The Chicago Cubs are the class of the division. They caught the Milwaukee Brewers last year, and they almost went to the World Series. They also added to an already awesome roster. But, they aren’t invincible. There are a few weaknesses that could prevent them from returning to the post season.
The Chicago Cubs sleepwalked through the first half of the 2017 season, and still won the division. They chased down the Milwaukee Brewers, stormed through the NLDS, and…then ran into the Los Angeles Dodgers. They added Yu Darvish and retooled their bullpen, but should they be penciled in for another NL Central crown in 2018? Not necessarily.
Who’s in the bullpen again?
The Chicago Cubs bullpen wasn’t great last year, and they chose not to bring back closer Wade Davis. They also passed on free agent closer Greg Holland and chose to target Brandon Morrow. Isn’t he that guy that’s known for never staying healthy? He put together a fantastic 2017 campaign, but the best predictor of future injury is past injury. If Morrow finds the disabled list, the Cubs may not like the next guys in line.
Steve Cishek has closing experience, but he’s also lost a closing job before, and he struggles against lefties. Carl Edwards has the electric stuff that a high-leverage relievers need, but the walks. He posted a 5.16 BB/9 last year. Justin Wilson also exists, but he posted a 5.09 ERA in a Cubs uniform last year. He can’t continue to be that bad… can he?
What about skinny Kyle Schwarber?
Kyle Schwarber burst onto the scene in 2015 with a stocky, Ruthian build, and close-to-Ruthian results. He’s shed a lot of weight during the off season. While it’s sure to help his defense, what about the power? Will the body transformation have an impact on his offensive production? No one knows!
What about the rest of the outfield?
Jason Heyward was actually worse in 2017 than he was in 2016. He has a 2.4 WAR in a Cubs uniform. Albert Almora is solid against left-handers, but he doesn’t look like a full-time option in center field.
Ian Happ posted a strikeout percentage over 30% and a HR:FB ratio over 25%. He looks a lot like a regression candidate for 2018.
But the infield is awesome?
What about the starting rotation?
This is where the Cubs could run into trouble.
Darvish is only a year removed from a Tommy John surgery and he just signed a massive deal. If he misses time, the Cubs will have to depend on Mike Montgomery or Eddie Butler again. They can’t depend on either of those guys in the rotation.
Jon Lester just turned 34, and has a lot of miles on his shoulder. He posted a 4.33 ERA and a 2.4 WAR in 2017. He’s a solid bet for another 2.0-win season in 2018. Kyle Hendricks velocity is trending in the wrong direction and every advanced metric indicates that his 3.03 ERA in 2017 was a mirage.
Tyler Chatwood was a 1.1 WAR pitcher with a 4.69 BB/9 in 2017. A lot of the damage inflicted on Chatwood came at Coors Field, but there’s a non-zero chance that he’s just not very good. He’s fine as a fifth starter, but one or two injuries, and he’s a lot less exciting.
The Milwaukee Brewers will have to either chase the Cubs or try to stay ahead of them. Either way, the the Cubs and Brewers will have to deal with each other all season. The Cubs appear poised to rack up their fourth straight 90-win season, but the Milwaukee Brewers have improved a team that won 86 games in 2017. The 2018 NL Central title could end up a lot closer than most would think.