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BCB roundtable: 2019 Cubs season preview

A discussion of the season to come from the BCB staff.

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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 various playoff series. We enjoyed it and I think you did as well, so we decided to do it again to kick off the 2019 season. Josh, Duane, Sara, Danny, Thomas, Ashley (who is our social media manager) and I had a lively online conversation Wednesday afternoon. The online chat has been lightly edited to put some out-of-order replies in an order that made sense.

Al Yellon: Welcome to our preseason roundtable with the BCB staff. So... first question. What’s the single biggest thing that has to go right for the Cubs to succeed this year?

Duane Pesice: Darvish

Al Yellon: Darvish, and a big year from KB.

Sara Sanchez: The starting pitching has to hold up. Which includes Darvish, but also Lester and Hamels beating their aging curve and Q having a comeback season.

Ashley MacLennan: Definitely Darvish, keep them blisters off his hands!

Thomas Smith: Some good health in the bullpen could start any time now

Josh Timmers: Starting pitching staying healthy.

Danny Rockett: Ditto Sara. Lester and Hamels are a little long in the tooth. Could break down anytime.

Ashley MacLennan: Long in the tooth depresses me at age 35.

Danny Rockett: Health is always the most important factor. You can’t win without your team. Or at least it’s harder to win. I’m 45. My teeth are very long.

Sara Sanchez: I am not worried about Kyle. He just gets guys out.

Al Yellon: I thought Hamels had a fantastic spring. He looks rejuvenated

Josh Timmers: I’m most worried about Lester. Not that he’ll get hurt, but every year he seems to lose a little more velocity. One day the pitch won’t make it all the way to the plate.

Duane Pesice: Yeah. Lester’s slider and fastball are too close in velocity.

Thomas Smith: It’s going to be sad to watch Lester when he can’t just will his way to results.

Danny Rockett: Lester had a terrible spring. Even he will tell you that. He did not want an ERA around 10.

Al Yellon: Many guys who have bad springs wind up doing OK during the season.

Josh Timmers: Yeah, I don’t worry about bad springs out of veterans. The good news is that I do think there are guys like Montgomery and maybe even Chatwood who can step in if there are problems in the rotation.

Al Yellon: I think Chatwood is going to be the Cubs’ secret bullpen weapon. He did not walk a single batter in 10⅔ spring innings. Seemed to have a completely different approach coming out of the pen than starting.

Danny Rockett: I agree with Al. Chatwood is the new Montgomery from the right side, role wise.

Duane Pesice: I don’t think the team as composed finishes the year

Al Yellon: Sure. Did any of us think a year ago that Cole Hamels would be a Cub in August 2018?

Josh Timmers: I did! Ask Sara — I DM’d her on Twitter about how the Cubs should get Hamels.

Sara Sanchez: Ha ha, that’s true, Josh did call it

Thomas Smith: Every team’s bullpen evolves over the course of the year. Early in the season there will be a lot of breath holding after the sixth.

Josh Timmers: So they’re just going to call off the season in August, Duane? But seriously, what do you mean by that?

Duane Pesice: I don’t think the starting staff will last.

Al Yellon: Which starters won’t last?

Duane Pesice: Lester.

Sara Sanchez: I thought Chatwood did walk some guys. Looks like 4 over 14 total innings. He did have a great stretch, though.

Al Yellon: Chatwood’s 4 walks were all as a starter. No walks out of the pen.

Duane Pesice: I have no confidence in Chatwood at all.

Al Yellon: So who’s going to close? Does Brandon Morrow come back? Or is Pedro Strop the guy? Or someone else?

Sara Sanchez: STROP

Duane Pesice: Strop

Ashley MacLennan: Strop please.

Thomas Smith: I’d love to see Strop get a long look there.

Sara Sanchez: I am so here for Pedro Strop: Closer. #HatsLeft every time the Cubs are closing it down in the ninth is going to be so good

Josh Timmers: I think we’re going to have the dreaded “bullpen by committee” although I agree that Strop will probably end up with the most saves. I think Brach will get some, Edwards will get some and Morrow will eventually get some. Although, is “bullpen by committee” still “dreaded” in today’s game?

Al Yellon: Well, Pedro gets it at least for the first month, since Morrow is out till early May at least

Danny Rockett: I think you’ll have a few closers this year. Cishek, CJ...all of ‘em.

Thomas Smith: Then you can use Morrow (when healthy) to get the big mid game outs.

Duane Pesice: Strop is gonna be hard to move.

