Last fall as the Cubs were on their successful postseason run, BCB’s front-page writers got together virtually to discuss each playoff series. We enjoyed it and I think you did as well, so we decided to do it again to kick off the 2017 season. Duane Pesice was unable to join us, but Josh, Russ, Danny, Sara and I had a lively online conversation Friday afternoon.
This has been lightly edited to put some out-of-order replies in an order that made sense.
Al Yellon: Last fall we did this three times, right before each playoff series, and the Cubs won all of them. So I figured having another roundtable would lead to more Cubs success this year!
Sara Sanchez: I buy that.
Danny Rockett: Yes. it was us. No doubt.
Josh Timmers: Good new superstition. Waiting for our rings.
Sara Sanchez: #pagingtheo
Josh Timmers: Do I get a ball from the Bryzzo Co.?
Sara Sanchez: Maybe there are different awards levels!
Al Yellon: All right, let's start with the obvious stuff. Everyone think the Cubs will win the NL Central again?
Russ La Croix: For the division, I'd go with Cubs - Cardinals - Pirates - Brewers - Reds. (Way out on a limb, I know.)
Al Yellon: I'm pretty sure everyone's going about that way, right?
Russ La Croix: I know, right?
Sara Sanchez: I agree with that. I guess the Brew Crew could surprise and the Pirates could crater, but the rest seems pretty solid
Danny Rockett: Someone call Vegas!
Russ La Croix: I'm looking forward to seeing how Kyle Schwarber does this season more than anything. Hopefully all will go well with him.
Al Yellon: How many games do you think Schwarber will catch (Just for Russ, the rest of us can do this later)
Russ La Croix: I'd think no more than 15. Unless something happens injury-wise, obviously.
Josh Timmers: Did everyone see that quote from Albert Almora Jr. this week? "I don't know what it's like not to win the World Series."
Sara Sanchez: That's awesome!
Al Yellon: I missed that. Great quote.
Danny Rockett: I'm expecting a tighter race.
Al Yellon: It would be hard to win by 17½ games again!
Sara Sanchez: Yes, I agree with Danny, I don't think it will be so decisive this year
Danny Rockett: It didn't seem that hard last year somehow...
Josh Timmers: The Reds and Brewers aren't even trying. The Pirates have issues except in their outfield (which is terrific). You can never count out the Cards, but they seem to be on the downswing in my estimation.
Al Yellon: The Cardinals always seem to play the Cubs tough, and vice versa, no matter where the two teams are in the standings.
Josh Timmers: Yeah, we might have to settle for the Cubs winning by just eight games.
Danny Rockett: Unless the Pirates can move their home games to Korea to get Jung Ho Kang back.
Josh Timmers: I think Dexter Fowler was the perfect signing for the Cardinals, sad to say.
Russ La Croix: I will miss Fowler, though. He was a special guy and still is. Even if he's in a Cardinal uniform.
Sara Sanchez: I think the Brewers have some young talent that could surprise and the Pirates could have some issues that could put them in a bad spot. But otherwise I agree with Russ - Cubs/Cards/Pirates/Brewers/Reds. It will be really interesting to see if Jay + Almora + Schwarber >= Fowler
Al Yellon: Offensively they certainly can be. The Cubs will miss Fowler most in the clubhouse, I think. Such a great guy.
Josh Timmers: Yes, losing Kang hurts the Buccos. Sara -- I love what the Brewers are doing up in Milwaukee. But they are still a few years away.
Danny Rockett: Cubs were 10-9 vs. the Cards last year. But the Cards actually hit nearly 100 more homers than they did in 2015. If they can get their defense together (Fowler) watch out!
Sara Sanchez: Agree -- it would have to be perfect storms on both sides, Josh. I just think it's possible.
Danny Rockett: Plus down years from an aging Adam Wainwright and an inexperienced Michael Wacha.
