Part one of a series addressing keys to the Chicago Cubs finding success this season.
This may seem obvious, but the Cubs need to stay healthy. Some positions are more important than others, but staying healthy across the board can do nothing but help. Everyone knows how important pitching is, especially when you plug an ace into the starting rotation, along with a bullpen to close out games. Equally important for the Cubs is the trio of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez.
One of the major factors for a successful team is their starting rotation and bullpen. The Cubs made some noise in the 2018 off-season when they signed Yu Darvish for a long-term contract. It was a good move, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem that way last season. Darvish made it through eight starts before getting sick, followed by tendinitis in his right triceps. He never fully recovered and was shut down mid-August. He ended his first season with a 1-3 record, striking out 49 and giving up 24 runs in 40 innings. So far, things are trending up for Darvish and the Cubs are optimistic. In his most recent start against on March 3, Darvish pitched only two innings but struck out three White Sox and walked one.
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) March 6, 2019
The bullpen is another crucial element to the Cubs winning close games or blowing them late. The Cubs have Brandon Morrow signed through 2020 as the primary closer. Last season, Morrow had his share of ups and downs until getting placed on the DL in late June. Not only does he provide a veteran presence to help guide his teammates in the bullpen, he was also a very effective pitcher in clutch situations. He put in 30 innings of work, blowing only a couple of leads while earning 22 saves. He allowed five runs, struck out 31 and had a sparkling 1.08 WHIP.
The Cubs were able to skirt by without Morrow at first. They won 18 of 22 games in July and August in games decided by two runs or less. As the season dwindled down, his presence was missed even more. In the month of September, the Cubs were 6-5 in such games, and 0-2 in October to end their season.
Kris Bryant saw his numbers dip this past season due to a lingering shoulder inflammation, requiring a couple trips to the DL. He finished his season with 52 RBI’s, 13 homers and a .272 average. His stats were a far-cry from the numbers he put up in 2016 when he won the NL MVP and helped Chicago win the World Series. He’s expected to bounce back and has his mind set on the upcoming season, using the haters as fuel for his game.
I'd say Kris Bryant's shoulder is feeling pretty well. Just look at his majestic home from this Spring Training in slow motion… pic.twitter.com/47gnRtDVHh
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) March 3, 2019
Anthony Rizzo is regarded as one of the more veteran players on the Cubs’ roster since 2012 and continues to generate power at the plate. He tallied 101 RBI’s last season and belted 25 home runs, leading to a .283 batting average. In addition to the power he brings to the plate, he’s just as important on defense at the first base position. He was awarded a gold glove in the off season, the second of his career.
The Cubs scored 762 runs last season, a majority of which came from their power three consisting of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Baez alone was responsible for over 1/4 of the Cubs' runs last season. #Chicago #Cubs pic.twitter.com/6vbXEdiiBF
— mike burvee (@Mr_B93) March 8, 2019
What seemed good enough to win the NL MVP, Javier Baez proved yet again he’s one of the best in the league, let alone the division. A combination of power, agility and speed resulted in 111 RBI’s, 34 home runs and 101 runs scored. He also racked up 40 doubles, three triples and finished with a .290 batting average. Similar to Bryant and Rizzo, Baez is just as important with a glove in his hand. Several top 10 plays, many pick-off attempts, and his aggressiveness on the bases earned the name “El Mago” (The Magician). He managed to only miss three games, sustaining the grind from the 110 percent he put forth every day.