Could there possibly be a team with more eyes on them this Spring than the Chicago Cubs? After ending the 108-year drought with their World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians a season ago, the Cubs are the favorites to win it all once again in 2017.
To say expectations are high would be an understatement. The club is loaded with plenty of young talent to go with a pair of veteran aces. With Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant once again leading the charge on offense and Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks forming one of the best trios in the league on the pitching side, it appears as if no one can stop them.
Then you factor in the full season return of Kyle Schwarber. Oh, and the addition of Wade Davis on the backend of the bullpen. But the team did lose Dexter Fowler, so if you need something negative to point out.
With all of that going on, let’s look at three storylines worth watching during Spring Training for MLB’s top team.
Can they live up to all of the hype?
So when you win the World Series, there is a target placed on your back. When you win a World Series after a 108-year drought, an even bigger target is placed on your back. Finally, when you have as much talent as the Cubs have in addition to the items mentioned above, everyone and their grandma will be gunning for you.
Overall, this is a fairly young team. Mainly on the offensive side of the ball. Anthony Rizzo, who is the team’s offensive, is still 27. The team’s star, Kris Bryant is all of 25. Beyond these two, there are only two guys over the age of 30 who could find themselves in the starting lineup on the majority of days. So with a young core, will all of the hype go to their heads?
Something tells me with Joe Maddon at the helm that won’t happen. But nonetheless, whenever a team enters a season with such high expectations, something always seems to go wrong. Spring Training will offer us our first glimpse into any potential cracks in their blue armor.
How big of an impact with the Dexter Fowler loss have?
The Cubs will be without the man who started the engine last season. Center fielder Dexter Fowler has moved on to join division rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. A season ago he served as the team’s leadoff man, batting .276, hitting 13 homers, getting on base at a .393 rate and stealing 13 bags. But now that he has traded in his blue for red, the Cubs will have two holes to fill.
For starters, center field was vacated. As a result, the team went out and signed Jon Jay. Now Jay is much better with the glove than the bat. Good thing for the Cubs that they have enough depth that he is not going to be starting every day. He is better suited to be a defensive replacement who gets the occasional start. Expect to see some of Albert Almora and Jason Heyward in center as well.
The other spot is that of the lead-off spot. And that answer appears to have an answer already. Kyle Scharber will be the Cubbies lead-off man for most games. Schwarber is a lot different than Fowler, as he has some big time power. But he can still get on base at a solid rate. But with his defensive liabilities, he will surely be pulled late in ball games. It will be interesting to see if that leads to any issues at any point in terms of setting the table late in ball games for Rizzo and Bryant.
How good will the bullpen be?
During the World Series, it was apparent that the club’s biggest weakness came in the form of their bullpen. It appeared that the only guy that Joe Maddon could trust was closer Aroldis Chapman. But unfortunately for the team, Chapman is no longer in Chicago, as he signed with the New York Yankees.
So without much surprise, the team made some moves in an attempt to fix those bullpen woes. The big move came in the form of sending Jorge Soler to Kansas City for Wade Davis. Davis will certainly be relied upon to be the big man at the end of games.
The club also added 41-year-old veteran, Koji Uehara. Uehara comes off a season where he posted a 3.45 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and struck out 63 in 47 innings. He will become one of the team’s top relievers this season.
Other names the team will be relying on will be Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr, Pedro Strop and Mike Montgomery. This unit cannot crumble, as they are capable of taking down the whole team if they do. So watching them this Spring will be critical.
There you have it Cubbies fans. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with so many things going on with the reigning World Series champions. What storylines will you be following in Spring Training? Tell us in the comments!