Sara Sanchez: In his last outing Strop had a 1-2-3 inning on 8 pitches. Against the Red Sox. 7 of those pitches were strikes. He K’d two guys. If he does anything close to that, Strop isn’t losing that job to anyone.

Duane Pesice: ding ding ding

Ashley MacLennan: I’m still so annoyed by tilted hats. Fernando Rodney bias forever.

Al Yellon: I do agree that maybe having one “closer” is a thing of the past. Maybe having several guys who can do it is the wave of the future

Danny Rockett: If you don’t have a flame thrower there’s no point to a single closer.

Ashley MacLennan: How modern of you, Al.

Thomas Smith: You have to attack late innings with waves. Mix and match options. Hot hand. Fresh arm. Good matchup. Whatever works.

Danny Rockett: Good point, Thomas. Always a different look.

Duane Pesice: Just like starters. You don’t want all of your starters the same. Why not apply that to the bullpen?

Al Yellon: Agreed. Managers need to stop managing to the save stat.

Ashley MacLennan: Agreeeed. Saves are stupid.

Josh Timmers: ”Holtzman’s Folly”

Danny Rockett: Except that saves mean wins.

Al Yellon: Joe Maddon seems to be just the kind of guy who would buck the trend and try something different in the late innings.

Danny Rockett: He had CJ start Tuesday.

Duane Pesice: CJ was a starter in the low minors.

Sara Sanchez: CJ isn’t going to start any games. We aren’t the Brewers.

Thomas Smith: I love that I’m interested in the arms at Iowa too.

Josh Timmers: Oh, if Dillon Maples could ever throw a strike he’d be one of the most devastating pitchers in the game.

Al Yellon: I would love to see Dillon Maples get his control and command, he has great stuff and can succeed in the majors if he can. Dakota Mekkes, too.

Josh Timmers: I don’t think he’ll get saves, but I see Mekkes as being an important part of the bullpen by mid-season.

Duane Pesice: Agreed.

Danny Rockett: Seems like the bullpen has a lot of decent arms stashed to ride the Iowa express. Too bad the new rules make that harder.

Sara Sanchez: Yeah, the Iowa Shuttle is going to be a thing again this year. Do I get to vote for Ian Happ? oh, bullpen ... j/k ... Although you never know with Maddon in a blowout.

Ashley MacLennan: It would have to be with the new position player pitching rules, Sara. Ruining all my fun.

Thomas Smith: Maples’ spring was encouraging. Can’t read much into spring but he did largely find the zone.

Al Yellon: Is there anyone else anyone saw during spring training who might have an impact on the bullpen this year? I’d vote for Allen Webster

Danny Rockett: I like Tim Collins. A Theo special. Two TJ surgeries. I’m rooting for the... little guy...

Josh Timmers: Collins is an intriguing arm. Wish I’d seen more of him recently. And you know, Adbert Alzolay could end up in the major league bullpen this year too. It would be a good way to acclimate him to starting in the majors.

Thomas Smith: Seemed like Tazawa had a good spring too.

Danny Rockett: Too bad the new rules prevent the players from picking up those couple hundred greyhound points from Des Moines.

Al Yellon: The new roster rules won’t go into effect until next year though.

Josh Timmers: Taylor Davis can’t wait that long.

Danny Rockett: Al... not even the IL rules?

Al Yellon: Right. The new 15 day IL for pitchers is next year, but that’s when the rosters expand to 26, too.

Sara Sanchez: Some of the rules are 2019 and some are 2020, I was just looking for that breakdown, actually.

Ashley MacLennan: Yeah, some are this season.

Danny Rockett: Nice. One more year of the Des Moines express. In that case the bullpen is built for a successful shuttle. I hope...

Thomas Smith: I’m excited for 26 man. Wish it had come with the DH. Having bats on the bench gives the manager better decision tree than pitchers hitting does.

Al Yellon: Offensively, we all look for a comeback year from KB and the usual season from Anthony Rizzo. Who will have the biggest breakout season for the Cubs as a hitter? I’m looking at you, Kyle Schwarber.

Duane Pesice: Albert Almora Jr.

Sara Sanchez: Willson. Contreras.

Sara Sanchez:

Josh Timmers: That’s your answer to every question, Sara.

Al Yellon: I would have been surprised if you had chosen anyone else, Sara.

Josh Timmers: What if I said Almora?

Ashley MacLennan: I’m with Al on Schwarbs. Mostly because I love Schwarber and want to see his version of total beast mode.

Danny Rockett: I don’t even need a breakout season from anybody. Just for everyone to be good would be wonderful.

Thomas Smith: If he gets playing time... Addison Russell. People forget how talented he is when healthy.

