Chicago Cubs: Team should still be viewed as division favorites in 2019

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

After a grueling end to the regular season, the Chicago Cubs lost the National League Central to the Milwaukee Brewers. But that doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t poised to reclaim the division title next season.

The Chicago Cubs 2018 season came to a bitter end in the National League Wild Card game, hot on the heels of a loss in a tie-breaking Game 163 that gave the Milwaukee Brewers their first division title since 2011.

Milwaukee advanced all the way to the NLCS and was one game away from winning the pennant, but a Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the Brewers from the postseason.

Still, the outlook for the future is good, as the Cubs still seem to have the edge for the division going into the offseason and the 2019 season, as things currently sit. Chicago still has the edge in the starting rotation. The competition between the Cubs and Brewers lineups is a toss-up, but if the Cubs hitters produce as expected (a big ‘if’ after the team’s showing in 2018), they likely get the edge.

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Considering Theo Epstein’s end-of-season comments, the Cubs could be aggressive this offseason. While the rotation seems fairly set, some offensive changes could be on the horizon as well as bullpen reinforcements.

Epstein’s aggressiveness, along with the core already present in Chicago, make the Cubs the favorites for the NL Central in 2019.

Rotation clearly superior

The Cubs had the clear edge in the starting rotation going into the 2018 season, and while it didn’t perform quite as well as expected, they remain the favorites in this category.

Lefty Cole Hamels is the only member of the rotation not guaranteed to return for 2018. Hamels has a club option, though. It seems likely Chicago either A) picks up said option or B) tries to come to terms on a new deal with the lefty. Yu Darvish is expected to return, as is Drew Smyly, who brings yet another option from the left side.

Even as the Brewers powered past the Cubs late in the season, their success was fueled largely by their bullpen, and their rotation is still a bit of a question mark. The Cubs bullpen is inferior at the moment, but Epstein is likely to make one or more deals in the offseason to change that.

It’s a deep division, with everyone expected to put up a fight in 2019, but, in my mind, the Cubs run away with the rotation question when compared to the other members of the division.

Hitters bound to come around—or bust

Late in the 2018 season, Milwaukee’s hitters clearly outslugged Chicago’s offense. Christian Yelich launched himself past Javier Baez in the NL MVP race and his teammates got in on the fun, too.

The Cubs offense, on the other hand, fell flat to close out the season, leaving the team well short of all the goals set heading into 2018. After a strong start to the season, the offense was never the same in the second half. That fact was emphasized in the Cubs’ last two games of the season, in which they scored two total runs across 22 innings of baseball.

The Cubs have a new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce, now and it seems unlikely their offense will stay down this long. The hitters are too young and talented and have proven themselves on multiple occasions. If there is an internal offensive issue, Epstein seems fully willing to address it by making changes.

All in all, the Cubs offense should be superior among the other NL Central teams if it comes around to what it could and should be.

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2018 wasn’t easy for many Cubs fans. They have come to expect more after three straight trips to the NLCS. But with much of the roster returning in 2019 and the front office sure to make essential moves, another NL Central title is still well within reach.