The Chicago Cubs set out to repeat as both division and World Series champions.
The goal for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017, like every year, is to win the NL Central division. So, how do they stack up against the team they’re hoping to dethrone?
While the Cubs lost Chapman, their closer and one of the best relievers in baseball, they may have actually improved their bullpen. Over the last three seasons, Wade Davis has held opponents to a .211 wOBA and owns a 1.18 ERA. In the same period, opposing hitters have managed a .221 wOBA against Chapman, leading to a 1.78 ERA.
Wade Davis will presumably take over closer duties for Chicago. Last season, Davis accumulated 27 saves in his first year as a full-time closer. Notably, Wade Davis’ health is a concern for Chicago. Last year, he hit the disabled list twice with what was diagnosed as a forearm strain.
To add some insurance, the Cubs acquired Koji Uehara. The 42-year-old reliever spent the last four seasons with the Boston Red Sox. While Uehara saw his ERA jump more than a run from 2015 to 2016, his strikeout rate actually improved to 34.2%. Additionally, while Uehara’s walk rate was a “career worst,” his 6.0% BB% in 2016 raises little concern.
The Cubs lineup structure will see the most overhaul next season after losing Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler this offseason. Jon Jay will likely begin the season as the Cubs starting center fielder, with the potential to platoon with Albert Almora, a former Baseball America top prospect.
Additionally, Kyle Schwarber will return to the Cubs lineup after missing most of 2016 with an ACL injury. He figures to factor in at left field, as well at catcher. Either way, his presence in the lineup adds a potent bat to an order that already includes Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, among others.
While the Cubs offense received the most attention last season, their defense may have been just as important. The Cubs team defense ranked first in the MLB, with their 69.0 Defensive Runs Above Average nearly 16 runs better than the second best San Francisco Giants.
The Cubs lost an average or slightly better defensive centerfielder in Fowler. Additionally, Schwarber will have to play the field to hit. How he bounces back defensively from the year lost to injury will be a key for the Cubs.