Chicago Cubs: Get healthy, get back to dominating
We already know what the Cubs’ infield is capable of when they play well. They just have to stay healthy. This group is littered with All-Stars and MVP candidates. We don’t have to imagine what the ceiling might be for some of these guys, because, quite frankly, we’ve already seen what they can do in a great season.
Mr. Consistent himself, Anthony Rizzo is going to hit 30 homers, drive in 100 runs, and slash something like .280/.380/.500. Write it down, check it off. Even with a dreadful start to 2018, Rizzo still managed to get back to something close to his consistent numbers, so at 29, the Cubs can easily expect to see that consistent production in 2019.
Kris Bryant needs to be healthy. I’m going to base all assumptions about 2019 on that key idea. He also needs to not dive headfirst into any base. Ever. SO, if he can get back to himself, you’re looking at an MVP in his prime. A guy who can hit 40 homers, knock in however many guys get on in front of him (dependent on the batting order, obviously, as his 2016 campaign loudly proclaims), get on base 40 percent of the time, and provide stellar base-running and solid defense at third base. Any questions? I didn’t think so.
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Javier Baez. National League MVP runner-up, Javier Baez (just turned age 26). Will he play second or shortstop? Will the Cubs go out and get a guy to play short every day, or a guy who can fill in for Baez on occasion?
Will the team assume Addison Russell‘s return to the lineup and ability to hit as he did in 2016? No one has those answers. What we do know is that Baez can play either spot up the middle very well and that he can also hit the ball very hard. The world just saw El Mago have a career year, so regression would only be natural; however, you could also make the case that Baez figured some things out and is only going to get better as he enters his prime, possibly running off a string of 2018-type seasons.
If the Cubs get anything like the 5.3 WAR season Baez just turned in again in 2019, it probably means Joe Maddon is going to be back in 2020 and beyond.
Russell won’t be starting the season at any position for the Cubs. However, the plan could very well be to have him back after his 29-game suspension is up. The plan could also be to trade him or not even make him the regular at either position.
Without knowing, it’s difficult to speculate, but what we do know is that Russell is almost certainly going to give you Gold Glove-caliber defense at either position and could give you the kind of performance he turned in during 2016 when he hit 21 HR and drove in 95. If he does play and can do anything remotely close to that, the Cubs have by far the best the best all-around infield in the game.
Throw in David Bote (95.3 MPH average exit velocity, good for third in all of baseball in 2018), Zobrist and Happ fielding some grounders at second, and maybe a veteran middle-infielder to play during Russell’s suspension, and you have, at peak performance, the best infield in baseball, hands down.