Each weekday between now and the end of spring training, we’ll analyze one team’s keys for success (or keys to avoid complete irrelevance) in the 2016 season. Today, we explain why the Cubs are ready to capture that elusive World Series championship.
1. The offseason additions. The free-agent signings of right fielder Jason Heyward and right-hander John Lackey represent a win-win for the Cubs. They strengthened their roster while weakening that of the three-time defending NL Central champion Cardinals. And then came the addition of everyone’s (including manager Joe Maddon’s) favorite versatile defender Ben Zobrist. Chicago also added underrated swingman Adam Warren from the Yankees in the deal for Starlin Castro.
(L-R) Lackey, Zobrist and Heyward represent quite an offseason haul.
Along with their talent and leadership, Lackey and Zobrist bring World Series experience, while Heyward brings three Gold Gloves. And if Heyward can shine in right field, he can handle the transition to center. A roster with few weaknesses managed to improve exponentially.
2. The young core has playoff experience. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Javier Baez are the definition of prospect porn to baseball talent evaluators. No one in that ridiculously talented offensive group has reached his prime — Rizzo is the old man of the group at 26 — but each has been through a pennant race and a postseason run.
Corner infielders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo certainly can bash.
Maddon is a magician when it comes to helping his players handle pressure; his methods for doing so even have included an actual magician. While all that winning taught the Cubs plenty last season, they also will use their NLCS defeat as a learning tool and motivation.
3. They can pitch, too. Jake Arrieta solidified his status as an ace with 22 wins, a 1.77 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP en route to capturing the NL Cy Young Award last season. Lefty Jon Lester had a "down year" many players would sell their souls for (3.34 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 ratio) and should improve in his second season in the NL. Add Lackey, who posted a 2.77 ERA in 218 innings last season, and you have quite a trio. Likely rounding out the rotation are Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, both of whom had a sub-4.00 ERA and a respectable 1.16 WHIP in 2015.
Lester and Arrieta a formidable 1-2 punch.
And then there’s the bullpen, which returns largely intact and adds Warren and Rex Brothers. This unit tied for fifth last season in opponents’ OPS and is anchored by closer Hector Rondon, who has saved 59 games the past two seasons with a 2.03 ERA.