The Cubs aren’t flawless, but good luck finding a definite weakness.
This is likely a source of considerable comfort and occasional terror for the team’s front office. On one hand, who wouldn’t feel good about the possibility of being better than the previous year’s model, which won the World Series? On the other hand, it’s like the start of an ominous tale: “The sky was a deep blue that idyllic July day …’’
The Cubs bring back the reigning National League most valuable player, Kris Bryant. If last season was his sophomore-slump season, his third year in the big leagues could be truly frightening.
Speaking of scary, how much damage can Kyle Schwarber do if he stays healthy an entire season?
The Cubs have the best infield in the majors, provided Javy Baez is in it.
They won 103 regular-season games with Jason Heyward struggling mightily at the plate, although sunshiny manager Joe Maddon said last week, “I thought he had a really good year.’’ OK, Joe. The point is, imagine if Heyward’s hitting comes around. How crazy good could the Cubs be?
A rotation that includes Jon Lester (second in NL Cy Young voting last season), Kyle Hendricks (third), Jake Arrieta (the 2015 Cy Young winner) and John Lackey is absurd.
The Cubs lose Aroldis Chapman and gain Wade Davis, which isn’t a bad closer exchange. And, as far as we know, Davis hasn’t fired eight bullets inside his garage after a domestic-violence incident.
The Cubs are talking about breaking the club’s home run record of 235, set in 2004, and they should be with Bryant, Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell in the lineup.
“I definitely think it’s a possibility,’’ Bryant said.
That’s just it: Everything is a possibility with the Cubs. That’s the fun and the beauty with this team. The list of good things isn’t endless, but you do have to squint to see all the possibilities lining up.
And that, of course, leads to the most innocent question of all, the kind of question that might be asked before someone lights a cigarette outside a building that, unbeknownst to him, happens to be a fireworks factory: What could go wrong?
You don’t have to be a seer, or a buzz kill, to see the possibility of some darkness ahead. As good as the Cubs are, that’s how fragile life is.
Here are some potential issues:
— Injuries. Schwarber’s season-ending injury several games into the 2016 schedule looked like it was going to be a big problem, until it wasn’t. The Cubs won 103 games in part because they hardly had any other injury of significance. What are the odds of going two seasons in a row without injuries being a factor?
— Schwarber batting leadoff. The kid looks like a born hitter, so it shouldn’t make any difference where he is in the order. But plenty of players have struggled in spots that are new to them, Heyward being one of them. And maybe Maddon is right that baseball has moved beyond the need for a speedster in the leadoff position. But what if Joe is wrong? I know: Hard to believe!
— Schwarber playing left field. Maddon has gone out of his way to say that Schwarber’s defense in left is good enough, which should give you pause. The Cubs have to hope that Schwarber’s skills have improved since the 2015 postseason, when every fly ball to left had the potential to be a Greek tragedy, and last season’s small sample size, in which the center fielder had reason to wonder if the roaming left fielder wanted him dead.
— Maddon’s tinkering. The manager won some games for the Cubs last season with his mad-scientist mixing and matching, but he almost killed a dream season – and his reputation – by overusing Chapman in the World Series. That he refuses to say he was wrong should make Cubs fans nervous going forward.
— Lackey gets older and ineffective. The snarling right-hander is 38, so it’s fair to ask if the Cubs can get 188.1 innings and a 3.35 ERA out of him, as they did last season. But he has shown few signs of slowing down, and the team has depth if he does. Now, if Lackey and Lester both regress …
— Davis’ right forearm. The team’s new closer was on the disabled list twice last season with a strained forearm, a condition that was also an issue for him late in the previous season. How much confidence do the Cubs have in Hector Rondon as their closer if Davis gets hurt? Not much, if you consider the way they have looked past him to fill that role. How do they convince him they believe in him after that? Tough sell.
There will be challenges. Something bad likely will happen because something bad usually happens to a team. But, from the perspective of early March, it looks like it would take an army of bad things to bring down the Cubs. Hard to see it from here.