The curse is officially over. The most talented team in baseball took down the hardware and has the opportunity for more. The Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of disappointment and futility to make a bunch of fans that had made the trip to Cleveland and millions watching around the world happier than they ever thought they could be. It’s really hard to top that, but an encore presentation is definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
The Cubs won 103 games in the regular season, but it was those 11 wins in the postseason that mattered the most. The Cubs certainly had to earn it, as they erased a 3-1 deficit against an Indians team that basically had nothing left to give after defying the odds to even get to that point. With a loaded roster and a handful of key acquisitions, the Cubs are poised to make another run at November and could very well do it again.
The North Siders were 103-58-1 during the regular season in what was a display of sheer dominance. Winning 103 games and still having a better record via Pythagorean Win-Loss is ridiculous, but the Cubs outscored opponents by 1.6 runs per game and posted a 107-54 Pyth W-L record. They were 107-55 per BaseRuns as well. Per 2nd Order Win Percentage at Baseball Prospectus, which is a variation of Pyth W-L, the Cubs were 115-47. By 3rd Order Win Percentage, the Cubs were 113-49. Basically, they weren’t just the best team last season, per the underlying metrics, they were one of the best teams of all time. The last team to have at least 107 wins per Pythagorean Win-Loss was the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who finished the year 116-46.
So, what’s next? Breaking a drought that lasted over a century has to lead to a letdown right? A postseason hangover? A lot of guys played a lot of games and pitched a lot of innings. The division seems to be there for the taking with relative ease, but how many wins will the Cubs come up with during the 2017 season?
Additions: Jon Jay, Brett Anderson, Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, Brian Duensing, Carlos Corporan, Jemile Weeks, Eddie Butler, Williams Perez
Losses: Jason Hammel, Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, Joe Smith, Travis Wood, Brian Matusz, Jorge Soler
Some key components from last year’s World Series champion left town, but the Cubs have a lot of financial resources to go out and get competent replacements. They also have a ton of organizational depth that allows them to give up a talented player like Jorge Soler to take a little bit of a gamble on Wade Davis. Davis is an elite reliever when healthy, but he battled a lot of injuries last season.
The rental of Aroldis Chapman paid off for both the Cubs and the Yankees, who got Gleyber Torres and then re-signed Chapman anyway. Jon Jay replaces Dexter Fowler, who was on a one-year deal and then bounced to Chicago’s archrival in St. Louis. Koji Uehara and Brian Duensing come in as bullpen depth to replace some of the other losses. Brett Anderson replaces Jason Hammel. Eddie Butler is a lottery ticket and a depth starter for a rotation that worked a ton of frames last year.
Why bet the over?
The champs didn’t exactly get worse over the offseason. They entered the 2016 season without Aroldis Chapman and now have what they hope is a full season of Wade Davis. Brett Anderson probably has more upside than Jason Hammel if he’s healthy. Jon Jay isn’t the hitter that Dexter Fowler is, but he’s a competent defensive player. It’s not like the Cubs are suddenly 10 wins worse from a personnel standpoint. Considering they actually underachieved with a 103-58 record per the alternate standings metrics, that’s pretty damn scary for the rest of baseball.
There are simply no weaknesses on this team. They have average or better position players at every single position. They have four well above average starters and can plug and play with the fifth spot. They have at least five above average relievers in the bullpen. Are there some areas in the foundation that might need a little bit of patchwork to cover up some minor cracks? Absolutely, but we’re hardly talking about the possibility of collapse. You can go a very long way with talent in Major League Baseball and it’s very hard to find a team more talented than the Chicago Cubs. In fact, I honestly don’t think that you can.
Aside from that Mike Trout guy, Kris Bryant is the best position player in baseball. He posted a .292/.385/.554 slash in his SECOND FULL SEASON in the big leagues. In two seasons, he’s already a .284/.377/.522 hitter with 65 HR. He’s accumulated 15 fWAR over two seasons at the MLB level. Not only does he rake as a hitter, and of course the signs are great that he improved greatly from his rookie year to his sophomore year, but he’s also an above average fielder both at third base and in the outfield. He’s 25 years old. We’re looking at a player in the prime of his career and basically the only position player capable of challenging Mike Trout for the league lead in WAR. As nuts as it is, there’s room for improvement. He already cut his K% from 30.6 percent to 22 percent. His walk rate actually went down a bit, but he barrels a ton of balls and could crack 40 dongs this year.
