Chicago Cubs: Three most improved teams heading into 2019

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Not to be cliche, but a New Year means a new beginning and a belief that the Chicago Cubs can once again reign supreme atop the baseball world.

Last year ended on a sour note for the Chicago Cubs. Despite winning 95 games and punching a fourth consecutive ticket to the postseason, Joe Maddon’s club fell to the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card game.

Kris Bryant essentially played with one arm most of the year. Yu Darvish, the team’s premier offseason addition last winter, made just eight appearances before losing the rest of the season to injury. And really, those two storylines, paired with a scuffling offense, spelled doom.

The Cubs have their work cut out for them heading into 2019. Despite their quiet offseason (so far), several other NL teams have taken great strides – further complicating the team’s path back to October.

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A division foe looks to return to the postseason

The longtime rival St. Louis Cardinals landed one of the NL’s best position players, acquiring first baseman Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks to kick off the winter. The Cardinals missed the postseason the last three seasons but have remained competitive throughout, winning 80 or more games.

The Redbirds add Goldschmidt to the mix as they seek to get back atop to the NL Central. Per Fangraphs, Goldschmidt has finished with a 5.0 WAR or higher in five of the last six seasons. His presence brings 30-home run potential and the big bat the Cardinals have missed since Albert Pujols’ departure.

With Goldschmidt, the Cardinals can move Matt Carpenter back to third base, to go with Paul DeJong at shortstop and Kolton Wong or Yairo Munez at second base. Their outfield will look interesting with Marcell Ozuna likely manning left field, Harrison Bader in center and the returning Dexter Fowler in right.

On top of Goldschmidt, the Cardinals added reliever Andrew Miller. Yes, the same Andrew Miller that former Cubs catcher David Ross hit a home run off in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series that the Cubs won. People forget that.

Jokes aside, Miller has been one of baseball’s best middle relief pitchers this decade, finishing with a K/9 of 13 or higher since 2013. Injuries plagued him in 2018, however. The Cardinals are betting he can pitch 60 or more innings in 2019.

They haven’t ‘spent stupid’, but still

The Phillies have been involved in free agent rumors all offseason with regards to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. While the two have yet to sign with a team, it hasn’t stopped the Phillies from making moves.

Last month they signed former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal and traded for second baseman Jean Segura. With their owner also saying they’re willing to “spend stupid money,” those moves showed the Phillies are not only being aggressive but intend on competing in 2019.

I strongly doubt they’re done re-tooling their roster.

Get ready for the Nats’ resurgence

The Nationals might be getting overlooked but they’re well positioned to compete in 2019 whether they have Harper or not. Washington made the first major free agent signing on December 7, signing ace Patrick Corbin.

They’ve also added starter Anibal Sanchez, catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, and added low-cost additions in Matt Adams and Trevor Rosenthal. The Nationals potentially could have the best starting rotation baseball with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin by year’s end.

The Nationals hope they can regain the offense they had in 2017 with Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman and star potential outfielder Victor Robles.

Next. How does the Cubs' rotation stack up in the Central?. dark

For the Cubs, they could be in the best division in the National League with the improved Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers still the reigning NL Central champions. The offseason is still young, but the Cubs are running out of time to respond to teams that are improving.