Chicago Cubs 2019: Scouting, Projected Lineup, Season Prediction

How will things shape up in the NL Central?

Though still loaded with team-controlled talent and star-caliber names, the Cubs enter 2019 looking to rinse out the sour taste of a brutal end to their 2018 campaign. Though Javier Baez has emerged as a terrific, dynamic complement to the steady slugging of Anthony Rizzo, and though the anchors of the starting rotation are as sturdy and established as any in the National League, huge questions hang over the team. They’re still banking on development and improved offensive consistency from catcher Willson Contreras, outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. and utility man Ian Happ, and their success will hinge in some meaningful part on the health and effectiveness of Kris Bryant, who was hampered by a shoulder injury in 2018. No longer a budding dynasty, the Cubs are now an expensive team trying to reclaim its place atop the NL Central.

 

Opposing Scouts Size Up the Cubs

Chicago Cubs logo“All of a sudden, there’s some age on this team, and serious pressure on Joe Maddon in his lame-duck season as manager. He’ll handle it just fine, like he does with everything else, but that storyline will hover over this season. They shouldn’t have too many long losing streaks, because Jon Lester is virtually infallible, the ultimate competitor who still has enough stuff but has learned how to pitch without it if it’s not there. Same thing with Cole Hamels, whose velocity and aggressiveness jumped when he came to Chicago. Kyle Hendricks was solid, but they’d love him to get back to his ace status from 2016, because Yu Darvish is just not that guy. He’s the ultimate tease. They need Kris Bryant healthy; he’s the rock in that order, and when he’s down, he throws everything off. Javier Baez stepped up with a career year, and Ben Zobrist rebounded with a strong year. They signed Daniel Descalso, who is Zobrist Lite — a brilliant move that gives Maddon so much flexibility with his lineup.”


Beyond the Box Score

A More Modern Model The departures of Jim Hickey and Chili Davis from the hitting and pitching coach positions leave the door open for Chicago to take a long stride forward on an analytical front. The league is applying newly available information in creative and transformational ways, evolving faster than ever. Replacing two old-school minds with new-age gurus of hitting and pitching gives the Cubs the modern edge they’ve lacked the last two seasons.


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TV Money Tidal Wave Beginning in 2020, Cubs baseball will be broadcast on a team-owned network distributed with an exclusive partner, a lucrative step forward for a team that waited a long time to catch up to MLB’s trend of skyrocketing local TV revenues. That should give them ample payroll flexibility even during the season, if the right trade possibility opens up.


Too Many Hitters The 2018 Cubs were the second team ever (and first NL club) to send 10 different players to the plate at least 450 times. That depth was a strength at times, but often, it felt like they were struggling to keep everyone sharp and to pick the right matchups. In 2019, their roster suggests a more set lineup.


Chatwood, Deadweight After a disastrous first season of a three-year, $38-million deal, Tyler Chatwood is left without much place on the Cubs’ projected roster. He has intriguing stuff, but he will have to prove that his control has improved by a dramatic amount in order to so much as earn a second chance. His contract is an albatross.


Closer by Committee? With Brandon Morrow likely unavailable to open the season after a November elbow cleanup, the back end of the bullpen is an unfinished puzzle for the North Siders. Pedro Strop filled in capably as the closer near the end of 2018 and should be able to do so again if needed.


A New Leadership Dynamic The Cubs remain Jon Lester’s and Anthony Rizzo’s team, but by retaining Cole Hamels and signing Daniel Descalso, the front office sent a message that it wants to see more intensity in the clubhouse. They’ll hope to see a sense of greater urgency in 2019.


Finding a Home Ian Happ is a potentially invaluable, versatile weapon, but the Cubs need him to get regular reps in order for him to fix the holes in his swing. And in order for that to happen, he needs to shore up his defense enough to make himself playable at some position on a regular basis.


Projected Lineup

 

LINEUP

CF  Jason Heyward (L) 
3B  Kris Bryant (R) 
1B  Anthony Rizzo (L)
SS  Javier Baez (R) 
LF  Kyle Schwarber (L)
C   Willson Contreras (R) 
2B  Daniel Descalso (L)
RF  Albert Almora Jr. (R)

 

BENCH

C    Victor Caratini (S)
UT  Ian Happ (S)
UT  Ben Zobrist (S)
INF David Bote (R)

 

ROTATION

LHP  Jon Lester
RHP  Kyle Hendricks
RHP  Yu Darvish
LHP  Jose Quintana
LHP Cole Hamels

 

BULLPEN

RHP  Brandon Morrow (C)
RHP  Pedro Strop
RHP  Carl Edwards Jr.
RHP  Steve Cishek
LHP  Mike Montgomery
RHP  Brandon Kintzler
LHP  Randy Rosario
LHP  Brian Duensing

 

2019 PREDICTION

2nd NL Central 

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