The guy at the other corner is pretty damn good, too. Anthony Rizzo now has three straight 5+-win seasons per Fangraphs. He’s been remarkably consistent in those year. He posted a .397 wOBA with a 155 wRC+ in 2014, a .384 wOBA with a 145 wRC+ in 2015, and a .391 wOBA with a 145 wRC+ in 2016. He’s hit 32, 31, and 32 home runs in those seasons. He even popped 17 steals into the mix in 2015. He ran less last year, but he also had the best season of his young career with a .544 SLG, so he racked up extra-base hits with regularity. He’s an exceptional hitter in the prime of his career and you can write in another five-win season.
The upside guy is 23-year-old Addison Russell. Many are looking at him as a breakout superstar this year, which is exactly what the Cubs need. Another star player. Russell carried a .277 BABIP because his contact quality wasn’t great, but he hit 21 HR and increased his walk rate to 9.2 percent. He posted a 95 wRC+, which was a few ticks below league average, but he’s also an elite defensive player at the most important position in the field. While Russell has been finding his way at the plate, he’s been busy saving 29 runs defensively over two seasons at shortstop with quality UZR marks. Remember that he split his time between 2B and SS in his rookie season and saved nine runs defensively at the pivot, too. I think he cracks the four-win mark this year and shows more improvement offensively. He already cut his K% by nearly six percent from ’15 to ’16.
Projection systems and analysts are looking for a bounce back season from Jason Heyward. Heyward was so good defensively last year that he managed 1.6 fWAR, even though he was 28 percent below league average offensively. He kept walking, but his contact quality plummeted. He had a .230 batting average with a .266 BABIP. Heyward hadn’t posted numbers like that since his 2011 season. Perhaps it was the pressure of the contract, but Heyward returning to a league average hitter would add at least a win and probably more like 1.5 wins to his final tally.
Ben Zobrist continues to be one of the most underrated players in baseball. He hung a four-win season last year with a .360 wOBA and serviceable defense at second base. His versatility in the field and the fact that he is a switch hitter is so valuable. A full season of Willson Contreras’s offense should be fun. He batted .282/.357/.488 in 283 plate appearances last season. His great BB% and low K% from the minors didn’t translate in his rookie year, so expect improvement here, too. Kyle Schwarber’s defense will leave something to be desired, but a full year of his bat doesn’t hurt. He’s going to bat leadoff as the Cubs look to maximize his OBP skills. Jon Jay simply has to be adequate defensively with all the production around him and guys like Javier Baez and Albert Almora provide above average bench production.
As for the pitchers, I’m starting with Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks was an emerging star last season on the strength of a .250 BABIP against and one of the league’s best changeups. He posted a 2.13 ERA with a 3.20 FIP and a 3.59 xFIP. From the start of July until the end of the regular season, Hendricks allowed 17 earned runs in over 100 innings pitched. Even with some likely regression built in, we’re talking about a masterful control artist with more than enough strikeouts to get by and improving fastball command.
Jon Lester shouldn’t miss David Ross that much, so expect another strong year from the southpaw. Lester, like the other Cubs hurlers, enjoyed the embarrassment of defensive riches to post a career-best 2.44 ERA with a 3.41 FIP and a 3.47 xFIP. Like most pitchers around the league, Lester’s gopher ball frequency went up, but he’s stunningly reliable with at least 31 starts every season dating back to 2009. He’s a high-floor, four-win pitcher.
No, Jake Arrieta didn’t replicate his Cy Young Award winning season, but he wasn’t going to. His walk rate climbed, likely as a result of the heavy workload from the year before, and yet he still posted a 3.10 ERA with a 3.52 FIP. Like Lester, and basically every other pitcher around the league, his home run rate also went up. He’ll be fine. Father Time seems to skip John Lackey’s house every time he’s looking for fresh meat, so I’m sure Lackey will work 180+ innings again with good peripherals and something around three wins above replacement. There’s also good depth here with Mike Montgomery, Brett Anderson, and Eddie Butler. The Cubs have toyed with a six-man rotation, which is something to watch as we get closer to the year.
The bullpen should be quite good again. The Cubs are using guys in the sixth and seventh innings that most teams would kill to have in the eighth inning. The league change for Koji Uehara should cut into his home run rate, which ballooned last season. Wade Davis, if healthy, should be really strong again. He worked 43.1 innings last season. He wasn’t as dominant as the previous two seasons, but he has a lot of upside. Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr., and Justin Grimm are all above average relievers.