Danny Rockett: The problem with Willson is the backup catcher situation. I’ve been impressed by Caratini though. He gets a bad rap. As do all Cubs catchers when it comes to pitch framing.

Al Yellon: That’s why I had hoped the Cubs would pick up someone like Martin Maldonado, or Sandy Leon.

Sara Sanchez: I totally agree on Maldonado and Leon. I was even advocating for A.J. Ellis for a bit.

Sara Sanchez: Hopefully Ross being around more helps there.

Danny Rockett: Can Ross still catch or does he only dance now?

Al Yellon: The thing about the Cubs catchers is they really have NO depth behind Contreras and Caratini. Taylor Davis isn’t anyone who can play on a longterm basis and the only other catcher in camp with MLB experience was Francisco Arcia.

Danny Rockett: The catching situation bothers me greatly, especially because it seems like a relatively cheap and easy thing to fix. But instead, they go with Zagunis. (temporarily)

Josh Timmers: Zagunis was a catcher in college. Of course, he hasn’t caught in about 5 years.

Danny Rockett: One we have robot umpires you can put a lawn chair back there and it won’t matter.

Ashley MacLennan: I suspect depending on where they are in July the Cubs might go catcher-hunting, but who knows.

Al Yellon: There will be catchers available at that point for sure. Alex Avila of the D-backs will certainly be available.

Ashley MacLennan: I loves me some Alex Avila! ❤️

Duane Pesice: Almora is going to love playing every day.

Al Yellon: Almora still has to prove he can hit RHP on a regular basis.

Josh Timmers: True on Almora, but you could say the same thing about Schwarber and lefties.

Al Yellon: Schwarber’s only HR this spring came off a lefty -- and a good one too, David Price

Sara Sanchez: I think Schwarber has a breakout in him, too.

Thomas Smith: Yeah. Almora is still overexposed when he is playing every day

Sara Sanchez: I just think Willson had such a power outage at the end of 2018 that was really uncharacteristic. All he has to do to have a “breakout” is return to his normal numbers.

Danny Rockett: I can see Schwarber hitting 40 homers, but then he’ll bat .221.

Al Yellon: But even if he does that, Danny, he walks so much he’ll have a good OBP in the .350s

Sara Sanchez: With an OBP of 370

Josh Timmers: Schwarber has a lot more potential as a hitter than Almora. I think Almora is the safer bet to take a step forward though. Schwarber is more likely to turn in a season like Javy did last year.

Al Yellon: Does everyone think Javy can repeat what he did in 2018?

Duane Pesice: Sure!

Ashley MacLennan: Yes. Extend Javy now. Forever.

Thomas Smith: Sadly, no. I hope I’m wrong but I think that Javy season was pretty fluky.

Danny Rockett: I think Javy will regress.

Josh Timmers: I think Javy can repeat 2018, but maybe not in 2019? That’s a crapshoot.

Danny Rockett: Even if Javy is not as good, he will still be the most entertaining player on the field.

Sara Sanchez: I honestly have no idea if Javy will repeat what he did at the plate. I still can’t figure out how he did it. He still swings and misses so much, he was just kind of a master at putting bad pitches in play...

Al Yellon: Javy says he wants to walk more this year. That could make him even more dangerous.

Josh Timmers: I think Javy is going to turn in several MVP-level seasons in his career. But they may be interspaced between some down years too.

Ashley MacLennan: He wants to be the OBP MVP

Sara Sanchez: The BBáez is one of my favorite things in baseball.

Josh Timmers: I was just wondering if Javy could pull a Sammy Sosa and suddenly develop a ton of patience. Probably not, but Sosa did it.

Al Yellon: Sosa had a lot of help from Jeff Pentland, who was then the hitting coach.

Duane Pesice: If he did he’d have Sosa numbers

Thomas Smith: I worry that trying to be patient might hurt Javy. Some guys just need to hack away.

Danny Rockett: Javy plays on vim and vigor. That works until it doesn’t.

Al Yellon: I know that Javy is an incredible competitor and wants to do everything he can to win. If any of you have not yet read this article about Javy and Jose Berrios, it is excellent.

Duane Pesice: Scouted that already. Good piece.

Thomas Smith: Does the new trade deadline start this year?

Ashley MacLennan: Yes. Can’t play the August long game anymore.

Al Yellon: That’s going to be a major adjustment for front offices

Thomas Smith: Theo likes being an early starter. But he will have so much more competition now.

Josh Timmers: I’m wondering if we’re not going to see a lot more waiver claims in August now. As in, claim a guy on waivers and he’s yours.

