Chicago Cubs: These 10 players must have success this season

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Chicago Cubs
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Chicago Cubs: Contreras needs a bounceback showing to silence critics

Making his debut during the Cubs’ 2016 championship season, Willson Contreras quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his fiery emotion and outbursts of passion on the diamond. After slugging a career-best 21 homers in 2017, he boldly proclaimed he belonged among the game’s best backstops.

Last winter, he told reporters that he knew he’d be better than both Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, two guys widely recognized as the game’s best at their craft. That big talk pushed expectations for Contreras even higher heading into 2018 – and, at first, he lived up to them.

In the first half, the Venezuelan native put up an .818 OPS, smacking 19 doubles and hitting seven home runs in 82 games. This performance earned him the first All-Star selection of his career as the Cubs headed into the break in a tight race for the NL Central.

But when his team needed him most, Contreras disappeared offensively. He managed an icy .585 second-half OPS – and in the season’s final two months, he looked lost at the dish. In August, he batted just .213 and that clip plummeted to .152 in September/October.

Contreras caught more than he ever had last season and it’s led many to speculate his workload caught up with him late in the year. But regardless of the reason, his offensive power outage (he slugged just .730 in 2018) left a gaping hole in the Chicago lineup. His return to form is critical if the team hopes to re-take the division’s top spot this year.