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BCB roundtable: 2018 Cubs and MLB season preview

A discussion of the season to come from BCB’s front-page writers.

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Over the last couple of years, BCB’s front-page writers have gotten together virtually to discuss the season to be, and playoff series. We enjoyed it and I think you did as well, so we decided to do it again to kick off the 2018 season. Duane Pesice was unable to join us, but Josh, Thomas, Danny, Sara and I had a lively online conversation Monday afternoon. The online chat has been lightly edited to put some out-of-order replies in an order that made sense.

Al Yellon: I bet you all can’t wait for Thursday! Real baseball at last!

Josh Timmers: Please. These Spring Training games are driving me nuts.

Sara Sanchez: I’m actually more than a little disappointed that the game is so early

Josh Timmers: Spring Training is too long!

Sara Sanchez: I want to be able to watch opening day baseball, not have to listen to it at work. *kicks pebble*

Al Yellon: Players will tell you that about spring training, too. But owners are not going to give up that revenue now that ST is a profit center

Sara Sanchez: Like I get the whole “baseball all day” thing, but it’s a bummer to have the Cubs start the season during the work day.

Thomas Smith: I’m as excited for this season as any since I was a kid.

Josh Timmers: True, but the Giants and Madison Bumgarner might sing a different tune right now.

Sara Sanchez: Yep.

Al Yellon: The Cubs seem to have a real sense of purpose this year, it shows in their preparation AND the fun they have had all month.

Thomas Smith: I agree with you totally, Al. All signs point to a team that showed up on day one ready to pursue another championship.

Sara Sanchez: They do seem to be determined this year.

Josh Timmers: Does Tommy La Stella have a girlfriend yet? ❤️

Al Yellon: If TLS doesn’t, the phones should be ringing off the hook!

Josh Timmers: The fact that La Stella is the last guy off the bench, however, shows you how incredibly talented this team is right now.

Al Yellon: This team seems stacked in so many areas, with a lot of depth everywhere. What are this team’s weaknesses, if any?

Sara Sanchez: Not that they weren’t last year, but there is a vibe...

Josh Timmers: Maybe Ben Zobrist is the last guy off the bench now.

Al Yellon: I think there really is something to the “World Series hangover” — you saw it last year, and how they recharged after the All-Star break.

Thomas Smith: There is no question it was an issue for the 2017 Cubs. But of course that championship was transcendent. The bullpen has to be the biggest question. No real certain thing out there. More quantity than anything.

Josh Timmers: Strength in numbers in the bullpen, though.

Al Yellon: I think Brandon Morrow can handle closing. If not, they can go to Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., or Pedro Strop.

Sara Sanchez: I might be alone here, I think the bullpen is improved, even with losing Wade Davis.

Josh Timmers: The bullpen is better, although not because Davis is gone.

Al Yellon: Sara -- I think the bullpen has better depth, but the uncertainty of Morrow having not closed before is a question. I think he’ll be fine

Josh Timmers: The odds are that someone is going to emerge from the bullpen this summer and have a dominant season.

Sara Sanchez: I believe Morrow can close, and if he can’t Cishek has in the past as well.

Josh Timmers: Even if Morrow isn’t fine, I’m confident someone will step up.

Sara Sanchez: I agree with that.

Josh Timmers: We know Mike Montgomery can close games if need be.

Thomas Smith: Davis was so fantastic last year. Really sorry to see him go. Even if it was the obvious call.

Al Yellon: Which Cubs starting pitcher is going to be the staff “ace”? All five have a legitimate claim on that, even Tyler Chatwood.

Sara Sanchez: I’ve already got a bet going with Cooler, and my money is on Kyle Hendricks.

Thomas Smith: I still think Jon Lester is the guy.

Al Yellon: You all know how much I like Kyle... but I think this is Yu Darvish’s year to step up

Josh Timmers: When your fifth starter is Chatwood, once again that speaks to the depth of the pitching staff. I don’t know that they’ll have an “ace.” If I have to bet, I’d say Darvish.

