently signed Kyle Ryan can become a solid left-handed, multi-inning option. Alec Mills certainly impressed in 2018. This could be the season Dillon Maples puts it all together. 24-year-old right-hander Dakota Mekkes has soared through the Cubs farm system and his next stop will be Chicago at some point in 2019.

The point is, the Cubs have a bunch of options already in the mix and there is no shortage of bullpen arms at the bottom of the market. Think about a guy like Carson Smith, who has only managed to throw 23.2 innings the last three seasons but was one of the most valuable relief pitchers in the game with Seattle in 2015 and he's still only 29. A.J. Ramos, Drew Storen, Zach McAllister and Brandon Maurer are other younger options who have flown under the radar recently but could be nice low-risk options.

As for the top of the market, it would be unlikely to see the Cubs outbid a bunch of other teams for the best available relievers given their financial woes, but they could definitely use another proven, reliable option in the back end of that 'pen.

what are the odds the Cubs sign Craig Kimbrel? - kimberly corono (@kimsrad)

Pretty slim, Kimberly. Epstein and the Cubs front office members don't like handing out huge contracts to relievers given the positions volatility and Kimbrel is asking for a 6-year contract and will surely get the most money of any bullpen arm this winter.

Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen or do they need to address the clear inconsistency? - dwest (@dwest9cubs)

They 100 percent do not have enough in the bullpen. The chances are higher that the Cubs would sign BOTH Bryce Harper and Manny Machado than do nothing and ignore the bullpen this winter, even if that means they won't sign the top guys on the market. The only area the Cubs feel is set right now is the rotation.

Simple question. Rumors? Where are all the rumors? - Jon Levanich (@JonLevanich)

Oh the rumors are coming, Jon. There's never a shortage of rumors in Hot Stove Season, even if major signings are few and far between. One reason it may seem slow on the rumor front from a Cubs perspective is that they started their offseason on Oct. 3, something we're not used to around here. The last few falls, the Cubs either played all the way past Halloween or were eliminated 7-10 days before. We've had three more weeks of an offseason than we're used to.

I’m the cubs future owner How many World Series you think we can snag together? I’m going for three in 6 years - Alessia Lowe (@LoweAllesia)

It depends on when you buy the team and how long you own it, Alessia. If you bought it this offseason and owned it for the next 6 years, I'd say the Cubs add one more World Series during that time while also making it to the Fall Classic and losing on another instance. But championship windows can close awfully fast. Just ask the San Francisco Giants (or even the Blackhawks if we're talking non-baseball).

Who needs to take the biggest step forward next year to help the team reclaim the division? - Trevor Hipsher (@thipsher85)

Great question, Trevor. There are so many potential answers here, but I'm going to say Kyle Schwarber. Willson Contreras would've been my call here, but he's already taken a step forward in 2017, then took a step back in 2018, so I don't quite feel like that counts. Carl Edwards Jr. also could've been an option given the importance of a bullpen and the Cubs' need in that regard.

But Schwarber is a huge wild-card in that he's entirely capable of putting up numbers that come close to Bryce Harper in the power and OBP departments, yet will cost $30 million less in 2019. With all the inconsistency the lineup has faced recently, a dynamic Schwarber striking fear into the opposing pitchers would change the complexion of the lineup.

That's cold, Jack.

Hi Tony. From the start, Rizzo’s been pegged as a leader. From what you see/hear, is he shouldering any extra weight (warranted or not) for the collective “breaking” of the team’s offense? I’d love to hear more about his development as a leader and the pressure it can cause. - W.F. Call (@HatCreek_Outfit)

I don't think Rizzo is taking any extra weight on because of the offensive lull, but that's mostly because he already shouldered a lot of weight for the lineup. In the 2016 NLCS, he was one of the main culprits to the offensive slump and took it hard for obvious reasons. But he rebounded — as did the rest of the Cubs lineup — and we all know how that finished.

Rizzo is the face of the franchise and he is certainly a leader and a major tone-setter in the lineup, but guys like Jason Heyward and Jon Lester are more of the leaders in the clubhouse and Javy Baez is among the most vocal leaders on the team.

Who would you guess will be leading off for the Cubs in 2018? - Wally O'Malley (@wallyomalley)

Good question, Wally, and the simple answer is that I just don't know right now. It's totally possibly the Cubs wind up signing or trading for a more prototypical leadoff hitter since the current roster doesn't boast a guy in that mold. But if they don't make that move, I bet Ben Zobrist sees a bunch of time there when he plays and I would also bet a Schwarber (vs. RHP) and Albert Almora Jr. (vs. LHP) platoon, too.

Cub need proven bats at the lead off spot and another power bat behind Rizzo. Will the cubs fix this here in this off season? I cant see the cubs win any world series without an upgrade. Philly g cubs win. - Philly G (@gocubsgopg)

They could use another power bat, sure, but the Cubs are also anticipating more power from guys like Schwarber and Ian Happ in 2019 — plus a return to form and health from Bryant. But they still intend to address the lineup this winter and we may even see a guy like Nick Markakis or Michael Brantley join the roster to help provide veteran at-bats.

