When the gates of Wrigley Field open for the first time this season, the Chicago Cubs will face their biggest challenge for the NL crown.
No one said it would be easy. Of course, getting to this point only looked easy from the fan’s perspective. However, with the World Series title belt around their waist, the target is firmly on the Chicago Cubs‘ back. And the Los Angeles Dodgers are taking aim.
The opening home series for the Cubs pits them against the team that nearly took them down in the NLCS. A team whose sole focus is to take down the champions. And, while that cannot happen in April, the Cubs had better take notes.
You do not need to look at the roster of the Dodgers long to see the challenges. The mix of veterans experience and youthful abilities closely mirrors that of the Cubs. Lead by Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodger offense led the team to the third-best record in the NL. With power from Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Yasmani Grandal, the team possesses the ability to put crooked numbers on the board in a hurry.
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Coming into 2017, many experts picked the Dodgers to win–or at least contend–for the NL West Division crown. But that division may be the strongest in the NL. The pitching staff will help them push forward as long as they stay healthy.
But Rich Hill is already back on the disabled list with blister issues, same as last year. However, when you have Clayton Kershaw leading the way, you can’t count the Dodgers out. And if they have a lead in the ninth inning, they throw one of the best weapons in the game at you, Kenley Jansen.
The teams battled hard against each other in 2016, with the Cubs winning the regular season four games to three. Furthermore, the run differential was 19-16 in favor of the Cubs. The postseason painted a different picture. Even though the Cubs were shutout twice by the Dodgers, they outscored them 31-17.
While some names changed in the offseason, the core of each group is still the same. The Dodgers rely on the top of the rotation to win and let the offense take over. While the backend of the rotation is questionable, the bullpen is not. The offense does have a few small holes. Pederson either hits the ball out of the ballpark or nowhere at all. And Logan Forsythe is a .250 career hitter, with consecutive 110+ strikeout seasons. Additionally, their depth is not as great the Cubs.
As for the Cubs, should the offense click, look out. When they fire on all cylinders, they are the best team in the NL, arguably in all of baseball. The combination of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo must flex their muscle. While the rest of the team produce just as well, the leaders must lead. In terms of pitching, the Cubs send Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Brett Anderson to the mound. Each played well enough to win their first start, but only Lackey did. But Hector Rondon and Wade Davis were solid in their performances.
Regardless of what happened last year, the Chicago Cubs need to show why they are the reigning World Series Champions in their first series at home. They only see the Dodgers six times this season, with the last game on May 28. Much can change between then and October. It’s best to let the Dodgers know how large of a hill they need to climb.