Chicago Cubs 2019 Season Preview

Charlotte Cronister It is finally April, and the 2019 MLB season has arrived. Right now, baseball fans across the country begin to ponder the success of their hometown teams. No matter if their team is rebuilding or fighting for a World Series Championship, everyone is excited to see what 2019 has in store. For north side Chicagoans, they are expecting success from the Chicago Cubs. The past few years have been great for Cubs fans, but the 2018 season did not live up to the hype. The team won 95 games, yet they finished 2nd in the NL Central to the Milwaukee Brewers (after losing their final game of the season, allowing the Brewers to clinch the division title). They did make it to the playoffs, where they played the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card game, losing 2-1. Many fans anticipated a stronger run in the postseason, especially with the star players in the lineup and their previous success. For Chicago Cubs fans who are expecting adjustments in 2019, here are the keys to the Cubs’ success this upcoming season. Javier Báez: Báez had a breakout year for the Cubs in 2018. In his 3rd season as a starter, Báez hit .290 compared to .273 the two years before. Not only did his batting average improve by a good margin, he also had the highest average on the starting lineup. He had the most runs batted in (111) out of all the position players, which is a testament to his improved hitting. He also swiped 22 bases, even stealing home twice. Not only were his statistics impressive, but Báez finished second in NL MVP voting, 165 votes behind Christian Yelich of the Brewers. His offensive play contributed to this achievement, but a lot of it had to do with his spectacular defense. Although he had 14 throwing errors between playing second and third base, he still had a .975 fielding percentage. With how aggressive he plays, Báez is bound to make some errors. What makes up for this is unbelievable plays like this. An improvement that Báez will need to make this season to be at the top of his game is to lower his swing rate. With all the offensive success he had last season, he had the most strikeouts on the starting lineup (167) and had a 57.8% swing rate and a 45.5% swing rate outside the strike zone (also known as chase rate). So far in 2019, his swing rate is 51.1% and his chase rate is 43.6%, an improvement already from last year. If Báez becomes more patient in his approach to hitting, he should be as, or even more, successful this 2019 season than he was last year. Pitchers: The Cubs’ pitching overall in their 2018 campaign was solid. The starting rotation (Lester, Hammels, Quintana, Chatwood, and Hendricks) had a combined 3.65 ERA, the third best in the entire MLB. Jon Lester and Cole Hamels had good years, with Lester having a 3.32 ERA in 33 starts and Hamels having a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts. Hendricks also had a fairly strong season, finishing with a 3.44 ERA in 33 games. For the Cubs to have even more success this season, there should be better productivity from more than three starting pitchers. Although José Quintana didn’t have a bad year, many expected more out of him. In 32 games, he had a 4.03 ERA, and he allowed 78 earned runs. Coming from the Chicago White Sox halfway through the season last year, many thought he would be a great addition to the starting rotation. He has struggled so far in 2019, allowing 13 hits and 8 earned runs in his first start, so he needs to improve his game to strengthen the Cubs’ rotation. Tyler Chatwood must improve this season in order for the Cubs’ pitching to have any success. He was a huge disappointment last season, where he struggled tremendously. Chatwood posted a 5.30 ERA in 20 games, which is way too high considering how many games he started. He also walked 95 batters in these starts, an average of 3.95 per game (0.38 more walks per game than all the 30 MLB teams combined last year). The Cubs’ relievers are also an important factor to the team’s success this season. If Cishek (2.18 ERA in 80 games), Strop (2.26 ERA in 60 games), and Edwards (2.60 ERA in 58 games, now in AAA Iowa)) stay consistent in their respective positions, the Cubs should have success in this area and limit the amount of runs scored later in the games. Notable Injuries: The most notable injuries that plagued the Cubs in 2018 were to Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and Brandon Morrow. Bryant suffered a shoulder injury which caused him to miss 50 games, Darvish suffered a tricep strain and a stress reaction on his pitching elbow and he only played eight games, and Morrow suffered a bone bruise in his right arm and had arthroscopic surgery and he only played 35 games. Unlike Bryant and Darvish, Morrow will not be back for the start of the 2019 season and isn’t expected to pitch until May, which is a blow to the Cubs’ late-game relief pitching. Bryant and Darvish have looked healthy and solid in spring training so far, with Bryant hitting .364 and Darvish with a 2.70 ERA in 2 games. It is a good sign for the Cubs that Bryant and Darvish are getting stronger. Unfortunately without Morrow back for the start of the season, the team will have to use Pedro Strop as the closer (or maybe another late-game reliever). Once everyone in the starting lineup and rotation is back and healthy, the Cubs will only be stronger this season. Notable Acquisitions: This offseason, the Cubs didn’t make any major moves in the free agent market, which is most likely due to the current strength of the roster. The only major acquisitions for the Cubs this offseason was Xavier Cedeno, an LHP from the Milwaukee Brewers. Cedeno started last season with the Chicago White Sox, finishing his 33 games with a 2.84 ERA and 28 strikeouts. He moved to the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle of the season, where we played 15 games and posted a 1.13 ERA. Although he is not a huge free agent like Bryce Harper (who fans would have loved to have in Chicago), Cedeno is a solid pitcher who has the chance to make an impact on the field. Addison Russell A big question for the Cubs this season will be if they will bring back Addison Russell, who is currently suspended for 40 games for violating MLB’s Joint Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. Russell hit .250 in 130 games last season, recording only 5 home runs and an on base percentage of .317. He also made 17 throwing errors in 129 games as a shortstop, and a 96.5 fielding percentage. Not tendering Russell a contract would be the ethical choice, and it will also free up the shortstop position and allow Javy Baez to play that position or give more time to Ben Zobrist. Anyone that can provide better offense and defense and isn’t currently suspended would be the best choice. Predictions: Baseball Prospectus (sabermetric analysis of baseball) predicts that for the 2019 season, the Chicago Cubs will finish 79-83, and they will be the worst team in the NL Central. This is not something Cubs’ fans want to hear because they are definitely sick of the team being at the bottom of the league. They haven’t lost anyone extremely valuable like Rizzo or Bryant this offseason, and along with the team’s success over the past few years, it’s interesting to see that Prospectus thought the Cubs would be this bad this season. The Cubs have started out pretty bad this season (5-9), second to last in the NL Central), but there is still many games left to play. Taking into consideration the strength of other NL Central teams this season, the Cubs are shaped to place second in their division with a record of 88-74, finishing behind the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers are have momentum and confidence stemming from their postseason success, as they made it to a game 7 in the NL Championship, and they still have NL MVP Christian Yelich (who finished with a .326 batting average and .402 on base percentage). The other biggest challenger for the Cubs is the St. Louis Cardinals. For the Cardinals, this offseason they acquired star players in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (.290 batting average and 33 home runs) from the Diamondbacks and LHP Andrew Miller from the Cleveland Indians. Miller didn’t have his best season in 2018, but in 2017 he posted a 1.44 ERA in 57 games. Right now, all Cubs fans can do is wait for opening day on March 28th at the Texas Rangers and hope that their team has taken the necessary steps to have a successful 2019 season.]]>