Chicago Cubs could have their hands full in the 2018 NL Central
By Jake Misener
Looking for a third-straight division title, several teams could give the Chicago Cubs a run for their money in the NL Central in 2018.
In each of the last two seasons, the Chicago Cubs clinched playoff berths via a National League Central title. That marked their first back-to-back division crowns since 2007-2008. Prior to that? You have to go back 100 years, to the 1907 and 1908 campaigns. Now, there’s a bit of bar trivia you pray never comes up.
The Cubs look to make it three-consecutive Central titles in 2018, something the team has not accomplished since 1906-1908. Everyone seemingly assumes Chicago coasts to the top again next year, but a lot could happen to change that. Most notably, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers could win the offseason and come at the Cubs with double-barrel action in 2018.
Before we even get to each of those two clubs, let’s address internal issues that could sink the Cubs’ three-peat hopes. The club still needs to fill two of the five rotation spots. If Wade Davis departs, the team needs a ninth-inning man. Bullpen help, in general, is a big focus of the front office this offseason.
Now, let me be perfectly clear. I fully anticipate Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to fill all of those holes. That being said, those aforementioned solutions will go a long way toward setting the team up for another solid campaign.
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They’ve been linked to multiple starters already this winter; as well as several bullpen options. Offensively, the team seems to be pretty well set. You could essentially fix any woes at the dish with bounce back campaigns from Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell.
Milwaukee could make a big splash this winter
Last season, the Brewers pushed the Cubs to the brink in the race for the NL Central. A young core led by the likes of Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana and Orlando Arcia put up 86 wins – the team’s most since 2011.
Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson formed one of the most consistent rotation trios in the league – all putting up an ERA south of 3.90. Anderson will miss some portion of the upcoming season as he recovers from surgery, but the Brewers have been linked to several big-name free agents, including Jake Arrieta.
Swallow the bile creeping up in your throat and consider that. Once Anderson returns, Milwaukee could trot out four above-average starters in any five-game stretch. Consider Corey Knebel waiting in the bullpen for the ninth and it’s no longer far-fetched to see the Brewers win a Central as early as 2018.
Cardinals always find a way
No matter what you expect from the St. Louis Cardinals, they always seem to stay in the hunt till September. Paul DeJong emerged as a solid option at shortstop, finishing in the Top 3 of NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Matt Carpenter did what he always does offensively, while Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez showed what they’re capable of at the dish – giving the Redbirds more offensive firepower. They still lack that big bat, though – but they’ve been regularly tied to Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, which would completely alter how this team looks.
Lance Lynn is likely headed out of town via free agency, so they’ll need to shore up the rotation and figure out the late innings. But, as mentioned, Stanton in the middle of any batting order puts that team in contention.
Next: Possible destinations if Cubs decide to move Happ
The 2018 season gives the Chicago Cubs an opportunity to achieve something historic – at least in terms of franchise lore. But to do so, they’ll once again have to overcome two very talented teams in their own division.