Al Yellon: That’s a risky strategy, as the White Sox once found out with Alex Rios.

Josh Timmers: It is, but if there is no other way to get help in August?

Al Yellon: One of the unintended consequences of the new rule.

Thomas Smith: Sure. Just dump the salary after you are out of competition

Danny Rockett: Either way, I don’t foresee a big Cubs trade. They’ve been pretty clear that this is the team they are sticking to. They believe their own hype it seems.

Al Yellon: Well, they have reason to, I think. They had quite a number of injuries last year and won 95 games.

Josh Timmers: Yes. So much went wrong for this team last year and they still one 95 games.

Thomas Smith: That is what made me laugh about that 79 win projection.

Sara Sanchez: PECOTA really doesn’t like the Cubs

Josh Timmers: PECOTA is really out on a limb on that.

Danny Rockett: PECOTA used their new stat DRC-plus. So it’s a new thing....

Sara Sanchez: I spent a lot of time looking at their numbers and I will say this, if Willson is the third worst defender in baseball (not catcher, all defensive players), Pedro Strop has his first +4 ERA season since he was an Oriole, and no Cubs starters have an ERA under 4, PECOTA is probably right that the Cubs would only be about a .500 team. I just don’t think PECOTA is right about that.

Thomas Smith: The Reds and Pirates already won a good number of games last year against the Cubs. Not sure they will be in 12-15 territory all of a sudden. Meanwhile, regarding trades, I think they will still add if they are on top.

Ashley MacLennan: Avila would be a cheap get, tbh, they probably wouldn’t need to give up much of anything. It wouldn’t be like the Avila/Wilson trade of 2017 that’s for sure

Al Yellon: Agreed. Avila doesn’t seem like he can hit much anymore, but he is a good pitch framer.

Ashley MacLennan: Yeah, he’s a solid veteran catcher.

Danny Rockett: With veteran starters maybe pitch framing is not such a big deal?

Sara Sanchez: Danny, I think it probably does matter for Lester, he likes to steal low corner strikes.

Danny Rockett: Sara, umpires need to give Lester his veteran status and call it a damn strike!

Josh Timmers: I want Jeimer Candelario back. Don’t know where the Cubs would play him though.

Ashley MacLennan: You cannot have Candy back, sorry.

Josh Timmers: He’s probably in a better place in Detroit, though. (Which makes Detroit sound like heaven.)

Al Yellon: Regarding last year’s injuries, obviously losing Kris Bryant really hurt the Cubs and they could not afford another injury to him. Besides KB, who is the Cub they could least afford to lose to injury?

Duane Pesice: Javy

Josh Timmers: Rizzo

Thomas Smith: Contreras

Josh Timmers: Oh yeah. Can I change my answer to Contreras?

Danny Rockett: All of the above.

Al Yellon: I’d agree re: Rizzo. He’s the least replaceable.

Ashley MacLennan: Agree, Contreras because lack of catcher depth.

Josh Timmers: So really, both Rizzo and Contreras.

Al Yellon: You guys convinced me. It’s Contreras. If they lose him they’d have to trade for a catcher, and probably give up a lot to get someone good.

Thomas Smith: Every other position they can move people for. There is no viable starter behind Contreras

Danny Rockett: Schwarber can catch. j/k, j.k

Ashley MacLennan: Ross can still play, it’s fine.

Danny Rockett: Ross would be a good bullpen catcher... cause the dancing.

Josh Timmers: LOL

Sara Sanchez: I’d just like Ross around more.

Al Yellon: He supposedly will be around more. That can only be a good thing. OK, everyone make one BOLD prediction about the Cubs 2019 season

Thomas Smith: They win 97.

Danny Rockett: Three-way tie to end the regular season with the Cardinals and Brewers.

Duane Pesice: Ian Happ starts a game at second base in the playoffs.

Al Yellon: Yu Darvish wins the NL Cy Young Award.

Josh Timmers: Albert Almora will make the All-Star team and he’ll deserve it. Is that bold enough?

Sara Sanchez: Anthony Rizzo wins an MVP award.

Ashley MacLennan: Addison Russell is gone by June.

Sara Sanchez: I hope you’re right, Ashley

Josh Timmers: Not sure that’s all that bold.

Duane Pesice: I bet he gets a good price, too.

Al Yellon: It could very well happen.

Ashley MacLennan: I hope so. Bye Felicia.

Al Yellon: Who leads the Cubs in home runs and how many?

Sara Sanchez: Schwarber, 42.

Duane Pesice: Schwarber, 43.

