2018 Cubs: Can North Siders Get Off to a Faster Start This Year?

Willie Bee

Monday, March 5, 2018 1:39 PM UTC

Monday, Mar. 5, 2018 1:39 PM UTC

Their quest for a second consecutive World Series title fell short in 2017, but MLB futures once again favor the Chicago Cubs to be a force this season.

Considering they were coming off their first World Series championship in more than a century, it was only natural for the Chicago Cubs to experience a bit of a hangover in 2017. Joe Maddon’s club came out of the gate slow and looking like a shell of the same team that won 103 games a year earlier, hitting the All-Star break two games below .500.

Maybe the midseason rest did them good, because the Cubs went 49-25 in the second half to win the NL Central title again. The 92 regular-season wins fell short of the MLB futures Chicago carried into the campaign, the Cubs listed with a 96½ total, highest in the majors, and they failed to reach the World Series after falling to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Still, it showed their 2016 run wasn’t a fluke, and they are back among the favorites entering 2018.

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Darvish Inked To Replace Arrieta

BetOnline lists Chicago as an 8/1 pick to win the Fall Classic, fourth on the list and even with the Cleveland Indians, whom the Cubs topped in the exciting 2016 World Series. They are -200 to -300 to win the NL Central for a third consecutive year, with the win total down a smidge to 93. Theo Epstein tinkered with the roster a little, and it’s certainly a group that could pay off on all of those wagers.

The biggest changes came to the pitching staff after the losses of Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and closer Wade Davis. Arrieta was replaced by signing free agent Yu Darvish, with the Cubs also bringing in Tyler Chatwood. Chicago will enjoy a full season from Jose Quintana, acquired last July from the crosstown White Sox, with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks back at the top of the mix. Entering camp as the closer is Brandon Morrow, who filled a setup role for the Dodgers in 2017, but don’t sleep on Steve Cishek – a free agent from Tampa Bay – at least grabbing some of the save opportunities. It’s definitely a mound corps that could produce ‘under’ winners on the MLB odds … when the wind is blowing in at Wrigley.

Will CF Battle Also Solve Leadoff Hitter Struggles From 2017?

Of course, the lineup is strong enough to send games ‘over’ regardless of the wind direction. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant anchor the infield corners, and Willson Contreras is capable of a 40 HR campaign behind the plate. Addison Russell and Javier Baez should occupy the middle of the diamond with Jason Heyward and a slimmed-down Kyle Schwarber on the outfield corners. The only real position battle in spring is in center where Albert Almora and Ian Happ fight it out, and the winner could also help solve some of the woeful numbers Cubs leadoff hitters produced a year ago. They also could simply platoon.

The Cubs spend the first 10 games on the road, but six of those contests are against the rebuilding Marlins and Pirates. There are some tough opponents mixed in early, like home-&-home interleague sets vs. the Indians, but the first two months on the fixture do favor a much stronger start for Chicago than a year ago. No, the payoff for winning the division isn’t much, but it’s a payoff nonetheless, and my free baseball pick for the North Side 9.

Free MLB Pick: -225 Win NL CentralBest Line Offered: Bovada
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