Sara Sanchez: There was an excellent piece in the Athletic recently about Kyle’s approach and how he’s been stepping into more of a leadership role since Jake Arrieta is no longer there.

Al Yellon: Yes, I read that piece in the Athletic. Kyle is such a smart guy, he can use that intelligence to get past the fact that he doesn’t throw as hard as the other guys. I just love watching him carve hitters up with that changeup.

Josh Timmers: In a piece that a Cardinals fan asked me to write up for his season preview on his blog, I said Jose Quintana was the key player this season. I believe that. Quintana could be the ace of the staff too.

Sara Sanchez: I love having four aces. (Speaking of which, someone with better graphics skill than me needs to Photoshop their faces onto actual aces from a deck of cards or something.)

Thomas Smith: I love that this management group is never satisfied. They are always adding. This rotation should be phenomenal.

Danny Rockett: I believe Jose Quintana steps up this year to his full potential as an ace. The best part is having so many great starting pitchers on the team takes pressure off of the others. One guy doesn’t have to do it all.

Al Yellon: Which Cubs position player has a breakout year at the plate?

Sara Sanchez: Willson Contreras.

Danny Rockett: Ian Happ. Let me elaborate. Ian Happ seems to be a very business-like hitter. And he is so young with so many other great hitters around him making him better.

Josh Timmers: Ian Happ.

Thomas Smith: Happ. All aboard the Happ train!

Al Yellon: Addison Russell.

Josh Timmers: I don’t know what position Happ will play though. I’d love it to be Addy. I think he will improve.

Al Yellon: I think Happ is pretty much the center fielder, though Albert Almora Jr. will play some there as well.

Sara Sanchez: I think Willson will be the best offensive catcher in the game this year.

Thomas Smith: I expect bounce back years from Russell and Kyle Schwarber both.

Al Yellon: The eye test in spring training told me that Happ has really worked hard on his defense. He’s taking much better routes to balls this year.

Josh Timmers: Almora deserves to be a starter. That he could be on the bench behind Happ just shows again how deep this team is.

Al Yellon: You’ll see Almora in right field and left field at times, when Heyward and Schwarber sit vs. LHP. He’ll get plenty of playing time.

Josh Timmers: Oh yeah. Almora will get his playing time. I just wanted to make a point about the outfield depth.

Thomas Smith: I think Happ will be the primary center fielder and primary leadoff man.

Danny Rockett: Schwarber is the Billy Hamilton of fat guys. He will be hiding hoagies in the ivy by the All-Star break. I kid! I kid!

Sara Sanchez: Schwarber is positively svelte these days, Danny.

Al Yellon: Schwarber’s almost unrecognizable. He looks great. He seems serious about his new diet and new shape.

Josh Timmers: Schwarber looks like he could be in a UFC match this year.

Thomas Smith: He was embarrassed by last year. I love how he responded.

Josh Timmers: That video of him and his girlfrield cooking on their diets this winter was sooo cute.

Danny Rockett: I hate when my significant other goes on a diet.

Sara Sanchez: It is a cute video!

Al Yellon: I think we’d all agree the Cubs will win the N.L. Central. What are things that could go wrong?

Josh Timmers: I wrote a whole piece on that. People didn’t like it.

Al Yellon: I liked it!

Josh Timmers: I know you did. The bullpen could self-destruct.

Sara Sanchez: The Cardinals could channel their traditional devil magic and substantially overperform.

Josh Timmers: I just don’t see that happening, Sara.

Sara Sanchez: I don’t really, either, Josh.

Al Yellon: The Cardinals don’t have a closer, their bullpen is awful. That will be a problem for them

Danny Rockett: Injury, of course. But I don’t trust the bullpen. But does anybody trust their bullpen? I’m not sold on Morrow as the closer. They might need to make a move a la Chapman.

Josh Timmers: Willson Contreras could get hurt. That could have a big impact.