Josh Timmers: Baez, 37.

Al Yellon: Schwarber, 40.

Danny Rockett: Bryant, 42.

Thomas Smith: Bryant, 44.

Ashley MacLennan: Bryant, 41.

Josh Timmers: I think the Cubs could have four or five guys with 30 HRs though. A lot would have to go right.

Al Yellon: OK, now let’s make our picks for where the Cubs will end up the year, both in the division race and the postseason. Mine: The Cubs will win 99 games, the NL Central, beat the Braves and Phillies in the NL playoffs and win the WS over the Red Sox

Duane Pesice: WS win!

Josh Timmers: The Cubs will win the division with 97 wins. I hate predicting the postseason because it really is a crapshoot.

Sara Sanchez: The Cubs are going to win the division with 92 wins. The Cardinals are going to miss the postseason in third with 87 wins.

Ashley MacLennan: I am going to be the odd one out and say 85 wins, third in the division (I’m so sorry)

Sara Sanchez: ASHLEY THIS IS A CUBS BLOG (j/k)

Ashley MacLennan: You should see my Tigers predictions lol

Sara Sanchez: Yeah, but in fairness the Cubs are a lot better than the Tigers. This isn’t 2013

Ashley MacLennan: I mean, my niece’s little league team is better than the Tigers right now

Danny Rockett: Three-way tie atop the Central. Win the Division. Lose Game 7 of the NLCS to Jake Arrieta and the Phillies when he hits a walk off homer in a complete game 1-0 shutout no hitter.

Thomas Smith: 97 wins. Division title (by about 5). Back to the Series.

Josh Timmers: I guess if I have to pick they go to the World Series where they get swept by the Astros.

Duane Pesice: Cubs over Red Sox in 6.

Thomas Smith: I’m in a similar boat to Josh. Lose in WS.

Danny Rockett: I have to go to the airport. I’m flying to Texas.... like.... soon....

Sara Sanchez: Oh yeah, and I’m also predicting a Cubs/Red Sox World Series, and obviously that has to go seven games.

Al Yellon: So to wrap things up... some final thoughts from everyone. Go!

Duane Pesice: Ian Happ beats Russell to the roster.

Josh Timmers: It would be interesting around BCB if the Cubs lost the World Series in 2019. How would we all react?

Thomas Smith: We definitely aren’t prepared for a WS loss. I can’t believe how quickly 95 wins became a major disappointment to most people.

Sara Sanchez: If the Cubs don’t make the postseason Joe is gone and I think that’s ridiculous, but true.

Ashley MacLennan: I think you’re right, Sara, and it’s sad.

Al Yellon: The Cubs win the WS and Joe Maddon gets a contract extension.

Danny Rockett: I hope it’s a weird and exciting race to the finish.

Ashley MacLennan: I think Yu Darvish is finally the pitcher everyone hoped he’d been when the signed him and people stop writing think pieces about how he’s not trying to get healthy.

Josh Timmers: I agree. I’m very high on Darvish in 2019. And, I think the Reds finish better than one of of the top three NL Central teams this year--probably the Brewers.

Duane Pesice: I have the Reds winning the division

Josh Timmers: I’m not willing to go that far, Duane.

Sara Sanchez: The Brewers are mind boggling to me. I don’t understand how they win games with their starting pitching and lack of a second baseman.

Thomas Smith: Stud pen is a major weapon, Sara.

Sara Sanchez: It doesn’t make up for not having a second baseman

Josh Timmers: Yeah, but the Brewers already have two big injuries in the pen. Keston Hiura should be the Brewers starting 2B by mid-May.

Thomas Smith: Honestly, if I had to pick one I’d pick their 2018 bullpen over a decent 2B.

Josh Timmers: How Hiura will do as a rookie is still unclear, but I think he’ll be a good player over the course of his career.

Danny Rockett: Gotta go! See you on Opening Day!

Duane Pesice: Later, Danny.

Sara Sanchez: Bring them luck, Danny!

Al Yellon: Catch you later Danny!

Josh Timmers: Take care of yourself, Danny.

Thomas Smith: Bye, Danny.

Al Yellon: Thanks everyone for being here, I thought this was a great discussion. HAPPY BASEBALL SEASON!

Duane Pesice: Cheers!

Sara Sanchez: Awesome, thanks for arranging it, Al. Also, thanks for joining, Ashley. I FINALLY WASN’T THE ONLY GIRL!

Ashley MacLennan: Thanks for letting me participate!

Thomas Smith: Awesome. Thanks. Go Cubs!!!

Josh Timmers: PLAY BALL!