The biggest edge for the Cubs over the rest of the league is that they are phenomenal defensively. We’ll see how the Kyle Schwarber experiment goes in left field, but the Cubs accumulated 31 more defensive runs saved than any other team in baseball last season and still have guys like Heyward, Bryant, Russell, and Rizzo at their respective positions. They blew away the rest of the league in UZR. We simply cannot overlook that because it leads to a lot of great run prevention metrics. Just take a look at the starters’ ERA-FIP discrepancy and LOB% stats. It gives pitchers a margin for error and allows the offense to win games when they don’t light up the scoreboard. The Cubs should lead the league in these numbers again or be very close.
Why bet the under?
What the Cubs did last season was historic and it probably cannot be topped. As mentioned, they did things from a run differential standpoint that hadn’t been done in 15 years and obviously cracked the curse that had plagued the fan base and the organization for 108 years. In terms of a postseason hangover, the results are a little bit hit or miss, to be honest.
Ben Lindbergh wrote on October 31, 2014 about how things had gone to that point. As we know, the Kansas City Royals went right back to the World Series in 2015 and won it. They were a .500 team the following year. Per Lindbergh’s research, the drop in winning percentage is noticeably bigger for teams that won the Fall Classic as opposed to those that lost.
Make no mistake. The Cubs roster was designed in a way so that the team would win the World Series. That goal has been achieved. It’s simply human nature to relax a little bit after accomplishing a goal, so it’s fair to wonder how long the Cubs will spend trying to make up ground on a number like this. Winning 94 games requires a .580 win percentage. Starting 10-10, it takes a .592 win percentage to get to 94 wins. Starting 15-15, it takes a .598 win percentage. You can see where I’m going with this. If the Cubs get off to a slow start, induced from a postseason hangover or whatever else, the degree of difficulty in terms of winning 94 games gets greater and greater. As epic as Chicago’s season was, the Cubs were 35-15 after 50 games, which put them in a great position to win a ton of games. It’s not easy to be 20 games over .500 after 50 games. They were 18-20 over the next 38 games heading into the break before having a ridiculously good second half.
But, there will be lulls. The Cubs had a losing record in July. Things happen. Injuries happen. The Cubs stayed remarkably healthy last season. Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, and Addison Russell all had 592 or more plate appearances. The five primary starting pitchers for the Cubs (Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey, Hammel) all made at least 29 starts. We don’t often see that. Yes, Kyle Schwarber was lost for the season, but that was the only real bit of injury adversity that the Cubs faced. That probably won’t be the case this season, based solely on simple variance. It may also be a factor that the Cubs have had two long playoff stints in back-to-back seasons.
Five relievers had at least 50 appearances and Carl Edwards wasn’t called up until June 22. He made 36 appearances after that. The Cubs are good, but it takes a lot of luck to win 103 games and it is generally injury luck that becomes the standout factor. Some extremely talented teams go nowhere because of injuries. The Cubs were very fortunate on that front this season. It helps to have a young core of players, but there are some risk factors.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 96.5 (-115; BetDSI)
Injuries are really the only case that I can make for the Cubs to come in under the win total, but that’s good enough for me with a total this high. The Cubs may start off a bit slower than last year’s 35-15 start, but talent eventually rises to the top and they have so much more of it than most of their opponents. This is a very young core group of players and there are signs of guys that had great seasons having better ones and of guys that had bad seasons improving.
I don’t know the domination will be as noticeable. I don’t know if the Cubs will go out there win 42 games by five runs or more. They had a +200 run differential in games decided by five or more runs. They hammered the American League in interleague play. They won over 70 percent of their home games. But, that’s not to say that this is a team that is somehow going to drop off by 10 wins. The roster is largely the same with similar talent replacing guys that left.
I simply can’t pick a team to win at least 97 games. Too many bad things can happen. Should the Cubs win 97 games? With their talent, yes. But, there’s no margin for error with something like this.
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
There are a lot of people that are ready to give the World Series to the Chicago Cubs without a regular season game, a playoff series, or even one meaningful pitch. In some respects, it’s easy to see why. The Cubs went from a road wild card to a NLCS competitor in pretty quick, and impressive, fashion last season and the team got stronger this past winter. An influx of exceptional, young talent has created a major buzz in Chicago the likes of which has not been seen in a long time.
