The defending champions are primed for another serious run into October. They have a deep line-up, stellar rotation and a sound bullpen will make the Cubs tough to beat. Oh, and that mad hatter manager, he’s good too.
As we look toward 2017, there are very few questions, but a few new faces will take over in key roles. Here are my predictions for some of the main storylines for the Cubs this season.
1. “Jason Heyward returns to form”
Jason Heyward didn’t just struggle in his first year as a member of the Chicago Cubs, he was downright awful. So bad that he was benched during the World Series. Entering his eighth season, this 27 year old veteran is poised to bounce back. I expect Heyward to return to his pre-2016 form this season. Double digit home runs, 50+ RBI, .260 AVG and his perennial gold glove defense are my expectations for Heyward this season. He is too toolsy, and has been successful for too many years for him to bust in his mid-20’s.
2. “Almora Jr. makes Cubs fans forget about Fowler”
Albert Almora Jr. will take over as the full time centerfielder for the Chicago Cubs this season. The beauty of his ascension to the starting line-up is that there is very little pressure on him to produce at a high level. If Almora hits .260 (career .290 hitter in professional baseball) and plays superb defense, Joe Maddon will be pleased with his replacement for Dexter Fowler.
3. “Rotation Depth is tested on the North Side”
The Chicago Cubs were extremely fortunate last season. All five of their starters made at least 29 starts and logged 945 innings as a group. However, the group is a bit different heading into 2017. Jason Hammel signed with the Royals this offseason and the void is set to be filled by either Mike Montgomery or Brett Anderson.
Montgomery is headed into his age 27 season and only has 190 career innings on the mound in the Major Leagues. Anderson had a career year in 2015, but struggled in 2016 with injuries. Anderson was only able to start three games last year, and has a history of landing on the DL.
The Cubs may need to look outside of the organization if they end up needing an extra arm in the rotation. The upper ranks of their Minor Leagues are thin when it comes to starting pitchers who can help at the Major League level.
**Check back tomorrow for “Three Headlines for 2017: St. Louis Cardinals” as we continue our preseason feature!**