Sara Sanchez: Josh Bell looked not great in spring training, the Kang thing hurts the Bucs. The Cards got hit hard when they lost Alex Reyes. He's great and scares me.
Josh Timmers: Losing Reyes is a huge blow to StL.
Danny Rockett: Reyes is a blow, but Lance Lynn is back. The Brewers have no pitching. Well, not NO pitching. That's the Reds. Opening Day starter Scott Feldman, for example.
Sara Sanchez: I am eternally grateful to Scott Feldman and Chris Bosio for bringing us Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
Josh Timmers: The Reds are a mess. They have no pitching, no defense and no plan. At least they have Joey Votto.
Al Yellon: The Reds could lose 100 games this year.
Sara Sanchez: I feel bad for Joey Votto.
Danny Rockett: I don't. Guy is probably the meanest Canadian on earth.
Josh Timmers: Alex Trebek.
Sara Sanchez: ha ha ha
Josh Timmers: He wants to stay. If Votto wanted to go, the Reds would unload him.
Al Yellon: Does he have a full no-trade?
Josh Timmers: I think so.
Al Yellon: Who are your other NL playoff teams?
Sara Sanchez: Dodgers, Nats and Mets/Cards
Danny Rockett: Dodgers and Mets (if pitching is healthy for Mets). WC: Cardinals and Nats.
Josh Timmers: Nats and Dodgers as division winners. Wild Card? Who knows. Mets and Giants, but it could be the Cardinals. I wouldn't even rule out the Diamondbacks.
Al Yellon: I've got the Mets and Dodgers as division champs, Giants and Nats wild cards. Josh, you're right. The D-backs could be good if their pitching is any good.
Sara Sanchez: The Diamondbacks intrigue me. If Shelby Miller is back and Zack Greinke is real Greinke....
Josh Timmers: Their new front office is a huge improvement -- all Theo disciples.
Sara Sanchez: Yep.
Al Yellon: Well, just about anyone would have been better than Dave Stewart.
Sara Sanchez: That might take a year or two to actually blossom, though.
Josh Timmers: They were left a mess, but they're cleaning up in a hurry
Danny Rockett: I wouldn't rule out that Beer League softball team in Atlanta either. Mix of vets and youngsters. It might work.
Josh Timmers: Atlanta is going to be a fun team. I'm not sure they make it to .500, but they'll be lots of fun to watch.
Al Yellon: This is my favorite Bartolo Colon fact:
Bartolo Colon made his MLB debut the day Turner Field opened. He'll now pitch at the new Braves park. The dude outlasted a stadium.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 11, 2016
Sara Sanchez: That’s amazing. It seems like the NL is still a lot like last year, though. Stacked at the top, a couple teams who could surprise, big bottom of rebuilders
Josh Timmers: I was going to say--there is a clear favorite in each division, a clear wild card candidate in each. Two teams just not trying in each division (although who knows what the Rockies are doing) and one .500 team in each — the Marlins, Pirates and D-backs.
Al Yellon: The Rockies have had injury issues in spring training. I thought they might be a surprise contender, but not with those injuries.
Sara Sanchez: Agree with you on the Rockies re: injuries.
Josh Timmers: Signing Ian Desmond made no sense.
Al Yellon: No, but at least he can hit. Now they have no one to replace him.
Josh Timmers: If he can get on the field. But he's wasted at first base.
Al Yellon: That's true. What about AL predictions? Got any?
Danny Rockett: I like Boston, Cleveland, and the Astros. WC... no clue.
Al Yellon: Red Sox, Indians, Rangers division title. Blue Jays/Astros WC.
Josh Timmers: I'd say Toronto, Cleveland and Seattle. Wild Card could be anyone, but I'll go with Boston and Angels.
Danny Rockett: Yankees might get there too. Wild Card that is.
Al Yellon: Angels? Really? Saw them in ST, they looked awful.
Josh Timmers: Spring training is pointless.
Al Yellon: Well, I get that... I just don't see the Angels as anything but an old team.
