The Chicago Cubs have gotten off to a 4-2 start this season after two Central Division series’ on the road. The last two games of the series in Milwaukee have heated up a few of the Cubs struggling hitters including, Bryant, Russell and Zobrist. Heading back to Wrigley for the first time after their World Series win, I expect nothing less than an absolute madhouse in Wrigleyville on a Monday night.
Although they sit atop the National League Central, they did it quietly. Dropping the first game of the season in St. Louis was not exactly how they wanted to start the season, but they rebounded with two quality wins including a comeback 6-4 victory in game three to clinch the 3-game series. The Cardinals series was stretched out over five days that sent the Cubs straight into Milwaukee where they started off just as slow. A 2-1 walk-off win for the Brewers was an 11-inning heartbreak for Chicago, but apparently just what they needed to focus up and turn the bats around. With 17 hits in game two, the Cubs were back on track and dominated their way to back-to-back wins again.
This Cubs team has extremely high expectations for the current season as the defending World Series Champions. I have been a Cubs fan my entire life, and yet I have tried to look at this as a baseball fan instead. So, with the small sample size that we have seen this year, what can we expect with 156 games left?
My first thoughts while watching the Cubs this year has been Joe Maddon’s lineup. Schwarber batting leadoff, pitcher batting 8th, the three man rotation in center field, and unnatural cleanup hitters in Zobrist and Russell. I wish I could tell you that I knew all of his reasonings behind all of this, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if it works. It has proven to be productive as shown by the 17-hit, 11-run outing Saturday night. Timely hitting in St. Louis led to a few close victories, but was that because of how the lineup was setup? It is my belief that there is absolutely no lineup that Joe Maddon could conjure up that wouldn’t produce. There is so much talent on this roster that all it takes is a few hot bats anywhere in the lineup to produce runs. So yes, I do think that it takes a different mindset for a slugger to bat leadoff, a young shortstop to bat cleanup, or an aggressive young catcher to bat in front of the pitcher, but talent will take over eventually.
Schwarber has started off hot again with two homeruns and proving to be a tough out at the plate, averaging over 5 pitches per at-bat. I look for him to not only have amazing power numbers like expected, but the surprise with him will be his low strikeout rate and high on-base percentage. Kris Bryant finally found his stride in Milwaukee on Saturday night, with 3 hits that led to 3 RBI’s. He will be stuck in that second spot for awhile I would imagine, but I can totally see him falling into a more natural power spot like three or four when the homeruns start to file in. Rizzo will be Rizzo, and he will be just as consistent as the last two seasons. If Bryant moves in the lineup, Rizzo will follow. Zobrist is the guy that has surprised me the most. Two homeruns and as usual his low strikeout rate will keep him in the lineup as much as possible, but don’t expect him to be the World Series MVP all season. The reason he will be out of the lineup more than he would like is a young man by the name of Javier Baez. Baez is the best defensive infielder in the game of baseball and you cannot deny the fact that he plays with an unmatched passion. His breakout in the World Baseball Classic will no doubt lead to as much playing time as possible. Willson Contreras will get most of the starts behind the plate as Montero has publicly accepted the backup role. I really expect to see some troubles from Contreras behind the plate and with the bat. He has a lot of room to grow, but right now the strikeouts and lack of patience will lead to multiple slumps. As he has already shown, he does have raw power and surprisingly good wheels for a catcher, so I look for those to show up more consistently in the future. Russell had a huge spring and has some great at-bats in the middle of the lineup. Following a massive season from the young shortstop, I don’t expect him to top that, but he will have plenty of opportunities for RBI’s hitting behind the big three at the top of that lineup. Jason Heyward will be in the same situation in the middle of that lineup as I guarantee you that he will hit better than last years .230 average and more than his 7 long balls. Last year was rough for Heyward but leave that behind because he is a new man at the plate. Almora Jr. showed some tremendous power in Spring training and had 3 hits in his start Saturday against the Brewers. I don’t expect him to be consistently above average at the plate, but with him and Heyward both in the outfield, good luck hitting the ball anywhere in that gap.
As far as the pitching staff, they are not the same as the dominant five we had last year. I realize that they have had only one start but I’m not saying that they will be awful. My prediction for this five is that they will get stronger as the season goes on, but Arrieta will not win 20 games, Lester and Hendricks will not be in the Cy Young race, and John Lackey will not have his best season ever at the age of 38. I love all of these guys, but the high powered offense will need to step up even more this year.
All in all I see much of the same from this team. The offense will win a lot of games this season for a pitching staff that had a bumpy start the first time around. Maybe not 100 wins, but the rest of the NL Central will struggle to keep up and the Cubs will still find themselves on top of the playoff race. This team is dangerous, talented, determined and just downright fun to watch. The bottom line with the 2017 Chicago Cubs, they will be tough to beat come October.