By Mohammad Samra
The 2019 Chicago Cubs are a unique baseball team that is poised to make a serious run at their second championship in four years despite inactivity during the offseason. They are favored by ESPN to win the National League Central, arguably the most competitive division in Major League Baseball, while Bleacher Report predicts that the Cubs will not make the playoffs, which would end their consecutive playoff appearance streak at four.
A lack of free agency activity due to budget restrictions by the Cubs this past offseason have both fans and analysts concerned and reasonably so. Last year they had gaping holes in an inconsistent bullpen paired with a hot and cold offense that put up eight runs against the Milwaukee Brewers and sixteen against the Colorado Rockies in April. That same offense mustered a single run against the Brewers in “Game 163” and against the Rockies in the winner-take-all National League Wild Card Game.
The 2018 Chicago Cubs were plagued by lengthy injuries to starting pitcher Yu Darvish, star-third-baseman Kris Bryant and closer Brandon Morrow as well as shorter stints on the sidelines by slugging first-baseman Anthony Rizzo and reliever Pedro Strop. That Cubs team won 95 games despite having three straight short off-seasons, and while many teams like the Phillies and the Padres look poised to compete with their new superstars, it will be the Cubs playing baseball deep into October.
This 2019 team faces an element it hasn’t seen since 2016; an immense amount of pressure. The Cubs are entering the back half of their championship window and the pressure is on to win at least another championship by 2022 before most of their homegrown talent become free agents. Joe Maddon also could be coaching for his job after shorter and shorter playoff stints following their triumphant come-from-behind 2016 World Series victory.
Granted the Cubs made very few moves to attend to needs such as a leadoff hitter or a lockdown setup reliever, they still have the tools and resources to make it back to the World Series. The emergence of Javier Baez this past season gives the Cubs another MVP-caliber player to carry the offense along with Bryant and Rizzo, assuming his production matches or exceeds last season. Albert Almora Jr., David Bote, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber are all dark horses for having breakout seasons offensively.
They also have an underrated rotation which includes Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Yu Darvish. While the bullpen might be the biggest flaw (it almost always is), the Cubs can resort to trading for a dynamic relief pitcher such as Joakim Soria or Brad Hand.
They also had a longer offseason than they have had in recent years, which should help the team stay relatively healthy for a majority of the 2019 season. While teams such as the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros have moved into elite territory, the Cubs carry World Series-winning experience on a team much similar to that of 2016, and as history has shown, experience goes a long way.
The Cubs didn’t need to do much in the offseason. They have the tools to be successful as long as they avoid injuries and play well down the stretch. They can’t blindly rely on “the switch”, they need to play at a high level throughout the season and regain the edge that made them so dangerous in 2016. This season is both filled with optimism and plagued with pessimism, but one thing’s for sure: if they don’t win this year there’s always next year, and if they don’t win next year there will always be 2016 to reflect upon.