Weird to say this with the Cubs winning 95 games last season, but they fell short losing to Milwaukee in the division playoff game, and then lost to the Rockies in the one game Wild Card round. Milwaukee is going to be in a position to repeat their success, and St. Louis also bolstered their lineup trying to get back where they were for so many years before. The Pirates have always been a competitive team, and Cincinnati might have one of the most underrated offenses after that Dodgers trade. It will be an extremely tough division to get through again, and locking down the division is a big part of finding postseason success, as the one and done approach could happen again. Their rotation has some question marks, but the offense has been intact and is certainly lethal. As the NL East and NL Central make moves, this is going to be an entertaining year.
Yu Darvish pitched just 40 innings last season, and missed the rest of the season. He is now 32 years old, and durability has to be a question. While he isn’t a make or break piece, Darvish going back to nearly his old self would be a huge win for the Cubs. They are still in a position of depth with arms, so that helps. Kyle Hendricks pitched nearly 200 innings, and while he isn’t a flashy arm, you know what you are going to get out of him. He makes for the most stable arm in this rotation right now. Jon Lester is where things get rocky, as he out-pitched his ERA estimators greatly. Lester is getting older, and is not the same guy anymore. Counting on him to be a top end starter seems a bit off right now. Jose Quintana had over a four ERA, and the long ball was an issue. When Cole Hamels came over, he was everything the Cubs could have asked for. He finished with a 2.36 ERA, and his strikeouts were up. If Hamels can build off the success of the second half, this Cubs rotation will manage, but might not be on par with some of the other elite teams anymore.
Bryce Harper has hinted at wanting to play in Chicago, but Theo Epstein has held firm so far on spending. They don’t necessarily need to make a massive move like that, but they remain the mystery team in the hunt, and we all know it. With Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward as the outfielder, Harper would be an upgrade for an everyday right fielder. This would also give Epstein some leeway to make moves with their younger outfielder. Manny Machado hasn’t been linked to the Cubs, but with Addison Russell dealing with his personal issues off the field, and the Cubs moving on, they do have a spot open for him to make a real surprise signing.