If this group can lead the team to the promised land, they will have broken the most notorious drought in professional sports. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908. The Steve Bartman was the closest that they have come. Realistically speaking, it’s hard to find a Cubs team in the last 100 years that is as good as this one. The 1935 Chicago Cubs went 100-54, a mark that this season’s team probably won’t top, but last year’s Cubs club won 97 games. That tied the 2008 team for the most wins in a season and was the most wins since the 1945 Cubs won 98 games.
Recent history is not on Chicago’s side. Can you remember the last team that was heavily favored and won the World Series? That was the 2009 New York Yankees. They were a +300 favorite in March prior to the season. Hype often leads to disappointment. It leads to a lot of pressure. A World Series title is the only outcome that matters. Winning 102 games, getting to the NLCS or getting to the World Series isn’t enough. Only one thing matters. A title. That’s a lot of pressure on a team and this, for all intents and purposes, is still a pretty young Cubs bunch.
Raining on the parade, which is already being planned through Wrigleyville, this is a team that overachieved last season. Their 97-65 record was accompanied by a 90-72 Pythagorean W-L record. The Cubs were 34-21 in one-run games, including 13 walk-off wins. They were 49-32 at Wrigley Field, even though they were just +20 in run differential. To Chicago’s credit, they were 42-18 over the final 60 games of the season, which is just an incredible run. Going 27-11 against Cincinnati and Milwaukee was a big help and that same luxury is available again this season. By BaseRuns, the Cubs were a 94-68 team.
A 94-68 record would be good enough this season to go over the win total and should be good enough to make the playoffs. You won’t find many detractors of this Cubs team and I won’t even pretend to be one. However, as good as they are, winning 93+ is hard. Remember when everybody piled on the Nationals last season with a win total in the mid-90s? They won 83 games. After winning the 2013 World Series, Boston was supposed to rock everybody’s world. They finished last in the AL East and won 71 games.
We’ll see how it plays out, but there’s no denying that this could be the year.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 93.5 (-135/105)
5Dimes: 93.5 (-110/-120)
Bovada: 92.5 (-130/100)
Key additions: Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, Adam Warren, Rex Brothers
Key losses: Starlin Castro, Chris Coghlan
This was the offseason of a team that is going for it. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist were two of the best free agents available and all it costs to get free agents is money. Small-market and mid-market teams have to build up farm systems and trade for proven Major League talent. Teams with money can buy them and surround them with young talent. The Cubs did that and, in the process, seriously upgraded center field and second base.
Not nearly celebrated as much were the additions of John Lackey and Adam Warren. Lackey provides stability in the middle of the rotation, something the Cubs were lacking, and Warren is a great swingman that can slot in the back of the rotation or work in middle relief. He’s a really valuable asset on a team that has good position player depth, but could use a little more pitching depth.
Starlin Castro needed a change of scenery and Chris Coghlan was a platoon bat with better players in front of him. All in all, this was one of the most successful winters in Major League Baseball and the win total market certainly reflects that.
Why bet the over?
Why not bet the over? Everybody’s doing it. Atlantis Sportsbook got laughed at for a bad number on the Cubs at open and the rest of the market opened right around where the number is now. It’s tough to find reasons to be against the Cubs. Fangraphs’s Depth Charts projections have them as the team with the most WAR this season with 52.2 wins above replacement player.
This is what happens when you draft well and develop better. The Cubs got a perfect storm situation last year when Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Kris Bryant all emerged in the same season. Anthony Rizzo was already a proven Major Leaguer. With these guys on a good development path, the ball was in motion last offseason with the acquisitions of Miguel Montero and Jon Lester. Now, with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist added to the mix, there are no discernible weaknesses on this roster.
It’s hard to find a starting point, but we’ll start with the most proven young hitter of the bunch in Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo is signed to a real sweet deal and piggybacked his 2014 season with an equally-impressive 2015 campaign. His numbers dipped slightly from really, really awesome to really awesome, as he posted a .286/.387/.512 slash. His wOBA dropped by 13 points, but that wasn’t enough to take away much of his value. He also cut his strikeout rate, which should help this season. Oh, and he very quietly stole 17 bases with new, more aggressive manager Joe Maddon. Oh, and he’s very useful in the field.
