The Cubs were on the outside looking in a season ago. Nobody expected them to compete in the talented National League Central. 2015 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Cubs, who had finished in last place in the NL Central the season before and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2008. Last season was a turnaround nobody saw coming from the Cubs. Not only did the Cubs shock the baseball world by making the playoffs, they made it all the way to the National League Championship Series. This season, the Cubs are not only expected to make it back to the playoffs, they are the favorites to win the World Series. This season could be the year Cubs fans have been waiting for. The Cubs are loaded with enough talent to be the team that could end the 108 year drought on the north side of Chicago. The Cubs haven’t had this much hype coming into a season in a while. The 2015 campaign saw the debuts of highly-touted prospects Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, the continued excellence of Anthony Rizzo, historically great pitching from Jake Arrieta, and a career year from Hector Rondon. Their season ended with a disappointing 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Mets in the NLCS, but a busy offseason has many picking the Cubs to represent the National League in the 2016 World Series. The pieces to the puzzle are in place. Now the Cubs have the chance to make it all fit together and bring home a World Series title to Chicago.
The Cubs got down to business early in the offseason, bringing in three new key players all with playoff experience, in hopes of bringing the Cubs some veteran leadership. The Cubs first inked former Cardinals ace Jon Lackey to a two year, thirty-two million dollar deal. The week after signing Lackey, the Cubs acquired Ben Zobrist who is coming off a World Series title with the Kansas City Royals. Zobrist was signed to bring in championship winning experience and to take over the shortstop position that had been held by Starlin Castro who was traded to the Yankees in November. Zobrist was signed on a 4 year, 56 million dollar deal. The Cubs biggest signing of the offseason came a few days later when Jason Heyward signed a 8 year, 184 million dollar contract with the Cubs. Heyward comes over to Chicago after spending a year in St. Louis. Heyward brings in a great defensive presence in the outfield, being a three time gold glove award winner. The most interesting signing of the offseason may not have been Heyward, however. Dexter Fowler chose the Cubs on a one-year, $13 million dollar contract after things fell through with the Orioles, as it had been reported that the veteran outfielder was in agreement on a three-year, $35 million deal. But Fowler wanted an opt-out clause and the Orioles wanted him to, in essence, pay them for the draft pick they would forfeit in signing him. So he rejoined the Cubs instead which was a win for Chicago.
Focusing on the Cubs rotation this season will be a key factor if the Cubs will be playing baseball in late October and November. The top of the rotation all starts with the reigning Cy Young award winner, Jake Arrieta. Last season Arrieta posted staggering numbers on his way to winning the Cy Young. He went 22-6 with a 1.12 ERA including a record for lowest ERA in the second half of the season at 0.75. Arrieta is the ace of this pitching staff no question, but the rest of the rotation gets a little tricky to figure out. Jon Lester went 10-13 last season with a 3.34 ERA. Lester was at times very good and at other times was shaky in early innings of the ballgame but overall had a solid first year with the Cubs. He will need to improve on those numbers this season and can hopefully turn his performance around to have a winning record for the Cubs. John Lackey has been a consistent force over his big league career, reaching double digit wins in his past 12 MLB seasons. Last season Lackey produced a career best 2.77 ERA. Being 37 years old it will be interesting to see how the Cubs use him in the rotation this season and for how long. The key to the Cubs success this season will rely on Lackey and Lester and how they will be able to hold up in the long stretch of the season. Lackey and Lester hope to combine their pitching skills to bring the Cubs a World Series title as they did when they were teammates with the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series back in 2013. The four and five slots of the rotation will consist of Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Hammel is coming off a good season last year, finishing with a record of 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA. Hammel, like Lester is entering his second season with the Cubs and is looking to improve his stats and lower the ERA as well. Kyle Hendricks has been with the Cubs since 2014. Last season he finished 8-7 with a 3.49 ERA a bit of a drop off from his rookie campaign in 2014 when he went 7-2 but still a very dependable pitcher, he will be the 5th man in the Cubs pitching rotation. The Cubs rotation this season to be successful will hinge on the longevity and stamina from the Cubs top three starters in Arrieta, Lester and Lackey. Lackey is 37 years old and Lester if 34 years old, having them stay healthy and consistent in the win column will be a key to the Cubs success in 2016.
The Cubs young guns broke onto the scene in 2015. Starting four rookies in the starting lineup a season ago with Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler. Bryant wowed over Chicago and the MLB by winning N.L. Rookie of the year when he hit 23 home runs and 99 RBI’s. Bryant had his struggles defensively at 3rd base early in the season but got things together in the second half and became a solid player at the position in the later stages of the season. Kyle Schwarber, who was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University, was promoted to the Cubs from Double A in June and became a lethal bat in the Cubs lineup, hitting 16 home runs and 43 RBI’s. He set a Cubs post season record by hitting 5 homeruns in the playoffs. This season, Schwarber will split time between left field and catcher. Addison Russell will be the starting second baseman this season. He was called up to the Cubs last April. Russell finished the season with 13 home runs and 54 RBI’s. Jorge Soler had his first full season in the Major Leagues in 2015. He came up with the Cubs in 2014 and played in 24 games that season. He played in 101 games in 2015 and recorded 10 home runs and 47 RBI’s. He will be splitting time this season in right field with Dexter Fowler. These rookies made a big splash last season with the Cubs and look to carry that success into 2016.
The Cubs main weapon this season will once again be all-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He will begin this season once again in talks for the NL MVP award. Last season Rizzo lead the Cubs offensively with a team leading 31 home runs and 101 RBI’s. He is also a threat on the base paths, having stolen 17 bases last season. Rizzo is a very dependable and durable player, having only missed 6 games the past 2 seasons. The Cubs future at first base is very bright with Rizzo at the helm.
This season the Cubs will have all the pressure on them as the odds on favorites to win the World Series. For the Cubs to have sustained success throughout 2016 they must have the same performances from their top players as they had a season ago, Bryant, Rizzo and Arrieta all must be the big contributing factors for this team in 2016. Bryant and Rizzo will provide the big bats in the lineup and the Cubs could very well have these two stars with over 30 home runs and over 100 RBI’s each this season. Arrieta and Lester will have to be the big arms in the rotation and both need to keep up the successes they had a season ago and both can easily win 15-16 games each or more. How this team handles down the stretch and if they can avoid injuries and play at the consistent level they had from a season ago, the sky is the limit for the 2016 Chicago Cubs. The pieces to the puzzle are in place, now it’s time for the Cubs to go out and put the finishing touches on that puzzle and put it all together. If that happens, there will be a mass celebration in the city of Chicago this fall.