Sara Sanchez: And their pitching was not good last year and they didn't add an arm.
Josh Timmers: They're getting Garrett Richards back.
Sara Sanchez: They are getting 100 pitch cap Richards back. He'll be lucky to make it to the fifth inning most games.
Al Yellon: Garrett Richards = Jason Hammel.
Sara Sanchez: First or second half Hammel?
Josh Timmers: Richards is a lot better than Hammel, IMO
Al Yellon: He can be... but that's the question, will he be?
Josh Timmers: Fair point, Al. The AL is a lot more wide open than the NL.
Sara Sanchez: I also like Boston and Cleveland. The West intrigues me more. I sort of like the Mariners, if the Astros pitch like 2015 and keep McCullers healthy that's really interesting. The Orioles are going to outslug everyone again and pray they score more runs than they give up.
Al Yellon: OK, the big question: Are the Cubs going to repeat as champions?
Josh Timmers: They're the favorite, but if you asked me to bet the favorite or the field in baseball, you always have to take the field.
Sara Sanchez: They have a 14% chance on 538 right now, which I believe is better than we were at the start of the season last year... but still. Wicked hard.
Danny Rockett: It's gonna be tougher, that's for certain. But the core is still young and now has the experience as to what it takes to make it happen.
Sara Sanchez: I do like the way the organization is approaching the season though. Joe Maddon's whole "Be Uncomfortable" thing is a great way to approach it.
Al Yellon: It's not always the numbers, Sara, as I'm sure you know. Winning it all is really, really hard, as we found out last year. I mean, if the Cubs don't have that four-run rally in the ninth in Game 4 vs. the Giants, they could have been eliminated right there. Then they had to come back from being down 3-1 and go into extras in Game 7.
Sara Sanchez: I agree 100 percent Al, just throwing some numbers out there that back up the case.
Danny Rockett: I think the bullpen needs addressing if the Cubs are going to repeat.
Josh Timmers: I think they are a better team this year than last--but last year they were just a few bad bounces away from not winning it all. And other than Schwarber, they stayed really healthy last year. It will be tough. They can do it, but it will be tough.
Al Yellon: I agree with you, Danny. I'm a bit worried about Wade Davis and Hector Rondon. Hopefully they're OK and spring training was just that, training, working on things.
Josh Timmers: I actually like this year's bullpen better than last -- and I think they have the resources to address the pen during the season if necessary -- hopefully without giving up Eloy Jimenez or Ian Happ.
Sara Sanchez: Davis and Rondon are my big questions marks too. I do think Carl Edwards Jr. could step into that role by mid season if necessary though
Al Yellon: If the Cubs have to trade Jimenez or Happ, it should be for quality starting pitching
Danny Rockett: It was such a short off-season. I can see seeing some regression from Arrieta and John Lackey is another year older. Would like to see them address some long term starting pitching for the future via trade.
Josh Timmers: Edwards will be the Cubs closer in 2018 is my prediction.
Al Yellon: I agree, Josh.
Sara Sanchez: I'd rather try CJ there than give up Happ or Jimenez. I can't believe how awesome those two are.
Al Yellon: OK, now let's each make one BOLD prediction for the Cubs for 2017.
Josh Timmers: I guess "Win the World Series" isn't BOLD anymore.
Russ La Croix: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo will combine for 75 homers. As for surprises... not really sure. I don't know if Happ comes up unless there's an injury somewhere. Too much blockage.
Josh Timmers: Painful!
Russ La Croix: Who knows... maybe they can repeat for David Ross.
Al Yellon: And Ross wins DWTS and everyone's happy!
Russ La Croix: He's a heck of a lot of fun to watch each week, that's for sure!
Sara Sanchez: I think Rizzo finally beats Bryant and is NL MVP
Al Yellon: Albert Almora hits better than anyone expects and is the fulltime center fielder by the time the season ends.
