What happened in 2019?
Another frustrating year on the Northside of Chicago with the Cubs finishing third in the division. This is the same division as the Reds and Pirates, so third-place was a low bar to clear.
They had a positive 97 run differential, but when Theo Epstein is looking for areas to address to improve upon 84 wins, he need look no further than the mere 33 victories on the road. It’s not quite the worst in MLB, but let’s put it this way, it’s fewer than the Reds or Pirates.
Anthony Rizzo posted his first-ever .400 OBP season while swatting 27 homers and also getting 27 hit-by-pitches.
Kyle Schwarber led the team with 38 home runs, but it was a tale of two halves for the 26-year-old. He endured two sub-.200 AVG months in May and July, but was a stud over his final 50 games, hitting .305 with 1.043 OPS.
As far as trade deadline acquisitions go, the Cubs could not have asked for more from Nicholas (now Nick again) Castellanos, who enjoyed the best stretch of his career. He hit 16 home runs with 21 doubles and a 1.002 OPS in just 51 games. He will now face the Cubs 19 times in Cincinnati Reds colours.
Former MVP, Kris Bryant, shook off the injury from 2018 and hit 31 homers with .903 OPS to look much more like the superstar we all know and love. In a decision better for the club than the player, Bryant lost his grievance about being deliberately held back in the minors. His service time fell short by just one day, giving the Cubs an extra year of control. The 28-year-old will not hit free agency until the end of 2021.
Last year signified the end of the Joe Maddon era. He takes his “try not to suck” mantra which helped secure the Cubs their first World Series in 108 years, to Anaheim.
When I started writing this article there was a Hoerner-shaped hole at second base. The recent signing of long-time Indian, Jason Kipnis, has filled that void, at least for the start of the season.
With fewer than 300 plate appearances in the minors above Single-A, the temporary blockage to playing time in the majors may be a blessing in disguise for the 22-year-old.
When he does return back to “The Show” (he hit .282 with three home runs in his 20-game debut stretch last season), expect to see a dynamic, high contact/high on-base player who draws Ian Kinsler comparisons.
Five reasons for optimism in 2020
(1) Cubs are coming to London. On Saturday 13 June, Chicago faces the St Louis Cardinals in the first-ever NL game played in Europe. It is awesome for neutral baseball fans in the UK, so it must be a dream come true for Cubs fans this side of the Atlantic.
(2) Ross the Boss is in charge. Former Dancing with the Stars celebrity and breaker of Cleveland Indians’ hearts, David Ross will make his managerial debut this season. He brings charisma, determination and a “been there, done that” attitude to the Northside. Personally, I think he would be a superb guest for John to interview on the Bat Flips and Nerds podcast.
(3) Every Cubs game is an opportunity to see the magical Javier Baez in action. Not only does he produce can’t-believe-your-eyes defensive plays, but a full season from the Puerto Rican could result in 35 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBI. And I can’t remember when a shortstop last achieved that.
(4) Despite the lack of high-profile additions during the offseason, the Cubs team is still stacked with superstars: Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber. They are a fantasy baseball lineup.
(5) The NL Central looks like the tightest division this year. There is nothing to choose between the Cardinals, Brewers and rebuilt Reds. It may come down to who beats up the most on the Pirates. PECOTA projects 84-wins, good enough for a second-place finish in the division and a wild card spot, but as every Cubs fan knows, the team exceeded their PECOTA projections in every season of the Joe Maddon era.
Gavin is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @_tramps