A disappointing finish to 2018 has Cubs fans anticipating the 2019 season on the north side of Chicago. It has been a quiet off season for the Cubs, but a healthy Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish returning with the hopeful emergence of a few younger players has Cubs fans cautiously excited for this season.
Daniel Descalso with a few members in the bullpen headline this off seasons free agent additions which seems minimal considering some of the past few off seasons have seen $100 million+ contracts given to notable free agents but Theo Epstein and company seem confident in what they have.
Despite the fact that the Cubs won 95 games last season a lot of fans in Chicago saw the season as a disappointment, and for good reason. The Cubs held the NL Central division lead for most of the year before letting it slip away the last week of the season before losing to the Brewers in a tie breaker followed by a loss at home to the Rockies in the wild card round. Injuries as well as fatigue played a big role in the collapse last year which is something that Chicago will need to avoid if they want to try to repeat their run they had in 2016.
Daniel Descalso - 3B
Descalso will add some good veteran leadership off the bench to replace Tommy LaStella. Descalso is naturally a third baseman but can play other positions as well and will likely serve in a similar role as LaStella a year ago. Expect to see Descalso at second early in the season as Javy Baez gets a majority of the starts at SS with Russell out.
Kendall Graveman - RP
Graveman has been a starter for most of his career but coming off of Tommy John surgery will have him out of the pen whenever he makes his return from the rehab.
Xavier Cedeno - RP
Cedeno, an 8 year MLB veteran has spent most of his career in the AL until coming to Milwaukee midway through last season. Cedeno has a career ERA in the mid 3's and averages nearly a strike out an inning and should be a key part in the cubs pen this year being another strong lefty arm
Tommy LaStella - INF
LaStella was one of the best pinch hitters in the game over the past few years and a versatile defender will have the cubs looking to fill his shoes in late game situations that Maddon loved to have him hit in.
Jesse Chavez - RP
Chavez spent just a few months with the Cubs but was arguably one of their best relievers in the second half. It was interesting that the Cubs didn't bring him back after he clearly expressed that he wanted to play in Chicago again.
Justin Wilson - RP
Justin Wilsons tenure with the Cubs was up and down, at times he was shut down but also struggled at moments. In my opinion it was time for the two sides to part ways.
What I'm watching for
-Someone to take control of 2nd base early in the season: Javy Baez will be the starting shortstop for the first few months and possibly even the whole season depending on how Addison Russell bounces back. Expect to see Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, David Bote and even Daniel Descalso to get starts at 2nd base early on. I think Ideally you want to see either Bote or Happ establish themselves as the every day starter so that Zobrist can play in the outfield where he is more effective defensively.
- Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to dominate the 2/3 spot in the lineup- Kris Bryant battled injuries for most of 2018 and Rizzo suffered because of it in the lineup. This offense is best when those two guys are powering the middle. Not that Javy Baez couldn't do it but I think Javy is best used either in the leadoff spot or in the 4/5 spot.
- Yu Darvish starts 25+ games: Ideally you would like to see Darvish make it through the whole season without injury but as long as he can stay away from the big one and pitch near his potential the Cubs will be very good. He has the ability to be the ace but he really just needs to be a solid middle of the rotation arm to carry this team.
- Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester to be consistent: At their best these two pitchers are two of the best in the game but last season they each had stretches of inconsistancy. The Cubs won't have a Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer quality Ace at the top of the rotation but if Lester and Hendricks can be solid they could have the best top 2 starters in the NL which will take pressure off of the other guys in the lineup.
- Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop to dominate in the pen: Pedro Strop had the opportunity to fill in at closer last season and impressed. With Morrow out likely for an extended period again it will be on him as well as others like Carl Edwards Jr to carry the back of the bullpen. Edwards is a guy who has been getting better and better each year and I think this is the year you could see him break out with the consistency to be one of the best relievers in the game.
I think ultimately the Cubs have a bounce back year offensively with guys like Bryant and Rizzo getting back to their usual form. I don't know if Javy Baez has quite the year he had in 2018 but I think he still puts up all-star type numbers. The NL Central is the toughest it has been since 2015 when 3 teams made the playoffs and with the Cardinals and Brewers also as serious contenders with a much improved Cincinnati team it will be a tough division to win.