Kris Bryant struck out in over 30 percent of his plate appearances, but did a ton of damage when he put balls in play. He had a .275/.369/.488 slash with a .371 wOBA and a 136 wRC+. Not bad at all for his rookie season. Bryant has incredible power, which showed with 26 home runs and three more in seven games at the minor league level. Bryant was held back in an effort to avoid qualifying for Super Two status and a fourth year of arbitration, but that seems to be water under the bridge now and he’ll rake this season, probably improving across the board.
Jason Heyward got paaaaaaaaaaid this winter, signing an eight-year, $184 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. He deserves it. He’s an elite defensive outfielder in right field, which is where he should return with Dexter Fowler back in the mix. Heyward also owns a .268/.353/.431 slash for his career and had one of his better offensive seasons last year with the lowest strikeout rate of his career. In 6,756 innings in right field, Heyward had amassed 119 defensive runs saved. That’s the kind of value you pay for.
Kyle Schwarber’s power was really on display, as he hit 16 home runs in 273 plate appearances. He’s passable in left field, so his power bat will definitely play well in the corner. He worked a lot of counts, with over 41 percent of his plate appearances ending in a strikeout or walk. He struck out more as he faced better pitching, but, as a polished college bat out of Indiana, he could see some gains in the contact department. If that happens, he might be a .260/.375/.490 guy, which is incredible production.
Ben Zobrist’s best days may be behind him, but he won’t be bounced from position to position all that often this season and the switch-hitting second baseman is coming off of his best offensive season since 2012. He didn’t run as much last year, but he walked more than he struck out and hit 13 home runs. The thing about Zobrist is that he really deepens this lineup. Who knows where he’ll hit in the order, but if its sixth or seventh, it’s rare to have an NL team that has this many guys that walk and hit for power.
Addison Russell scuffled offensively, but the power was there. The 2B/SS hit 13 home runs in 523 plate appearances and played spectacular defense. Behind second and short, he accumulated 19 defensive runs saved. He’ll almost exclusively play short this season and should keep growing offensively. He’s only 22.
Depth isn’t an issue here, with Dexter Fowler in center, Jorge Soler, world-class defender Brendan Ryan, and a super utility man with absurd power in Javier Baez all very capable of playing and contributing.
Jake Arrieta’s second half of 2015 won him a Cy Young. In Arrieta’s 67 starts with the Cubs, he is 36-13 with a 2.26 ERA and a 2.62 FIP. He has a 3.89 K/BB ratio. That’s a really special pitcher. Even with some regression, which will happen because his second half was so historic, we’re still talking about a 2.50-2.75 ERA/FIP/xFIP with an elite cutter and terrific peripherals.
The first 32 starts in the NL went about as you would expect for Jon Lester. Victimized by some bad defense early, Lester settled in for his usual season with an ERA in the 3.30-3.50 range, a FIP better than his ERA, and more than 200 innings of work. He’s remarkably consistent, outside of a tough 2012 season, and he and Arrieta make a very formidable 1-2 punch. He’s not a great fielder, but that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things.
John Lackey won’t repeat his 2015 season. And that’s perfectly fine. As a middle of the rotation guy for the Cubs, Lackey will probably post a 3.50 ERA and eat up 200 innings. He benefitted from an 82.6 percent strand rate in 2015, so that’s why his 2.77 ERA won’t happen again, but he’s got a good defensive team behind him as his strikeout rate gradually drops later in his career. He’s a great addition to this team and has a good bit of postseason experience, something the Cubs were missing last season outside of Lester.
Kyle Hendricks is a guy I really like. He had above average K/BB rates last season and got unlucky with some sequencing. A 69.9 percent strand rate bumped a 3.25 xFIP and a 3.36 FIP into a 3.95 ERA. He worked 180 innings in his first full big league season. This year, as he takes another step, it’s not hard to see the Cubs having four 200-inning starters and all of them will have above average production. The lineup gets a lot of love, but the rotation is strong, too.
Jason Hammel has some injury issues, so Adam Warren is a great safety net. Travis Wood is another guy with starting experience, so the Cubs run seven deep right now. That’s good enough, as somebody else should emerge later in the year.
The bullpen is really deep as well. Hector Rondon is the anchor and the closer, but Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm were excellent in middle relief last season. Trevor Cahill seems to have found a niche in relief after being a failed starter. Adam Warren will probably end up back here unless he beats Hammel for the rotation. There’s a lot of good right-handed relief depth, with the possibility that Rex Brothers is healthy enough to be a shutdown lefty.
