Chicago Cubs: Five predictions for the 2017 season

Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

After some “success” with my second half predictions for the Chicago Cubs, I figured it was worth doing another one for the 2017 season. After what we saw last season, I don’t know if any of these could be considered bold. But it’s a fun post to do, nonetheless.

At the All-Star break, I made a few second-half predictions for the Chicago Cubs. In reality, I only hit on a couple of them. But I wasn’t all that far off on the rest. So as I shake off the cobwebs from the New Year I’ll take a stab at a few for the 2017 season. With any predictions, there are so many variables that it often times is nothing more than a stroke of luck.

There are always signs there to lead you to a certain thought or belief that a player or the team is going to do something special. But as I said before, it’s more about reading what’s in the cards more than it is predicting the future. But with a blank slate for the 2017 season and a World Series Championship in our pocket, I’ll give it my best.

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs tally two 20-game winners in 2017

With this Cubs team and the talented rotation, the Cubs have this isn’t a stretch. They posted four pitchers with 15 or more wins, and two within range of that 20-win season. This speaks more to the health of the Cubs staff than anything else. Last season, John Lackey was the only pitcher not to start less than 30 games (29 GS). So believing that two of these starters could reach 20 wins is feasible.

Jon Lester came up short in his bid, losing his final start of the season to keep him from that elusive 20th win. It was his second time winning 19 games in his career. Jake Arrieta won 22 last season, but had a “down” year in 2016 winning only 18. Yes, you read that right. Arrieta was no longer untouchable—yet he still won 18 games. These two look to be the obvious candidates, but there is, of course, one more that could press for 20 wins.

Entering the second half, I predicted Kyle Hendricks would be the most consistent of the Cubs starters in the second half. I must admit, I did say he wasn’t going to win the Cy Young, but he came much closer to that than I could have imagined. If Hendricks continues his progression this season, it’s unlikely–BUT possible–the Cubs could get three 20-game winners in 2017. 

Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Heyward has a comeback season in year two

I might just be a sucker for the extra time and work that Jason Heyward is putting in this winter. I had high aspirations for him this season–but we all know how that played out. Outside of some stellar defense, a few good games at the plate and that speech he gave the team during the rain delay? That’s all Heyward had to offer last season. With Dexter Fowler out of the picture, Heyward is going to need to step it up at the plate.

He moved to Arizona. He’s been working with John Mallee and Eric Hinske since the season ended. I just don’t believe he will come out flat like he did last year. The videos of the new swing are promising, but hitting off of a machine is a bit different. But I see a much-improved season ahead at the plate for Heyward.

I believe changing the positioning of his hands will keep him on fastballs much better than last year. I think we’re going to see fewer weak popouts and slow rollers to second base in 2017. Gauging his power numbers is difficult, though. While Heyward is a big man he’s never been much of a power hitter. But I do see a year of .265+, 15 HR and 80 RBI as he helps to solidify right field once again. And for a non-stunner? He wins the Gold Glove in right field again.

Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Baez captures first Gold Glove as a “part-time” player

There’s nothing bold about this prediction. Javier Baez is going to win a Gold Glove. Maybe more. I think what will play into his favor is the current outfield situation for the Cubs. Ben Zobrist will still play second base. But he’ll see plenty of time in right and left field depending on matchups. I think those will afford Baez more starts at second base, leading to his first Gold Glove of his career.

His defense was never a question. It was just his ability to cut down on the big swing which led to a high strikeout percentage. But he’s gotten that down, and his defense was that of legend in the playoffs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a player that makes a quicker tag on stolen base attempts. Because of this, I see Baez getting the start at second for every Lester start at the minimum.

Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Rizzo wins his first batting title

This is one where I’m going out on a limb a bit. But I have my reasons, so bear with me. First, he’ll have to hope the Cincinnati Reds Joey Votto has an off month or two to allow him the chance. But Rizzo has made a habit of adjusting his approach each year of his career. Last year I predicted he and Kris Bryant would be 1-2 in the NL in home runs. They didn’t quite get that, but I think that’s where you’ll see Rizzo make his adjustments.

If you’re a Cubs’ fan, you’re very aware of the way Rizzo cuts down on his swing with two strikes. Knowing the lineup that he has behind him, I think he’ll make some changes to his approach–and his average will climb while his home run total may take a dip. Now, when I say a “dip”, I mean possibly below 30. But Rizzo is a capable hitter and may be able to make the changes necessary and not see the home run total drop.

Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Bryant wins a playoff series MVP

I’m going to be a little bit vague on this one so I don’t go and do any jinxing before we even get 2017 started. But after Kris Bryant won the college player of the year, minor league player of the year, NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP in consecutive seasons, where can you go? I think Bryant stamps all of those with an MVP in a playoff series this season.

I won’t be shy in saying I believe the Cubs will once again win the division. No one else took a step forward, and the Cubs at worst held ground. So that puts the Cubs in the playoffs for at least the NLDS. Now, it’s not always the best player on the team that wins the MVP of a series–just whoever gets hot at the right time. But Bryant has proven he isn’t intimidated by the big stage. So 2017 may just be another page in the book of greatness for Bryant in his career.

This article originally appeared on