Do the Cubs have any interest in FA veteran catcher Martin Maldonado as. BU to Contreras? He isn’t an offensive guy but is one of the best defensive catchers and a great pitch framer who could work wonders with Wilson Contreras. - Eric Alexander (@Ericlosingit)

The Cubs certainly need a veteran backup option and Maldonado could fit that bill, but he also has spent the last two years as essentially a starter (playing 257 games) and at only 32, may prefer to hold out for a more regular role rather than simply spelling Contreras once or twice a week. But if he wants another taste at the postseason after his first experience in 2018 with the Astros, maybe Maldonado would choose to spend next summer in Wrigleyville.

Two-parter: Should we be worried Cole Hamels will regress over a full season? Also: Can you tell Clarence I say hi, who’s a good boy, yes he is? - JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz)

Clarence is a real good boy and I will tell him you asked about him. As for Hamels — yes, it's a legit concern he may regress given he's about to be 35 and had shown a noticable dip in stuff and production before the final two months of the season in Chicago. That being said, he was still dialing it up to 95 mph with the Cubs, has put his oblique injury firmly in the rearview mirror and is a savvy veteran who simply knows how to get hitters out. There will be some regression, but a potential Hamels meltdown is not even in the Top 30 of biggest Cubs concerns heading into 2019.

should the cubs consider trading for starlin castro? #mailbag - timbo slice (@tfilarski) 

Yes, and no. 

Yes because the Cubs need another starting-caliber middle infielder, the guys in the clubhouse freaking love Starlin and he's not even 29 yet and coming off arguably his best season as a pro (3.3 WAR, second only to the 3.5 WAR he put up in 2012).

No because he's due more than $12 million this year, still doesn't walk a ton and is good enough that the Marlins would actually want something of value for him, which is a tough sell.

if you had to take a position player from the 2003-2005 Cubs teams in their current state and put them on the 25 man roster, who would it be? - Dan Gratie (@DanGratie)

Love this thought experiment, Mr. Gratie. Derrek Lee was my initial reaction (especially the 2005 version), but neither he nor Rizzo could play the outfield, so that idea's out. Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa had some good years in that stretch and Aramis Ramirez would be a nice fit in the middle of this Cubs lineup, pushing Bryant to the outfield.

But I'm gonna go with Kenny Lofton. A consistent, stable leadoff hitter would do wonders to let the rest of this Cubs lineup settle in and Lofton slashed .327/.381/.471 while playing good defense and notching a 1.8 WAR in only 56 games for the Cubs in 2003. That's a 5.5 WAR player over an entire season.

What is the best intramural sport to play and why? Please include all relevant factors (ie competition, beverage consumption, weather) - Peter John (@Cubs567)

Softball. It's the closest rec sport to baseball (obviously) and there's enough downtime where you can enjoy a beer at the field but not so much downtime where you get bored. It's mostly played on beautiful summer nights (there's no place better on Earth than Chicago in summertime and I'll fight anybody who says otherwise) and 16-inch softball evens out the playing field and competition quite a bit. Plus, anybody can play it. You don't have to have a long history of playing baseball/softball all throughout high school or anything like that.

Will any pitchers be signed this year exclusively just to get a haircut? - Victor C. (@VictorC4victory)

The Cubs should totally have John Lackey out for Joe Maddon's Respect Bald event in spring training this year. 

What position would Jon Snow occupy in the Cubs lineup? - Patrick Giblin (@patrickgiblin)

Easy — The Pitcher That Was Promised. Epstein's front office has yet to draft/develop a homegrown starting pitcher and as a result, they've had to shell out a boatload of money the last few winters to round out the rotation and bullpen. Jon Snow could totally change that as The Chosen One.

How many of the Lannister children survive? Any other fantasy tale and I've got Tyrion and Jaime making it through. GoT? I think Cersei is standing tall at the end. - Matt LaCasse (@MattLaCasse)

I think Tyrion is the only one left standing at the end because I'm still optimistic the humans will win and Tyrion will be one of the saviors riding a dragon. Either way, Jaime just seems destined to die in the GoT universe.

How do we get Pedro his own reality show where he sings the opening? - KChi18 (@KAFChi18)

That would be incredible. Pedro Strop has always been one of my favorite guys in the Cubs clubhouse and now he's finally getting the appreciation and recognition he deserves. Guarantee Cubs fans would watch this show.

if paul walker (god rest his soul) was still alive do you think the rock would have remained as big of a character in the movie series? - Blake Bortles (@5blakebortles5)

First off, sorry about your demotion in the Sunshine State, Blake. But at least it gives you more time to hang out with Jason Mendoza.

