Last year, the greatest American sports story saw its final chapter written as the Chicago Cubs lifted the World Series trophy for the first time in 108 years. It was a story so good there is a movie in production about it already. Can they repeat this year? Will Burns tells of how he sees the season will unfold and provides selections to watch until October.
This past October I made the trip from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England to Chicago, Illinois to witness the Cubs victory in what could only be described as an once-in-a-lifetime trip. Maybe I was wrapped up in ‘Cubbie Fever’ but even at 3-1 down in the series, I still felt confident in the team that Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein had built. With my head now over-ruling my heart, this season, I still fully expect them to reach the Fall Classic again but let’s go into this in more depth…
WORLD SERIES WINNER
On paper, the Chicago Cubs are not as strong and only time will tell if this young team can progress on last season’s accomplishments. However, despite a couple of key losses in the squad, they have an abundance of talent on the rise.
Losing free-agent centre-fielder Dexter Fowler to the St. Louis Cardinals was indeed a blow. Replacing him sees Jon Jay arriving from the San Diego Padres, with young defensive whizzkid Albert Almora Jr., after impressing in Spring Training, vying for Fowler’s spot. The big-hitting ‘Baby Bull’ Kyle Schwarber will sit on the left field, and I feel the reigning champions will not show the same defensive efficiency again. The current line from Vegas for the Cubs’ regular season wins is at 96.5 and even though they won 103 games last year, that could be a big ask.
Their pitching rotation features one regression candidate in Kyle Hendricks and three veterans (Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey) who could stumble following increased workloads in 2016. The new signed Brett Anderson, announced as fourth in the starting rotation by Maddon and Mike Montgomery looks set to continue in rotation, although could be used in a starting berth. Closer Ardolis ‘The Cuban Missile’ Chapman left to join the Yankees but Maddon and Epstein brought in All-Star Wade Davis to more than fill the gap. Although their starting rotation is only five large, the Cubs are loaded with talented arms both in their rotation and in their bullpen. And if they need to get help at the deadline, they have the pieces to do it.
However, Maddon’s team are still going to be great at catching the ball, and maybe even better at hitting it. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist are still three of the best in the league. Kyle Schwarber is beast at bat, Catcher Willson Contreras is also a huge threat to any pitcher and Javi Baez has an unexplored upside that showed great things on the way to World Series last October… Oh and don’t forget about Jason Heyward.
Despite the youthful side, it wasn’t a problem at all last year. The Cubbies stormed out of the gates with a 25-6 record with a mid-season stumble, losing 15 of 20 at one point, but quickly became red hot again. In addition to showing great resilience in the NLCS final after being 2-1 down to the Los Angeles Dodgers and in the World Series 3-1 down to the Cleveland Indians.
The Boston Red Sox, the Dodgers and the Indians will be threats however, The Cubs are still the best team in Baseball and the pressures of 1908 and the ‘Billy Goats’ are gone. Get the 5/1 at Bet Victor while you have the chance.
The only one thing going against the Cubs is that only four National League teams have ever won a second straight World Series (the 1908 Cubs, ’22 Giants and ’76 Reds).