Danny Rockett: Kyle Hendricks wins 20 games.
Josh Timmers: My BOLD prediction is that Almora hits .280 with 15-20 HRs, Gold Glove defense and no one cares he doesn't walk. He'll finish second in ROY voting to Dansby Swanson.
Sara Sanchez: I think Kyle is real for sure -- love that prediction.
Al Yellon: You all know how big a Kyle fan I am... hope that turns out to be true!
Sara Sanchez: Man, I hope you're both right about Almora. I love the glove... not sure about the bat
Josh Timmers: Loved the kid since the Cubs drafted him.
Danny Rockett: The kid works real hard. He had a fantastic spring.
Sara Sanchez: He did.
Josh Timmers: He just has that "it" factor about him. (I know that was real analytical.)
Al Yellon: Sometimes that "it" factor means more than any numbers you could quote. As you know I was always worried about his bat. His defense is top notch -- maybe the best center fielder in baseball soon, even better than Kevin Pillar or Kevin Kiermaier.
Josh Timmers: His baseball intelligence is off the charts -- see the 10th inning of Game 7.
Danny Rockett: The eyeball test definitely tells me he's here to stay.
Sara Sanchez: If some of the young guys stop striking out on offspeed stuff... the Cubs would be even more terrifying.
Josh Timmers: This team is always going to strike out. We'll just have to live with it.
Al Yellon: Anyone have any final thoughts to wrap up?
Sara Sanchez: I hope Theo/Jed/Joe are hard at work on a magical formula to keep players healthy. The Cubs were really lucky there last year, if they can luck out there again, the sky is the limit in 2017.
Josh Timmers: It's going to be a different season this year. There is going to be no talking about 1908 or curses or lovable losers. That's good. But it's going to have a different feel this year.
Danny Rockett: Yes. I think the song of this year is this one... "Pressure Drop" by Toots and the Maytals.
Sara Sanchez: Also, happy to be here with you all.
Josh Timmers: We're happy to have you, Sara!
Al Yellon: Glad to have you, Sara!
Russ La Croix: Glad you’re here!
Danny Rockett: Def! Welcome to the fam.
Josh Timmers: This team is really good. But so are the Dodgers and Nationals. Nothing is guaranteed.
Al Yellon: From my viewpoint, this season will have a bit of "victory lap" feel to it. Sure we all want the Cubs to win again, but if they don't... well, there's still that warm afterglow of 2016. And this team is positioned well for the next 5-7 years. We should all enjoy the ride.
Josh Timmers: Absolutely, Al. We're greedy, but we're grateful and content for what we've already received.
Sara Sanchez: I'd be totally happy to repeat, though.
Danny Rockett: I think it would be very "Cub" to repeat again like they did 109 years ago.
Sara Sanchez: Make it so, Theo.
Al Yellon: Indeed. That would be fantastic. And it's surely possible!
Josh Timmers: Yeah. Someone wrote "The Cubs haven't won back-to-back titles in 109 years." Of course, no NL team has won back to back titles since the 1975-76 Reds.
Russ La Croix: Ack... the prediction. Can I abstain? You just never know with the playoffs. Obviously I'd love to see the Cubs in the Series again, but there are just so many variables to getting there a second time in a row. But I think that with the Cubs being intact for the most part, they should have another successful run.
Sara Sanchez: The Big Blue Machine?
Josh Timmers: The Big Blue Marble?
Danny Rockett: haha. The Blue Meanies?
Josh Timmers: I like that one, Danny!
Sara Sanchez: That's what they say in St. Louis, right?
Josh Timmers: I still remember that VEB post that compared the NL to "Game of Thrones" a few years ago. The Cubs were the White Walkers and "Winter is Coming."
Sara Sanchez: That's great, actually. Winter is HERE!
Josh Timmers: Yes! It is WINTER! (In St. Louis)
Danny Rockett: I love going from Goat to Gloat.
Josh Timmers: Here's to the next 108 years!