After a long, slow winter that would have been the envy of Ned Stark, it’s time to release the white ravens because the start of the 2018 campaign is finally upon us. And to no one’s surprise, the Cubs are expected to once again be in contention for the right to sit on the Iron Throne.
Alright, I’ll stop with the Game of Thrones references.
This year’s version of the Cubs will look remarkably similar to its 2017 counterpart with a few notable exceptions. Although the positional core of the team remains largely intact, there was a bit of a shakeup within the pitching ranks.
Gone from the starting rotation are Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, and in their place step newcomers Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. The bullpen saw turnover as well, as Chicago added Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek while saying goodbye to Wade Davis, Hector Rondon, Koji Uehara, and Justin Grimm.
The impact of these moves has been discussed in-depth several times during the long break so I won’t get into them here. However, if you are able to put sentimentality for certain departures aside, the Cubs look to be in a stronger position than they were when 2017 came to a close.
While Chicago was busy making touch-ups to a rock-solid foundation, its first opponent of the season, the Miami Marlins, was taking part in a complete teardown.
In what can only be described as a franchise tradition, the Marlins’ new front office made a series of trades with the sole purpose of shedding payroll. Remember that Giancarlo Stanton guy? Traded to the Yankees. How about Dee Gordon? Shipped to Seattle. Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich? Dispatched to St. Louis and Milwaukee, respectively.
So what, you ask, remains in South Florida? The answer is, “Not much.”
Catcher J.T. Realmuto and Justin Bour are the main holdovers from a lineup that finished fifth in the National League in runs scored in 2017. Former Cub Starlin Castro came over in the Stanton trade and will be looked upon to shoulder a large part of the offensive load. After that, the rest of the lineup figures to be a bunch of question marks.
The pitching doesn’t appear to be much better, with Dan Straily and Jose Ureña anchoring what is a largely unproven staff, both in the starting rotation and bullpen.
As for what all of this means for the opening series, suffice to say the Cubs should be heavy favorites against an undermanned opponent.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Thursday, March 29 at 11:40 a.m. CT on WGN and ESPN (out-of-market only)
- Friday, March 30 at 6:10 p.m. CT on WGN
- Saturday, March 31 at 6:10 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago
- Sunday, April 1 at 12:10 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago Plus
Starting Pitchers (2017 statistics)
What to Watch For
- As a whole, the Cubs’ production leading off games ranked in the bottom half of MLB in 2017; they collectively slashed .270/.315/.414. Chicago used 11 different players in that spot last season as Joe Maddon looked for someone to fill the void left by the departed Dexter Fowler. Of those 11, Jon Jay (51 games), Ben Zobrist (40) and Kyle Schwarber (36) saw the bulk of the opportunities, with Zobrist being the lone producer in that spot (.308/.325/.487). So what about 2018? A torrid spring (.321/.400/.811) spent auditioning at the top of the order has Ian Happ looking like “the guy” this season. While no one expects him to match those numbers during the regular season, Happ has the tools necessary to succeed in the spot and will likely be given every opportunity to hold it down.
- The Marlins will start the season with seven players on the DL, including Realmuto (back contusion) and Straily (right forearm inflammation). Joining them on the shelf are third baseman Martin Prado (right knee), shortstop JT Riddle (sore right shoulder) and pitchers Wei-Yin Chen (left elbow), Elieser Hernandez (dental surgery) and Brett Graves (left oblique). For a team already expected to struggle, losing any of its few proven players will only exacerbate the situation.
- Look for Chicago hitters to stay patient in this series. Ureña and Despaigne, the two established starters the Cubs will face, sported some pretty awful K and BB percentages in 2017: 16.4 and 8.8 for Urena, 12.2 and 9.5 for Despaigne. Smith and Peters, the other projected starters, made their MLB debuts last season and had similar issues in limited action (20.9 K% and 11.6 BB% for Smith, 19.4% and 13.7% for Peters).
- Fans won’t have to wait long to see Darvish make his Cubs debut, as the veteran right-hander will take the bump in the third game of this four-game set. Darvish struggled in his lone game against Miami last season (3 2/3 IP, 9 H, 10 ER, 2 BB, 2 K), but as mentioned earlier, these are not the same Marlins.