Why the Cubs Will Repeat As Champions, Part 3
I’m going to spare all of us the wheel spinning and just state the obvious that the Brewers and Reds are not going to compete in 2017. So that leaves us with the Pirates and the Cardinals. Do they have what it will take to hang with the Cubs in 2017?
With Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Tyler Glasnow, and Chad Kuhl, the Bucs appear to have the makings of a pretty solid rotation–maybe. If the stars align, these five could be fairly formidable, but what are the odds of that? Cole has a history of injury. Nova has a very short track record and while promising, Glasnow and Kuhl are completely unproven.
Jung Ho Kang is a question mark of sorts at 3B. After being arrested for DUI in his home country of South Korea, his legal obligations there mean he will miss the beginning of spring training. But beyond that there is the spectre of a possible suspension from MLB looming over him. But even if that doesn’t happen, his 2017 is off to a less than ideal start.
It looks like the Pirates will have David Freese, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison, Josh Bell, and Franciso Cervelli around the infield. Josh Bell just had knee surgery and might not be ready for the start of the season, but they still have John Jaso, he of the blonde dreadlocks who could be in for Bell at first if he is not ready for opening day.
The Pirates have realigned their outfield defense with Gregory Polanco in left, Starling Marte in centerfield, and Andrew McCutcheon in right. At first glance this looks like a point of strength, but Marte’s defensive numbers in centerfield are markedly worse than they were in left, where he has won back to back Gold Gloves. Polanco will have to deal with being on the other side of the diamond, and McCutcheon has to deal with a new position and the slight of losing his more prestigious spot in center. Plus there are still trade rumors floating around about McCutcheon. How will they all respond?
While the Pirates return a lot of quality players, they didn’t do much to improve the team that went 78-83 in 2016. And while an argument could be made that they had some injuries and the curious case of Andrew McCutcheon holding them back in ‘16, I don’t see some better luck getting them 20 more wins in 2017. The Pirates look to be a solid, but not a spectacular team again, and I’d guess they finish around 84-80. Well behind the Cubs.
The Cardinals have Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, and Luke Weaver fighting for the 5 starting slots. Whoever comes out on top, assuming they all stay healthy, this should be a strength for the team.
They return Johnny Peralta, Aledmys Diaz, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina around in the infield. And they have Randal Grichuk, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty around the outfield. In terms of changes, the Cards have essentially replaced Matt Holliday with Dexter Fowler. Holliday had a 0.3 WAR in 2016 where Fowler had 4.2 WAR, so this is an almost 4 win upgrade. However, 2016 was the best year of Fowler’s entire career—1.4 WAR higher than his previous high. So can he realistically be expected to repeat that feat at age 30? I have my doubts. Especially because he won’t have Kris Bryant hitting behind him. I’m guessing he will make a +2.5 difference.
Long story short, the redbirds made the one big addition with Fowler but didn’t do a whole lot else considering how far back of the Cubs they finished in ‘16.
In my previous 2 articles through sabermetrics I attempted to show how the Cubs will be better in 2017 than they were in 2016. But more than all of the number crunching, what tells me the Cubs will win in 2017 is these guys are winners. They’ve been through many gauntlets and come out the other end stronger. They know how to win. And more importantly, they know they can win. They’ve done it. And they’ve got the rings to prove it. They have *21* guys back from the 25 man World Series roster, and two of the replacements the Cubs have acquired have successful World Series experience of their own that they bring to the party.
So absent some majorly unforeseen circumstances, I just don’t see how the Pirates or the Cardinals can hang with the Cubs in 2017.
Joe Maddon came to Chicago to win a World Championship. He did it in 2 years. Do you think he’s done? That he’s ready to ride off into the sunset in his RV? Personally, I don’t think so. I think the best is yet to come. And the National League better watch out.