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Three takeaways from Cubs’ spring training with two weeks until Opening Day

While some Cubs’ storylines will fade as the spring winds down, others will affect the team even after the regular season begins.

John Antonoff/Chicago Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs are beginning to fine-tune with two weeks left before heading back to Chicago, and there has been no shortage of things that have stood out this spring. While some will fade as camp winds down, -others will affect the team when the regular season begins.

Here are three takeaways from Cubs camp:

Lineup is stacked, but it must produce

The Cubs need their offensive stars to be stars, and after many of the team’s offensive standouts struggled last season, this season becomes magnified with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo set to become free agents at season’s end.

While their impending free agency adds a level of pressure, the lineup still has an -opportunity to be one of the best in baseball. The lineup is deep, and it hasn’t been uncommon to see Javy Baez, Joc Pederson or even Willson Contreras hitting as low as sixth in the batting order this spring. Each of them is capable of anchoring a big-league lineup.

“We got people here, trust me,” Baez said. “We got the talent, we got the pitching, we got the hitting, we got everything.”

Having lineup depth like that is a luxury most clubs don’t have. While pitching has helped carry the team over the last few -seasons, the Cubs not only expect their lineup to return to form, they need it to.

While the 60-game season can be attributed to some of the Cubs’ offensive struggles, their performance against velocity or late-season struggles plagued them before the shortened season.

If the Cubs hope to contend in the National League Central, their offensive core will have to step up in a big way.

“This is a really talented offensive group,” president Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve struggled in certain aspects of the game that we have to improve on. ... When you look at the names in the lineup, it’s a really good lineup. I think we have to do a better job as a collective of putting that together and scoring runs.”

Rotation has a chance to succeed

There was no bigger question coming into spring training than the Cubs’ rotation and who was going to pitch behind ace Kyle Hendricks. The additions of Zach Davies, Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams answered the “who” portion of that question.

But with Arrieta and Williams coming off their own struggles with the Phillies and Pirates, and Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay having limited bodies of work, there were still concerns about the group’s effectiveness.

Spring results can always be challenging to gauge, but the Cubs’ rotation has pitched well during camp, and while the regular season will tell the story, the initial results have been positive. Davies has yet to allow a run this spring, Williams has a sub-2.00 ERA and Arrieta has gotten better in each of his outings.

There’s little room for error with some depth issues behind the Cubs’ starters, and health is still a concern coming off the shortened season. But if the Cubs’ vaunted pitching infrastructure gets consistency out of this group, they’re showing they can have success.

“I don’t want to underestimate the pitching corps,” manager David Ross said. “We’ve got some sneaky good pitchers that may not be on the radar. But there’s definitely a willingness to be great from that group.”

Shelby Miller making a push

Shelby Miller probably has had the best camp of any Cubs pitcher. The 30-year-old right-hander is not only turning heads, but is forcing his way into the team’s plans for 2021. Miller, who’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, has pitched well in various roles this spring.

Despite the competition for the team’s fifth starter with Mills and Alzolay, Miller might have done enough to carve out a role as the Cubs’ swingman out of the bullpen.

Miller has a 1.13 ERA in five games with three walks and 10 strikeouts. He has allowed just one earned run in eight innings. While not being on the 40-man roster could make the 26-man roster math tricky, Miller has done enough to earn serious consideration for Opening Day.

“It’s hard to predict that opportunity, but who knows?” Miller said. “I’m just trying to control what I can control at this point, and that’s just taking care of what I can do. As long as we’re going out there and competing and getting guys out, who knows what the possibility is?”