Al Yellon: The Cubs were lucky last year to have Alex Avila when Willson went down... hope we don’t see an injury like that again

Sara Sanchez: You all need to stop talking about Willson getting hurt...

Josh Timmers: It only cost them Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes though.

Al Yellon: Candelario is going to be a good player, for sure

Sara Sanchez: Jeimer has looked really good.

Josh Timmers: Candy is becoming a fan favorite in Detroit. Good for him and good for them!

Danny Rockett: Speaking of that. I’m not sure they made the right decision with Chris Gimenez being sent down.

Josh Timmers: That can be remedied any time, Danny.

Al Yellon: I do think they will give Willson lots of days off so he doesn’t get too exhausted over a long season. I’m not sold on Victor Caratini’s defense, hope he proves me wrong

Thomas Smith: Contreras is the obvious most difficult to replace but I believe there is plenty of margin. There are no guarantees but this team has to be a near lock.

Al Yellon: Who will be the other N.L. playoff teams this year? (Two of them should be pretty obvious)

Josh Timmers: The Cubs, Nats and Dodgers are the closest things to a lock in the NL since they went to three divisions.

Sara Sanchez: The Nats, Dodgers and someone else out of the West

Al Yellon: I’m going with Dodgers and Nats as division winners, and D-backs and Rockies in the wild card game again

Josh Timmers: I’m going to say the Diamondbacks and, what the heck, the Phillies. I like their young team.

Sara Sanchez: The Phillies are definitely intriguing.

Thomas Smith: I’m expecting the Phillies to still be a year or so off.

Josh Timmers: That could be true, Thomas.

Danny Rockett: Plus, the Phillies have 19 games against the Marlins. Doesn’t hurt the other N.L. East teams.

Al Yellon: Jake Arrieta makes the Phillies better, for sure, they could get into wild card contention with him leading that staff.

Josh Timmers: Plus, they play in the N.L. East which should give them an edge. Carlos Santana could be the underrated pickup of the winter.

Al Yellon: The only thing about that is that it hurts the Phillies defense by forcing Rhys Hoskins to play the outfield. But they will hit, for sure.

Danny Rockett: I’ll take the Dodgers and Nats. Wild card to San Francisco, they’ll dig their “Believen” slogan out of retirement.

Thomas Smith: I’ll go with the locks plus D-backs and Cardinals. They always get things figured out.

Josh Timmers: Something just strikes me as “off” about the Cardinals this year. There’s talent there, but I’m not sure Matheny will be able to get a playoff contender out of it. (This is something that a lot of Cards fans would actually agree with.) Plus, the N.L. Central is going to be a tougher division. The Pirates aren’t terrible and the Reds are improving.

Thomas Smith: Just seems like logic and reason always fail where the Cardinals are concerned.

Sara Sanchez: Do the Marlins have a set rotation yet?

Danny Rockett: Do the Marlins have pitchers?

Sara Sanchez: Last I looked two of their projected starters were starting on the DL and I couldn’t figure out who the Cubs would face in that series.

Al Yellon: So far the Marlins only have an Opening Day starter listed, Jose Urena. They could lose 110 games this year. That team is stripped down to nothing. Starlin Castro is really their only recognizable player.

Josh Timmers: J.T. Realmuto is still there. He’s good.

Sara Sanchez: Poor Starlin.

Danny Rockett: Ureña lotta trouble, Marlins!

Josh Timmers: Lewis Brinson is going to struggle his rookie season in Miami. (He might be really good in 2020. though.) Dan Straily still in Miami?

Al Yellon: Straily is on the DL.

Josh Timmers: Well, that’s no good for them.

Al Yellon: What other non-Cubs baseball things will be intriguing this year?

Josh Timmers: The Angels! Maybe not the best team, but the Angels sure are interesting.

Sara Sanchez: Will the Yankees beat their all time home run record? And for that matter, does the home run spike continue?

Al Yellon: Definitely the Angels. With all the hype surrounding Shohei Ohtani, he’s been awful this spring. But it looks like they are sticking with their plan to have him in their rotation and DH 2-3 times a week.

