Chicago Cubs News: Three things to look forward to in 2021

Adbert Alzolay - (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Adbert Alzolay - (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs won the National League Central Division in a shortened 2020 season. This was the third division title in five years, but they had another disappointing playoff exit.

First and foremost, the Chicago Cubs finally gave Adbert Alzolay a chance, and he looked great. In six games, including four starts, Alzolay pitched to a 2.95 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. He gave up just 12 hits and struck out 29, giving the Cubs a pitcher that may finally miss enough bats. There will be a spot in the rotation next year with Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana being free agents. Alzolay has earned a chance to show the Cubs what he can do throughout a full season.

Alzolay credits his success to a new slider. He first showed it in a four-inning relief outing against the Pirates, then again starting on the last day of the season against the Chicago White Sox. With the new repertoire, and his velocity sitting at 95-97, the Cubs should be excited about what Alzolay can do over a full season.

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The Cubs’ Ian Happ in 2020 had what could be argued as a breakout season. He smashed 12 home runs and slashed .258/.361/.505, equaling an OPS of .866. Happ appeared in 57 games, compared to 58 in 2019, where he put up similar numbers. The thought of what he can do over the full 162 games is exciting, and Cub fans deserve to see those numbers.

More importantly, it seems like Happ has finally filled the void at the leadoff spot that they have desperately been looking to fill since Dexter Fowler left after the magical 2016 season. I don’t know if Happ has filled the hole in Chicago’s hearts that Fowler left, though.

One thing to watch with Happ could be his struggles over the last month of the season. In September/October, he slashed just .213/.286/.360. The Cubs need more of the ‘August’ Happ, who had an OPS over 1.000.

Craig Kimbrel emerged and looked like the Kimbrel of old near the end of the season. He did not give a run in the entire month of September, nor did he walk anybody. The totals for the whole month were 7 1/3 innings pitched, 13 strikeouts, no walks, and just three hits. Kimbrel’s time as a Cub has been mired by injuries and struggles when healthy, but it looks like he may have unlocked something over the last few weeks.

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The Cubs don’t have a designated closer heading into 2021, but Kimbrel is the active MLB leader in saves with 348; conventional wisdom says it’s his job. If he can keep doing what he did at the end of this season, shortened or not, the bullpen may be in pretty good shape.