The schedule helps the Cubs immensely. They smashed bad teams last season to the tune of a 53-33 record. There are six bad teams in the National League and two of them are in this division. The Brewers finished 29 games behind the Cubs for third place last season and are in a rebuild. The Reds were 33 games behind the Cubs when it was all said and done. Many believe that the Cardinals and the Pirates will take steps back this season. It’s all setting up well for Chicago.
Why bet the under?
This is really hard to do. Making a case for the under with this kind of talent is difficult. Earlier in the piece, I cited the Washington Nationals as a team with high expectations that fell short, but they didn’t have the talent or the depth that this team has. I can reach for things like “sophomore slumps”, but these guys are way too good to fall into that trap. Sophomore slumps happen when hitters or pitchers don’t adjust. These guys are talented, but also have very high baseball IQs.
But, I’ll do the best I can do dissuade you. For one thing, four teams in MLB won 95 or more games. Three of them were in this division and the other was the World Champion Kansas City Royals. Three teams won 95+ in 2014. Four teams did it in 2013. It’s not easy over the course of 162 games to sustain a .580 or a .586 win percentage. Things happen. Variance happens. Injuries happen. Betting a number this high leaves no margin for error. Almost everything has to go right. Limiting risk is the goal of any futures play. Betting on a team to win 95 games, no matter how high the ceiling is, carries a lot more risk than playing a more manageable number on another team.
The Cubs put it all together in the second half, when Jake Arrieta went on his tear. A lot of these guys were up by the All-Star Break when Chicago was 47-40. They were 50-25 after the Break. A 34-21 record in one-run games is prone to regression, since most teams, save for those with truly elite bullpens, are generally within three or four games of .500.
The other two non-rebuilding teams in this division combined for 198 wins last season and nobody had a better run differential among NL teams than the Cardinals. Even if St. Louis and Pittsburgh do regress a little bit, they are still very good clubs. I would expect the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants to be better. Most anticipate that the Arizona Diamondbacks will be better and the Miami Marlins aren’t going to lose 90 games again. All of the wins from the Central should get spread out a little bit, creating a little bit more parity among the top teams.
Defensively, the outfield could be an adventure. Jason Heyward is great in right field, but he could see time in center if Dexter Fowler gets hurt or struggles. Heyward, in a small sample, hasn’t had nearly the same success in center as he has in right. Kyle Schwarber is something between a statue and a large caterpillar in left field, so he may not be a great fit out there. Ben Zobrist is on the wrong side of 35, so any outfield appearances for him may not go as planned.
The starting rotation looks great on paper and has a lot of potential, but four of the five projected starters are on the wrong side of 30 and Jason Hammel has had all sorts of injury issues throughout his career. Jake Arrieta worked 229 innings plus 19.2 more in the playoffs. He had never worked more than 156.2 innings in the Major Leagues in his career. John Lackey is in his age-37 season and had Tommy John a few years ago. I expected him to fall apart last season after working so many innings, but maybe this is the year. Starting pitching depth is the one thing that this team lacks, in that if any of the top four go down, they’re hard-pressed to find somebody. They either take away a reliever like Adam Warren or Travis Wood or use a replacement-level guy like Dallas Beeler.
Like most young(ish) teams that make a run, some guys really reached new highs in innings, plate appearances, and other things that can have a hangover effect. Former starter turned reliever Hector Rondon set career highs in innings and appearances. Pedro Strop worked 76 games in the regular season and added on in the playoffs. Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta set new career highs across the board. Hitters had long seasons and less recovery time. Everybody’s body heals different. Guys have different training regimens. I’m sure there are more tangible studies out there about how these things affect teams the following season. I’m going to go on the common sense assumption that they do and do so in a relatively big way in terms of injuries and performance.
As much as I want to do it, I just can’t take the under. Injuries could happen and turn a promising season and a World Series contender into an 82 or 83-win team, but I don’t see a better team in Major League Baseball on paper. Between the offseason acquisitions and the continued development of very good, young hitters, I just can’t get myself to expect the worst for this team.
Because of the offensive depth, the floor is high enough for me to buy in. The starting rotation concerns are very real, especially about Lackey and Arrieta, but this is a team without weaknesses when healthy. There are viable replacements here, especially in the National League and especially with elite-to-above average defense at the majority of the positions on the field.
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