Josh Timmers: I don’t think Ohtani will hit at all. But he’s going to be a great pitcher eventually.

Danny Rockett: I’m actually interested to see what the White Sox do. They could overperform like the Brewers did last year.

Al Yellon: Danny, I agree re: the White Sox. If they had signed Arrieta they might have been a wild card contender.

Josh Timmers: The White Sox are indeed putting together a great club. Still a few years away, in my estimation, but sometimes the baby arrives early.

Al Yellon: Also, will more teams start doing what the Phillies (Scott Kingery) and D-backs (Ketel Marte) just did with signing young players to long term deals?

Danny Rockett: It’s not a bad move. Look at the Anthony Rizzo deal.

Sara Sanchez: Don’t forget the Jose Altuve deal! Although that was more lucrative for obvious reasons.

Thomas Smith: Ohtani will be curious to watch for sure. Albert Pujols apparently tried to get back in shape too.

Danny Rockett: Pujols needs a time machine!

Josh Timmers: Teams will try to do those deals. Whether players will sign them is a different matter.

Al Yellon: How many games will the Cubs win this year?

Thomas Smith: 97.

Al Yellon: I’m going with 98.

Josh Timmers: I’m going to say 98 too.

Sara Sanchez: 96.

Danny Rockett: 101.

Al Yellon: 100+ wins is certainly possible if everything goes right!

Danny Rockett: The Cubs will dominate.

Josh Timmers: Yeah, and they could only win 92 games if things go badly. That will still be enough to win the N.L. Central.

Al Yellon: Which is what happened last year.

Josh Timmers: Exactly.

Al Yellon: OK, time for a closing thought or two from everyone.

Josh Timmers: I really don’t like to predict the playoffs, but I do think that the Cubs may have inherited the Giants even/odd thing. We’d take it, of course, because that would mean another parade in Chicago this November.

Al Yellon: I’m really excited for this season. Everything fell into place over the offseason, Theo & Co. filled all the holes they needed to fill at reasonable cost, and the players seem totally prepared to play, and have fun. I think the Cubs are World Series bound again.

Thomas Smith: I expect this team to get its swagger back. They want to bury the division early because they learned how draining a real pennant race is last year.

Danny Rockett: Keep it fun. This team loves each other and we love the team. Positivity will go a long way to pushing it through to another championship.

Sara Sanchez: Happ is going to be able to do some damage at leadoff if he can decrease his K rate.

Josh Timmers: Who’s going to stop the Cubs? The Dodgers? The Nationals? Possibly. But I wouldn’t take either team over the Cubs right now.

Al Yellon: I wouldn’t either. Last year the Dodgers were definitely the better team. But I don’t think they are now.

Thomas Smith: I too think if they avoid injuries and any terrible postseason luck they will be back in the Series.

Josh Timmers: Anything can happen in a five- or seven-game playoff though.

Al Yellon: As we learned in 2016! Those series were all hard fought.

Thomas Smith: Yeah, exactly. A couple hot hands can change everything.

Josh Timmers: Oh, man. The Cubs would have lost the World Series if the Indians had just one more starter and if their rotation didn’t finally collapse in Game 5.

Danny Rockett: If Trevor Bauer didn’t play with toys.

Sara Sanchez: I can’t even think about that.

Al Yellon: Fortunately we don’t have to!

Josh Timmers: LOL. But really, it was because Cleveland went with a three-man rotation the whole postseason. The fatigue got to them.

Sara Sanchez: So true.

Danny Rockett: Danny Salazar was down. Huge help.

Josh Timmers: Terry Francona didn’t have much choice though.

Al Yellon: Anyway, I think that pretty much wraps things up. Thanks everyone -- can’t wait for the season to begin!

Josh Timmers: Let’s go CUBS!

Danny Rockett: So excited!

Sara Sanchez: I cannot wait. Thursday needs to hurry up!

Thomas Smith: Go Cubs!