clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 900 club? Cubs expect big things out of young, improving core of hitters

Kris Bryant expects to be sharing a lot of high fives in the dugout with other Cubs hitters this year.

MESA, Ariz. — As much as it seems the Cubs struggled for much of last season, without a position player making the All-Star team, they return six players who hit 20 or more home runs.

Shortstop Addison Russell hit 21 in 2016, and two others have a combined four 20-homer seasons.

And the Cubs scored more runs than anyone in the National League last season besides the Rockies.

‘‘Pretty much everybody in our lineup could hit 25 home runs, and if that happens, that would be pretty special,” said third baseman Kris Bryant, who has averaged 31 in his three big-league seasons. ‘‘I got goose bumps [thinking about it]. Whoever’s leading off could be a 30-homer leadoff guy. That would be pretty impressive.’’

RELATED STORIES

Cubs’ Tyler Chatwood tunes up arm, bat in final Cactus League start

Star power: Cubs expect big things from renovated rotation in 2018

Bryant said that even before season-opening leadoff man Ian Happ led off the Cubs’ Cactus League game Friday with his sixth homer of the spring.

‘‘It’s wild to think we have that kind of lineup,’’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks said.

A young lineup of already-successful hitters returning en masse with another year of experience is a big reason the Cubs had big ideas for 2018 even before landing four-time All-Star right-hander Yu Darvish as spring training opened last month.

The Cubs scored 822 runs last season, even though Kyle Schwarber struggled as a leadoff hitter and spent time in the minors; shortstop Addison Russell struggled on and off the field before missing two months with an injury; and catcher Willson Contreras went down with a hamstring injury in August, just as he had become the hottest hitter in the league.

Now they’re all healthy and among a roster of Cubs hitters who look comfortable and confident as they enter the last few days before opening the regular season against the tanking Marlins and their suspect pitching.

‘‘There’s no reason why that cannot continue,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘It’s not like this is an anomaly moment. It’s not like we’ve never played this well before. It’s not like we’ve never played with this kind of energy before. We’ve done all those things.

‘‘And now it’s a group that’s been together and coming off a little bit more rest and really focused and motivated for this year. I really anticipate what you see right now to continue.’’

Maddon hasn’t asked his pals in the analytics department to run projections on what this lineup might do with the second-year Happ influencing it all season and another season of collective experience possibly providing a boost.

Might they be the first NL team to score 900 runs since steroid testing? The 2003 Braves (907) were the last NL team to do it.

Of course, if the revamped pitching staff stays healthy, it probably won’t matter whether the Cubs’ scoring numbers from last season improve at all in the next six months.

But it didn’t stop one wide-eyed young reporter from asking Bryant whether the Cubs might have as many as eight MVP candidates this season.

Bryant didn’t smirk, much less laugh.

‘‘A lot of guys on our team could be the best players on some of the other teams around the league,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘That would be something if we had eight MVP candidates, but I don’t think it’s out of the question.’’

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com