Secondly, probably. Paul Walker has only been out of the Fast and Furious universe for one film and The Rock was a pretty big part of Fast & Furious 6 and Furious 7 after his debut in Fast Five. It's hard to imagine this franchise without Dwayne Johnson.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

The Top 5 individual offensive performances in a Cubs uniform

The Top 5 individual offensive performances in a Cubs uniform

I remember where I was with crystal clear clarity on June 23, 1984 when one of the greatest offensive performances in Chicago Cubs history occurred in a nationally televised game between the Cubs and Cardinals.

I was at Wrigley Field as a beer vendor and I knew that on a gorgeous summer day with the Cardinals in town, a capacity crowd would be buying a lot of beer.

My love for sports made being a vendor the perfect summer job because I could watch baseball on both sides of town and I could make good money. However, there were days like that Saturday that I couldn’t concentrate on beer sales because the game was so compelling. And sports was way higher than beer sales on my priority list for the direction where I wanted my life to go.

As that game began, the Cubs were in third place in the National League’s East division, but they were a surprising 1.5 games behind the division-leading Mets after struggling throughout much of spring. That put the game on national TV into more spotlight than had been expected when the season began.

The Cubs trailed the Cardinals 7-1 in the bottom of the 5th and 9-3 in the bottom of the 6th before their offense kicked it into gear and got the Cubs back into the game. However, the Cubs headed into the bottom of the 9th trailing the Cards 9-8 and they were facing Hall of Fameer Bruce Sutter, one of the best closers in the history of the game.

Ryne Sandberg led off with a home run to tie the game, but that was just a prelude to what he would do in the 10th inning. The Redbirds scored twice off of Cubs all-star reliever Lee Smith in the top of the 10th to make the score 11-9 and with Sutter still in the game, it seemed certain the Cubs would lose a tough one.

However, if the Cubs could get a man on, Sandberg would bat again. Bob Dernier walked on a very close pitch to give the Cubs second baseman another chance.

Sandberg did the unthinkable, taking Sutter deep again and tying the game at 11, sending Wrigley into a frenzy. When the Cubs finally won the game on a Dave Owen base hit in the bottom of the 11th it was almost anticlimactic because all anyone wanted to talk about was “The Sandberg Game” after he went 5-for-6 with 7 RBI and the two dramatic homers off of Sutter.

So what was the greatest individual offensive performance by a Cub in my lifetime?

Here are my five best Cubs individual offensive performances ranked in order:

1)  Ryne Sandberg (June 23, 1984): 5-for-6 with 2 HRs and 7 RBI vs St. Louis Cardinals

See above

2)  Kris Bryant (June 27, 2016): 5-for-5 with 3 HRs and 2 2Bs vs Cincinnati Reds

Bryant went 5-for-5 with 6 RBI and became the first player in baseball's modern era (dating back to 1913) to hit three home runs and two doubles in the same game. 

He also set a Cubs franchise record with 16 total bases, as the Cubs beat the Reds 11-8 in Cincinnati. It was the first 3-HR game of Bryant's career. He was named the 2016 National League MVP at the conclusion of that season. He also helped lead the Cubs to a World Series title, the franchise's first in 108 years.

3)  Dave Kingman (May 14, 1978): 4-for-7 with 3 HRs and 8 RBI vs Los Angeles Dodgers

A performance that drove Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda to go on a profanity-laden tirade after he was asked to give his opinion on Kingman's performance in the Cubs' 15-inning victory at Dodger Stadium. King Kong smashed 3 home runs, including a game-tying blast in the 9th and a game-winner in the 15th.

4) Tuffy Rhodes (April 4, 1994): 4-for-4 with 3 HRs (all off of Dwight Gooden) vs. New York Mets

Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes became a Cubs legend when he belted 3 home runs on Opening Day, all off of New York Mets superstar pitcher Dwight "Doc" Gooden. Rhodes never became a household name in the majors, but he did become a home-run-hitting superstar during a 13 year career in Japan's professional ranks.

5. Sammy Sosa (August 10, 2002): 3-for-4 with 3 HRs and 9 RBI vs. Colorado Rockies

Slammin' Sammy crushed three 3 run home runs in just 5 innings in the Cubs' 15-1 mauling of the Colorado Rockies. He was pulled from the game with the Cubs well in control, denying him a shot at a four home run game.

Honorable Mention

Kyle Schwarber (July 21, 2015 vs Cincinnati Reds): 4-for-7, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI — game-tying HR in 9th and game-winning HR in 13th

Andre Dawson (August 1, 1987 vs Philadelphia Phillies): 3-for-4, 3 HRs, 5 RBI 

Willson Contreras (May 11, 2018 vs Chicago White Sox): 4-for-5, 2 2Bs, 2 HRs, 7 RBI 

Starlin Castro (May 7, 2010 vs Cincinnati Reds): 2-for-5, 3B, HR, 6 RBI

George Mitterwald (April 17, 1974 vs Pittsburgh Pirates): 4-for-4 2B, 3 HRs, BB, 8 RBI