The Cubs have an intriguing look to their staff this year. With the departure of Jake Arrieta and the acquisition of Tyler Chatwood, I truly believe Chatwood will be the key to the Cubs staff this year. Led by veteran Jon Lester, along with seasoned pitchers in Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana, the pitchers with the least amount of starting experience in Mike Montgomery and Tyler Chatwood will be taken nicely underneath their wings. The two most interesting pieces of the puzzle being the youngest two. Baseball Reference projects Montgomery to have a very solid 6-6 record, but with the Cubs offense, there should be about 3-5 more wins in that record providing him to be a solid 9 to 11 game winner. Having that as your number 5 is way above average.
Tyler Chatwood had a very subpar year going 8-15 with an ERA north of 4.50, but what stands out to me is his numbers away from Coors Field. Just ask Giancarlo Stanton, who hit one pretty much into the stratosphere. Chatwood’s ERA was 3.49 when he wasn’t pitching at home. A much better version if I do say so myself. Chatwood is a fly ball pitcher with a solid mix of a 4 seam, a sinking fastball, a changeup, slider, and curveball. While the changeup is classified as a below average pitch, Chatwood could work with pitching coach Jim Hickey to find a way to improve his changeup. Hickey helped Chris Archer and Alex Cobb become what they are today. Chatwood has all the necessary tools to have his breakout season the Rockies were constantly longing for.
Chatwood has a lot of weight bearing on his shoulders. Jake Arrieta made an impressive turn around in his career. Going from an almost forgotten name back in his days with Baltimore to a superstar in Chicago. Even though the Cubs lost in the NLCS this year, their only win against the Dodgers came on the brink of elimination when Arrieta threw 6 ⅔ innings of 1 run ball while striking out 9 and walking 5. Jake Arrieta has made himself into a Madison Bumgarner-esque type pitcher in the postseason. Am I saying Chatwood will do all those things in his three consecutive years here in the Windy City? My guess is no, but there is a lot of potential in that young arm of his to help propel the Cubs over the Brewers and Cardinals to a third straight division title. Chatwood should have a ton of run support from everyone of the offense from Albert Almora Jr. to Kris Bryant.
The bullpen is much more of an interesting topic to tackle. They have a solid mix of young arms while having veteran leadership to guide them. The Cubs did not miss a beat in signing Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to replace their All-Star closer Wade Davis. If anything, they bolstered their bullpen even more. Morrow had an extremely solid season with the Dodgers with an ERA of 2.06 while striking out 50 in 43 2/3 innings. Not bad for a guy who was always overshadowed by Kenley Jansen. While Steve Cishek had a very similar year in 2017, posting an ERA of 2.01. Both pitchers are extremely effective in their styles of pitching. Morrow is more of a flame throwing strikeout pitcher and Cishek is a crafty side-arm double play inducer. What separates these two pitchers it the amount of experience they have as a ninth inning guy. From 2012 to 2014, Cishek was the closer for the Miami Marlins converting 88 saves in those three years, with his peak in 2014 converting 34 saves. Not bad for a team who over those three years went 208-273. So while Morrow may start the year as the closer as of right now, Cishek could replace him if he struggles in his new role.
The key though is going to be Justin Wilson. Yes the lefty that came over in the Jeimer Candelario trade last year at the deadline. Wilson had a very impressive first half of the season with the Tigers, posting a 2.68 ERA and notching 13 saves during his time after they booted K-Rod to the street corner. When he came over the the Windy City, he had some troubles. He was very hittable, and got knocked around a lot posting an ERA north of 5, and saw minimal action in the NLDS. He was also left off the NLCS roster. If Wilson can get back on track, he could be a nice compliment Cishek and Morrow as a deadly 7-8-9 combination. Their contention will be undoubted.
The bullpen already looks quite solid from top to bottom. With Eddie Butler being the long relief guy, the middle relief staff is composed of Justin Grimm, Justin Wilson, Pedro Strop, and Carl Edwards Jr. Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek will be in the set up roles and Brandon Morrow slamming the door. There is no reason why the Cubs can not repeat at least another 90 win season with that rotation and bullpen complimenting each other nicely. Eddie Butler could be called upon to spot start in case of an emergency as well.
Kyle Schwarber is pretty much not considered a catcher heading into this year after sustaining his terrible knee injury as we all know too well in 2016. With the break out of Willson Contreras this year and the hope around one of the Cubs top prospects in Victor Caratini, it looks like Schwarber will be the opening day left fielder. When he played last year in left field, he was a very poor defender. He lacked speed, athleticism, and awareness in left field. If you’ve followed him on social media, Schwarber looks a lot thinner and faster further confirming that his catching days are all but extinct. This brings up a very interesting point. What can we expect out of a thinner Schwarber? Will he be the same guy who belts 30 long balls with a mere .211 average and poor left field defense prompting a 0.0 WAR? Or will we get a Schwarber that hits 20 long balls, a .250 average and drive in close to 80 RBIs while playing a solid left field?
There’s never been a question of “can Kyle Schwarber hit?” The answer is always yes. He has a smooth stroke from left side of the plate with incredible bat speed giving him the ability to hit the ball extremely far distances. The question is whether or not he can put it all together for an entire season. It seems that he is an all or nothing type of player. While we want him to be more like the next coming David Ortiz (don’t get offended Red Sox fans, it’s just a similarity), he most likely will become more of a Mitch Moreland type player. He has always been a key player for me in the success of the Cubs. He has that game changing swing that you only see every so often. Schwarber has a bulldog mentality and competes fiercely everyday. With a thinner Schwarber, a break out Chatwood, and a bounce back Justin Wilson type season, the Cubs will give the Brewers and Cardinals a run for the division this year. Hopefully taking home a 3rd consecutive division title.
Now for some food for thought. If by chance the Schwarber situation doesn’t work out and he has a terrible season again in left field, what can the Cubs do to improve their team? Something we could see is Schwarber going back down to the minors and have him learn how to play 3rd base. We know he has the arm for it since he was once a catcher. Then the Cubs could have Kris Bryant move to the left field while Schwarber is learning how to play 3rd base, while bouncing Javy Baez to 3rd and keeping Ben Zobrist at 2nd base. When Schwarber comes back up, he would play at 3rd, Baez at 2nd, and keep Bryant in left. With that happening, you will improve your outfield tremendously. Bryant is much more athletic than Schwarber and Schwarber could play a decent third base. With that possibility happening, it may or may not propel the Cubs to another World Series run by keeping all of your big time bats in the lineup. Shaking it up is something that Joe Maddon likes to do.
More food for thought because these are fun. Putting Schwarber at 1st when Rizzo’s contract is up in 2019 is a possibility. If the Cubs decide not to bring him back, then they will not be losing much offensive firepower by keeping the power hitting aspect there of Kyle Schwarber. Now we all know that probably isn’t going to happen. Rizzo is almost for sure going to stay with the Cubs, but it is a nice change of pace to possibly keep options open for Schwarber incase his bid for left field doesn’t work out the way that he or the front office wants it to.
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