2024 Season Preview: Chicago Cubs

Despite an up and down 2023, the Chicago Cubs missed out on the postseason by a single game. They’ve made some solid additions this offseason and yet PECOTA predicts they’ll take a step back in 2024. Can they overcome the odds and end their playoff drought?

What happened in 2023?

83-79 record (2nd in NL Central)

It’s 30 August 2023 and I’m standing in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. Cody Bellinger has just sent an eighth-inning comebacker off the leg of Joel Payamps, allowing Mike Tauchman to score the go-ahead run in what would turn out to be a crucial 3-2 victory over the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. As Bellinger sprints down the first base line, throwing his arms wide to signal that he’s safe, those of us packed into the Friendly Confines go wild, convinced that we’re watching a playoff team. But a 12-16 September eventually puts paid to that, leaving the Cubs a game shy of the final wild card spot, ensuring they miss out on the postseason for a third straight year.

Notable comings and goings

Ins: Craig Counsell, Shota Imanaga, Michael Busch, Yency Almonte, Hector Neris, David Peralta, Cody Bellinger, Garrett Cooper.

Outs: Shane Greene, Michael Fulmer, Tyler Duffey, Jeimer Candelario, Marcus Stroman, Brad Boxberger.

The Cubs succeeded in addressing most of their major needs this offseason, re-signing Belllinger to a team and player-friendly deal, replacing Stroman with Imanaga, strengthening the bullpen with Neris and nabbing Busch from the Dodgers. The biggest offseason move happened in the dugout though, as Counsell is a significant upgrade on David Ross and could, alone, be the difference between making and missing out on the playoffs.

Areas of weakness

Looking at the lineup, the obvious answer is third base. Although the Cubs were linked to Matt Chapman at one point this winter, they didn’t sign him, instead announcing that Christopher Morel will begin the season as the team’s third baseman. With Busch expected to play predominantly at first and Patrick Wisdom and Nick Madrigal likely to start on the IL, Morel has a chance to prove himself as an everyday player. If he can iron out some of the errors, that could be huge for the Cubs, who need his bat in the lineup as often as possible.

The rotation may also be something of a concern for the Cubs, with Imanaga unproven as an MLB starter, Kyle Hendricks another year older and Jameson Taillon starting the year on the IL. Homegrown arms Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad will join homegrown ace Justin Steele to round out the five, while Drew Smyly will start the year in the bullpen. The good news is that unlike Cubs teams of old, this one is stacked with pitching depth and the likes of Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown and Cade Horton could also make their mark on the rotation at some point too.

One to watch

There are quite a few Cubs players worth keeping an eye on this year. Can Imanaga adjust? Will Morel be able to handle the hot corner? Can Cody Bellinger build on his bounce back 2023 campaign? Will Michael Busch become the team’s every day first baseman?

Seiya Suzuki should be on track for a huge year though, after ending last season with a September that saw him bat .370 with 40 hits, 7 home runs, 26 RBI and 19 runs scored in 28 games. 2024 will be his third year with the Cubs, not to mention his third year in Major League Baseball. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to lead the team in home runs and he could very well be an All-Star too.

2024 prediction

The Cubs have a realistic chance of winning the division in 2024. As always, the Cardinals and Brewers will have a say in that, while the young, exciting Cincinnati Reds have an outside chance of upsetting the lot.

It’s important to remember that despite an up and down year the Cubs won 83 games in 2023, finishing just one win short of the postseason. They did that despite looking down and out several times, including in the immediate aftermath of the London Series. They also carried Eric Hosmer, Tucker Barnhart and Trey Mancini on the roster for a good portion of the year, suffered from some questionable decision-making from David Ross and had a threadbare bullpen that was running on fumes come September.

This year’s roster is essentially the same, barring the additions and subtractions mentioned above, meaning the Cubs will need to “eke everything out of this group,” as Jed Hoyer told The Athletic earlier this week. If they get more of the same from the likes of Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Nico Hoerner and Justin Steele and youngsters like Christopher Morel, Michael Busch and Jordan Wicks can step up under the stewardship of Counsell, they have a real chance of building on last year’s win total and maybe even ending a playoff drought that stretches back to 2021.

Featured image: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Sean Guest is the Chicago Cubs correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @SW_Guest

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