Attention Indy-area Cubs fans: Your ultimate 2018 season preview

Courtesy Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s finally time for Cubs baseball!

Even though the Circle City does not have a Major League Baseball team, it’s come to my attention over the last year that there’s tons of Chicago Cubs fans densely scattered throughout central Indiana.

Because of this and the fact they’re the crème de la crème of the NL Central, I’ve put together an ultimate season preview for all you Hoosier Cubs fans out there.

Were in the middle of the most exciting time to be a Cubs fan and there’s literally no end in sight. With the best sports executive ever at the helm, hairlines of other NL Central executives are evaporating at record paces by attempting to keep up with this front office.

Let’s dive in on why the Cubs will make Astros’ pitcher Dallas Keuchel look like a complete fool this November.

In case you missed it, his Houston Astros won the World Series over the Dodgers last year. This offseason, while he’s supposed to be drinking kale shakes and stretching out old arm bands, the ace randomly told reporters the Astros have nothing to fear when it comes to a World Series hangover.

The reason you may be wondering?

“Because we’re not the Cubs,” Keuchel said with a smirk as cocky as the warden in “Shawshank Redemption.”

That comment was made off the Cubs’ dull start last year, which the team readily admitted was due to winning the club’s first World Series in 108 years.

The Cubs returned to form in the summer and played for their third straight NLCS, losing to the Dodgers in five games.

Theo and Company realized they aren’t fans of losing in the NLCS and plucked away Yu Darvish from L.A. in free agency. The Dodgers gave up the kitchen sink for a few months of Darvish, only the lose in the World Series.

The Offseason Moves

Speaking of plucking away Darvish, it wasn’t the only good move the Cubs’ brass made over the offseason.

After losing shutdown closer Wade Davis to the Rockies, the front office made it a priority to add to the bullpen. They signed Dodgers’ setup man Brandon Morrow (6-0 with 2.06 ERA in 2017) to be the new closer.

They also signed Steve Cishek (2.01 ERA with Seattle and Tampa in 2017) to help keep lefties at bay this year.

Now, anytime you lose a former Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta, it’s going to sting. Yes, Darvish is older than Arrieta…and yes, he got absolutely lit up in the World Series last year. But, the alternative would not having a front of rotation ace to replace Jake.

The Cubs made the necessary splash to implement what will be the best 1-4 set of pitchers in the National League; Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana.

The only negative product of the offseason is that Jason Heyward is still on the roster. Rumors swirled that the Cubs and Giants were talking about a salary dump involving Jason Heyward and former Cubs’ pitcher and Notre Dame football standout Jeff Samardzija. It never happened and Chicago still owes Heyward $134 million through 2023.

Grade: B-

Hitting

If the Cubs win the 2018 World Series, the offense will have to continue to lead the way for the North Siders. That should not be a problem. They were near the top of almost every offensive category last year and Chicago’s young core is only getting better.

Just look how skinny former IU star Kyle Schwarber is after losing around 30 pounds. After hitting 30 bombs while collecting an embarassing .212 average, Schwarber re-dedicated himself to working out and came into Spring Training in the best shape of his life.

Who is this new Cub? Courtesy Getty Images

It will be extremely interesting to see if Joe Maddon finally pegs Albert Almora Jr. as the Cubs’ true leadoff hitter. Schwarber came into last season as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter…and it was a debacle.  It resulted in a shuffling of lineups everyday and platooning like a young Charlie Sheen.

Almora has done so much to prove he’s the everyday leadoff hitter and if selected, another problem with the lineup will be created.

If not platooning with Almora in center, where do you find an increase in Ian Happ at-bats?

The former ninth pick out of Cincinnati can straight up murder the baseball and needs to find consistent time in this offense. In just 364 AB’s last year, Happ hit 24 bombs from both sides of the plate.

If Jason Heyward was not on the team, Happ would be the everyday right fielder and Ben Zobrist would be the only utility man getting consistent playing time. Now, Maddon will be forced to shuffle both Happ and Zobrist all year long. It’s not the end of the world, because this lineup will not have any issues scoring runs.

Here’s my stab at tomorrow’s lineup in Miami. There’s no reason to move Heyward up from the 8 spot until he starts hitting.

Predicting Cubs Opening Day Lineup:

CF – Almora Jr.
3B- Bryant
1B – Rizzo
C – Contreras
LF – Schwarber
2B – Baez
SS – Russell
RF – Heyward

Grade: A

Pitching

As previously mentioned, losing Jake Arrieta is going to hurt.

The key to this year’s staff will be the man in the middle, the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball…Kyle Hendricks. Greg Maddux 2.0 doesn’t need a 95 mph fastball to get hitters out, he just implements his Ivy League education to make most lineups look like they’re up there swinging drunk.

Cubs fans better get used to watching double-digit strikeout games this year, as Yu Darvish brings the highest K/9 strikeout rate among all active starting pitchers over the past five seasons at 11 per 9.

With Lester, Darvish, Hendricks, Quintana and Chatwood…it’s hard to find a better 1-5 rotation than what the Cubs have. They’re already proven, possess one of the best defensive catchers and have the added bonus of the Russell/Baez up the middle.

It’s going to come down to the bullpen. It’s impossible to replace a closer like Wade Davis, let alone be confident in a guy who has never been a closer before. Will C.J. Edwards continue to trend upwards, or will his miserable September loom into this year?

Despite the under the radar signing of Cishek, the bullpen will most likely be the Cubs’ overall weakest link in ’18. With not much of a farm system left, it will be harder to flip prospects at the deadline for impact arms in the ‘pen. And come playoff time, the bullpen and team defense is what wins you titles.

Luckily, the Cubs have the best front office in baseball calling the shots when it’s time to bolster.

Grade: B + 

NL Central Outlook and Prediction

More good news for Cubs fans, the rest of the division has taken a step back.

Sure, the Brewers have added two good outfielders into the mix, but they still do not have the starting pitching to make a championship run.

The Pirates are officially in rebuilding mode and have not sniffed the playoffs since Kyle Schwarber did this to them back in the wild card play-in game in 2015.

What a moment.

The Reds are still the Reds and are at least three years away from contending.

The St. Louis Cardinals are in danger of having their first losing season in what feels like forever following a 83-79 finish last year. The only positive thing they did was pickup former Marlins’ stud outfielder Marcell Ozuna.  Matheny and company are relying on Yadier Molina to handle an entire staff of inexperienced young pitchers.

The result will have Cubs hitting feasting on them like this John Lackey fastball in 2015.

The Cubs will not have a problem cruising to their third straight NL Central Title due to their experience, young core and lack of challengers.

Official 2018 Prediction: Cubs 98-64, taking World Series in 7 games over Houston. Sorry, Mr. Keuchel.