The Cubs went from a 95-win, wild card club in 2018 to being out of the playoffs altogether in a disappointing 2019 campaign. The downturn helped lead to the departure of manager Joe Maddon, who headed west to Los Angeles. The good news for new skipper David Ross is that he inherits a squad that returns many key pieces and that was able to replace its notable departures in seemingly adequate fashion. Jason Kipnis steps in for Ben Zobrist. Steven Souza isn’t as good an overall hitter as Nicholas Castellanos but does have prodigious power if his knee is back to full health.
Meanwhile, mainstays Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward all return healthy and ready to once again serve as the core of the Cubs lineup. All exceeded 20 homers last season – most by a comfortable margin – and Chicago should therefore have no shortage of pop in the coming season. Then, Ross has some formidable candidates with respect to the universally implemented designated hitter for 2020. Both Ian Happ and Souza could serve as ideal fits for the role.
The starting rotation also features plenty of familiar faces and has no shortage of experience. Incumbent vets Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester helm the group. Jose Quintana will miss the start of the regular season after undergoing microscopic thumb surgery in early July. Meanwhile, Tyler Chatwood, who would typically serve as the No. 5 starter when the rotation is at full health, offered reason for optimism last season after posting a 2.84 ERA across 31.2 post-All-Star-break frames. Right-hander Alec Mills currently looks like the favorite to fill in for Quintana to open the campaign after posting a 2.75 ERA across nine appearances (four starts) last season.
Chicago already sported an above-average bullpen last season, one that posted a solid 3.98 ERA and .233 BAA across 554 innings. It might be even more effective in 2020 with the addition of veteran Jeremy Jeffress, who could pay off as a reclamation project after struggling to a 5.02 ERA with the Brewers last season. Jeffress has done plenty of setup work in his career, but it’s worth noting he also as closing experience primarily stemming from a stellar 27-save campaign with the Rangers and Milwaukee back in 2016. Then, current closer Craig Kimbrel should be much better after a mostly disastrous Cubs debut in 2019, one in which he didn’t sign until June and then struggled with knee inflammation. Now healthy, the perennial All-Star could return to the form that saw him notch between 31 and 50 saves in eight straight campaigns prior to last season.
Even with much of the same roster responsible for last season’s disappointment returning, the Cubs are viewed favorably by oddsmakers and the betting public. The primary reason is that many of those holdovers are actually extremely talented players, meaning that it may just take a slightly better cumulative effort to vault Chicago right back into a postseason spot. However, the starting pitching does have some question marks with so many veteran arms and no true Grade-A ace. In turn, the likes of other NL Central denizens such as the Cardinals, Reds and even Brewers all sport multiple power bats that could make those pitchers pay for their mistakes.
Nevertheless, with as much offensive talent as Chicago will roll out, their futures odds are relatively short. Any team with as many elite bats as the Cubs could certainly make plenty of hay in a compact 60-game sample, making them worthy of consideration across the board.
An example of how a wager on the Cubs winning the NL Central would pay out at the current odds listed above is as follows:
Wager amount: $10.00
Division winner odds: (DraftKings Sportsbook): +225
Payout: $32.50: ($22.50 + original $10.00 bet amount)
Cubs odds: Futures
Chicago Cubs betting breakdown
2019 Record: 84-78
Key losses: OF Nicholas Castellanos, LHP Cole Hamels, RHP Steve Cishek, OF Carlos Gonzalez, LHP Derek Holland, OF Tony Kemp, RHP Brandon Kintzler, C Jonathan Lucroy, IF Addison Russell, RHP Pedro Strop, IF Ben Zobrist, RHP David Phelps
Injuries: Jose Quintana (microscopic thumb surgery, out for start of regular season)
Key additions: RHP Jeremy Jeffress, 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Travis Lakins, LHP Tyler Olson, C Josh Phegley, RHP Casey Sadler, OF Steven Souza Jr, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Dan Winkler
- 3B Kris Bryant (R)
- 1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
- SS Javier Baez (R)
- DH Kyle Schwarber (L)
- C Willson Contreras (R)
- RF Jason Heyward (L)
- LF Ian Happ (L)
- CF Albert Almora Jr. (R)
- 2B Jason Kipnis (L)
Projected rotation: LHP Jon Lester, RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Kyle Hendricks, LHP Jose Quintana, RHP Tyler Chatwood
Projected closer: RHP Craig Kimbrel
Bullpen strengths: Craig Kimbrel is locked into the closing role and should bounce back after an unusual 2019. Kimbrel signed with the Cubs in June and ended up on the IL in August with knee inflammation. Kimbrel ended 2019 with a 6.53 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 13 saves in only 23 games. But in the three All-Star seasons prior, he appeared in at least 55 games with at least 30 saves. Aside from 2019, he’s never had a season ERA above 3.50. Kyle Ryan returns after a solid showing as a setup man in 2019 with a 3.54 ERA and 58 SO in 61.0 innings. Rowan Wick also proved to be a strong option in 2019 with a 2.43 ERA, 35 SO and zero HRs allowed in 31 Games (33.1 innings).
Bullpen weaknesses: Kimbrel is essentially the only lock in the bullpen as far as the final roster goes. Relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress was signed to a major-league deal and will likely be a part of the pen despite being released by the Brewers in September last year with a 5.02 ERA and 54 hits allowed in 52.0 innings over 48 games. Jeffress also struggled with a shoulder injury in 2019. Brad Wieck is now uncertain to make the roster after undergoing surgery for a heart flutter in late February. If healthy, Wieck is a lefty who can get both righties and lefties out. The rest of the staff may be heavily rotated all season, with names like Alec Mills or Duane Underwood Jr. likely to make the opening roster. Mills has only appeared in 19 major-league games, while Underwood has only pitched in 13.
Key stats from 2019
- C Willson Contreras was the starting catcher for the NL in the All-Star Game for the second straight year in 2019.
- SS Javier Baez led all MLB with 19 Outs Above Average (Statcast). The All-Star hit .281/.316/.531 with 29 HRs and 85 RBIs.
- Backup catcher Victor Caratini had a breakout 2019, appearing in 95 Games and hitting .266/.348/..447 (.794 OPS).
- Kyle Schwarber hit career highs in multiple categories in ‘19 – .250 BA, .871 OPS, 38 HRs, 92 RBIs, 132 Hits, 82 Runs.
- Relief pitcher Duane Underwood Jr. struck out all six A’s he faced in his 2019 debut, but he was only used in 9.2 innings after that outing.