2019 MLB preview: Pressure’s on Cubs, Sox to do better than they did in 2018
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That’s the four-lettered theme of this baseball season in Chicago. We need more from the Cubs, who didn’t meet their high standards last season. We need more from the White Sox, who haven’t seen much progress at the big-league level the last several seasons.
More playoff games from the North Siders, who dipped a single toe into postseason baseball last season and lost a wild-card game. Hell, more World Series appearances from the Cubs, while we’re on the subject of more. And from the South Siders, more discussion about the actual games this season and less focus on next season and the season after.
More attention on what needs to be done for the Cubs to be successful this season. No more references to their 95 regular-season victories last season, which some have used as a shield to ward off criticism of a disappointing finish.
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More victories for the Sox, who won only 62 games last season as they continued their rebuild.
That’s not asking so much, is it?
There are always heightened expectations heading into a new baseball season. Hope makes up about 75 percent of the game’s genes. But there’s more of an edge to the expectations in Chicago now. It wasn’t necessary for Cubs president Theo Epstein to call this a ‘‘year of reckoning,’’ which he did the day after the 2018 season died in its sleep. Anyone with halfway decent vision could see that 2019 was going to be a pivotal season for the Cubs. But it was nice that Epstein didn’t fall back on the comfortable cushioning of his team’s 95 victories. The 2016 World Series title ensured the air would be thin where the bar had been set.
That’s what winners want. Winners want more than regular-season success.
In no particular order, the Cubs need more this season out of Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Brandon Morrow. They also need more out of manager Joe Maddon. Epstein said the team became complacent last season. That falls on the manager. It doesn’t matter that adult baseball players should be able to push themselves to play hard every day. Of course, they should. But when a team starts exhibiting a nonchalance, a we’ll-try-hard-when-we-need-to attitude, it’s up to the manager to eradicate it like a preacher rooting out sin.
If Maddon wants more years with the Cubs, he’ll get that figured out. Otherwise, the organization might let him walk after his contract expires at the end of the season. Who thought that would be a possibility after the Cubs wandered out of their 108-year World Series title desert? Nobody.
But that’s what the need for more does to people.
The Sox want more, too. They want what the Cubs have. They want the victories, the status and the large-print expectations.
We’re going to start paying more attention to the present with the Sox, and that’s a good thing. Nothing against the future, but everybody gets a little too comfortable when the here-and-now doesn’t matter as much as the later. Now finally matters again. It’s why the failure to land Manny Machado stung Sox fans so much.
We need to start seeing more improvement out of Yoan Moncada, who hit a disappointing .235 last season. That’s the way this works. Not every acquisition is going to succeed for the Sox during the rebuilding process, but it would be a huge help if this particular one did.
We need to see more moments out of Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodon and, eventually, Dylan Cease — moments when you say, ‘‘Oh, so that’s the big deal.’’ Hard-throwing Michael Kopech, who blew into town on a bullet train of hype, had several such moments last season after the Sox brought him up from the minors. But he hurt his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. We’ll have to wait until 2020 to demand more of him.
It’s probably asking too much of a rookie, but I’ll ask anyway: Wouldn’t it be great if outfielder Eloy Jimenez took major-league baseball by storm in 2019? Sort of a Bryant-like arrival on the scene?
It would be wonderful for Sox fans to be able to say: It’s here. After all the losing, it’s finally here.
Conventional wisdom says they’re a season away from seeing the fruits of their rebuild. But that’s what conventional wisdom had to say in 2015, when the Cubs shocked almost everyone by winning 97 games. FanGraphs.com projects the Sox to win 69 games. Sounds underwhelming. Sounds overly humble. Let’s see a bigger arc to their trajectory.
The franchises are inextricably tied to one another, with an L line acting as a handcuff. They couldn’t escape each other if they tried. The Sox are following the plan the Cubs set down in 2011, when Epstein came to Chicago and declared the organization had to go backward first if it wanted to go forward.
They’re at different stages in their development, but they’ve both reached a moment in their histories when more really is required. More trips to the World Series for the Cubs, if they’re serious about this whole dynasty thing. More signs of progress from the Sox, who should be turning a corner.
It’s time for something beyond what the Cubs and Sox have offered of late.
2019: The Year of More.