The expectations couldn’t be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs.
It’s 2016 all over again. The goal isn’t just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It’s World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.
With that, let’s take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:
2017 record: 87-75, third place in NL West
X-factor: Ian Desmond
The Rockies made a splash last winter when they handed Desmond $70 million over five years even though they already had a shortstop and a centerfielder.
Desmond, now 32, had a forgettable first season in the Mile High city. In between a hand fracture and a calf injury, he filled something of a utility role for the Rockies, playing mostly left field and first base while also seeing time in center and at short.
Desmond hit just .274 with a .701 OPS in 373 plate appearances, a far cry from the .285 AVG and .782 OPS he posted in Texas in 2016.
If Desmond can get back to being a potent hitter in one of the best offensive environments in baseball, it would do wonders for a team that made it to the NL wild-card game last year.
1. Jon Gray
2. Chad Bettis
3. Tyler Anderson
4. German Marquez
5. Kyle Freeland
The Rockies were something of a surprise as a contender in 2017, in large part because of a pitching staff that far exceeded expectations.
Holland was a revelation as the Colorado closer last season, but the team has still upgraded in that regard by inking former Cubs closer Wade Davis to a big free-agent deal. The Rockies also retained the services of Jake McGee and added Shaw to a bullpen that also includes Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn.
It’s a good group of relievers, but Shaw has appeared in an absurd number of games the last few seasons and at some point, that high workload may come back to haunt him. Cubs fans remember Shaw as the guy who served up Ben Zobrist’s World Seres-winning hit in the 10th inning of that epic Game 7.
The Rockies have a lot of depth to their rotation with Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela joining the group above, but only Gray may be the only above average arm of the bunch. Gray – selected in the 2013 MLB Draft immediately after Kris Bryant – may be ready to take the leap into ace territory.
But the Rockies have far too many question marks to confidently peg them as a playoff team again. Carlos Gonzalez back on a one-year deal helps a little, but where will young outfielder David Dahl play when healthy?
Blackmon and Arenado are two of the best players in the game and former Cub LeMahieu is very solid, but they may wind up missing Mark Reynolds quite a bit in that lineup.
Colorado would need everything to break right again in 2018 to get into the postseason, and I’m not so sure that happens.
Prediction: Fourth place in NL West, no playoffs
Complete opposition research