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2020 MLB Team Preview: Chicago Cubs

Steve Buchanan provides his thoughts on what the 60-game MLB season could look like for the Cubs.

July Update: Many people believe the Cubs will be the team to come out of the NL Central as the division winners. It makes sense, seeing as the Cubs have been a mainstay in the playoffs aside from last season. However, I think we’re looking at another year where the Cubs will be on the brink of a playoff spot. The Cubs are coming into this shortened season relatively healthy but lack any true depth in their rotation. Jose Quintana, who needed surgery after a kitchen accident, is looking likely to open the season on the injured list, thus ensuring that Tyler Chatwood will be in the rotation. With a thin rotation to begin with, the Cubs could get off to a slow start, which can’t be afforded in this format. This team will still mash the ball with the core of their offense returning but I don’t believe they’ll be able to keep up with their rotation and a shaky bullpen.

When 2019 entered the playoffs, the Cubs were not part of them, ending a four-year streak of making it. As the attention turns to 2020, the Cubs enter a period of uncertainty for their long-term future. Sure, they have the talent to make it deep but will they be in a position to do so? I’ll take a look at what to expect this season.

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Javier Baez has big fantasy potential in 2020

DraftKings Sportsbook odds

— Division Winner: -250

— League Winner: +1100

— World Series: +2500

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Key Departures:

Cole Hamels, SP; Nick Castellanos, OF; Pedro Strop, RP

Key Acquisitions:

Steven Souza Jr., OF; Jeremy Jeffress, RP

2020 Fantasy MVP

Javier Baez, SS

The bar is clearly set high when a player slashes .281/.316/.531 with 29 home runs, 85 RBI and scored 89 runs and was considered to have had a “disappointing season.” Baez was that guy last year after he posted a .290/.326/.554 with 34 home runs, 111 RBI and 101 runs scored through 160 games in 2018. With that in mind, he’s one of the only bats in this lineup that can consistently contribute in all offensive categories, including home runs.

The Cubs finished the league fifth in runs last season and are getting back the majority of their bats from last season. Baez, who primarily hits cleanup, should be in for another season full of RBI opportunities. If Baez could cut down on the strikeouts (27.7, 26 K% over the last two seasons) he could potentially take the next step in the power department and reach that 40 home run mark for the first time in his career. Either way, with a decline in power with Anthony Rizzo and the uncertain future of Kris Bryant, Baez looks as if he’s set to take the claim of the Cubs fantasy MVP.

2020 Fantasy LVP

Jon Lester, SP

Lester struggled in 2019 and I don’t expect much to change heading into 2020. At the age of 36, the level of effectiveness for Lester should continue to go down despite being listed as the Cubs’ No. 1 starter. Lester was giving up a lot of hard contact last year, ending with a 38.6% rate, which was by far the highest of his career. His previous career-high came in 2018, where he ended at 32%. For reference, he never ended a season over 30% ever since joining the league back in 2006. His swing-and-miss rate also landed in single-digits for the second straight season at 9% in 2019.

The Chicago rotation will likely be its biggest weakness in the upcoming season and having Lester anchor that staff isn’t exactly the play to make. Lester, who had just a 21.6 K% last season, doesn’t generate the ace “stuff” anymore. Sure, he was able to cut down on his walks last season but he needs to keep getting more outs through ground balls if he’s going to be successful. I simply don’t see that happening with the way he’s been pitching over the last two seasons.

2020 Breakout Player

Ian Happ, OF

Happ is a known commodity in the Cubs organization, as he was a highly-touted prospect and has moved through the minors quickly. However, he spent the majority of his time in Triple-A last season, logging just 58 games and 156 plate appearances for the Cubs in 2019. In that span, he slashed .264/.333./.564 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI. Now with a clear path in the outfield, Happ is destined to open up the season (whenever that happens) as the starter in center field.

Unless you’re already a Cubs fan, Happ is going to be very overlooked as the season begins. His power simply can’t be discounted, as he’s hit for double-digits in all three seasons up in the majors. Happ can run the bases as well and while he hasn’t done it consistently, he can be counted on for at least 10 steals if he plays the full season. Happ was a power-hitting machine once he was called up for the Cubs last season, posting a .300 ISO through 58 games.

Final Thoughts:

The Cubs attempted to change the culture of the team during the offseason. With the departure of Joe Maddon, they continued the growing trend amongst teams to bring in a former player to manage in David Ross. While it’s worked for some teams, as the Twins and Yankees have seen immediate success, I’m not convinced it’ll be that in Chicago.

As I mentioned earlier, the rotation the Cubs will be rolling out is going to be a big problem throughout the season. This team has no true ace and a bullpen that won’t exactly be in a position to bail them out if things go south quickly. Craig Kimbrell, who was looked upon as a massive mid-season signing to close out games, ended up throwing 20 2/3 innings, making 13 saves and blowing three. His strikeout numbers remained elite but he also allowed 15 runs on 21 hits, including nine home runs. In a division that feels up for the taking by almost every team (except the Pirates), I don’t think the Cubs have enough to take advantage of the situation in front of them.

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