Cubs: It’s all going to depend on these four to get hot early

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs core four of Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo will need a hot start to the season if this team has any shot of contending.

There doesn’t seem to be much hope for Chicago in 2021.  The starting pitching looks thin, the bullpen is more question marks than proven commodities and the lineup is less than awe-inspiring.

However, this club could prove me wrong on all fronts.  But only if the core of the lineup, the four players who have been with the team from the beginning of this  remarkable run that began back in 2015, get hot early. Is that a realistic expectation?

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To carry the Cubs pitching, the core will have to get it going early and set the tone

Javier Baez could certainly be that spark,  His March/April career slash of 276/.324/.553 and .877 OPS is solid enough.   His April/May 123 tOPS+ is his best of any month, so I’m most confident that Baez could be the guy to get the ball flying this spring.

Bryant is another possible spring spark. A  .278/.396/.476 slash and .873 OPS for March/April doesn’t carry the same slugging mark as Baez but everything else plays.  The key here is staying healthy.  The array of goofy injuries of seasons past must be avoided this Spring.  Batting second behind likely leadoff man Ian Happ, Bryant’s March/April .396 OBP will be his biggest contribution, setting the table for guys like Baez, Rizzo, and Contreras.

A late hibernation isn’t an option this season for two of the core

Cubs hibernate in winter.  And no Cub seems to suffer more from the deleterious effects of that hibernation than Anthony Rizzo.  I won’t even post the slash numbers. We know how it goes.  The back, a hamstring, and March and April crawl by for the sleepy Cub.  This can’t happen this year.  We need May Rizzo in March and April. End of story.

That brings us to Willson Contreras.  He too suffers from the slow start, though far less so than Rizzo.  But since he bats a little further down in the order than his core four teammates, his slow awakening hasn’t been as critical to the club’s success.  Except for this year.  After the core four and Happ, we’re down to Bote, Heyward, Hoerner and Joc Pederson.  That’s not a lot of dependable day-in, day-out offense.

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The National League Central will be among the weakest divisions in MLB this year.  There’s talent on the Cubs and with three of the core four facing their free-agent seasons, I’d expect that talent to be on display early.  Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season.