3 storylines heading into Opening Day

1. Can Jake produce the same as his 2015 CY Young season?

Jake Arrieta has become everyone’s favorite bearded Cub on the North Side, apart from Grandpa David Ross, and after such a dominant season in 2015, the real question is can he produce at the same level? The consensus from outside Cubs fans is that last season was a magical season, but nonetheless unrepeatable in 2016. Anything hidden in those arguments? I’d say fear. After one of the most prolific second halves in a season, it’s easy for other teams to not want Jake to recreate that. Dive deeper into Arrieta’s numbers from last season and it’s hard to distIMG_4097inguish what’s the most impressive. The former TCU hurler pitched 229 innings in 2015, a number that scares every doctor from Chicago to LA. After such a long and grueling campaign, and putting up his largest innings total, can Arrieta do that again? It’s hard to say no, but it’s hard to say yes. Arrieta is 30 years old now, not a young pitcher by any means, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have another fantastic season. What helps Arrieta the most are the improvements to the pitching staff. Some could say John Lackey is the best thing to happen to the Cubs (sorry Cardinals fans), and gives Arrieta the option to rest more later in the season. Heading into the opener, Arrieta looks as sharp as ever, with just a minor hiccup of a thumb injury. Expect Arrieta to stay on pace as the Cubs ace in 2016.

2. How much does Heyward improve this team?

 

Fans have been really excited for Heyward to make his “debut” since the Cubs signed the outfielder away from the rival Cardinals and the win-hungry Nationals, in the off-season. The real question is what does the former star rookie bring to the table in 2016? First of all, Heyward brings a defensive prowess that’s unprecedentedIMG_4098, and it’s something to be excited about if you’re a Cubs fan. Besides Fowler, the Cubs outfield has been more of an offensive than a defensive outfield and Heyward adds a solid dimension to a power stacked outfield. In spring training, Heyward only averaged a .164 batting average, but that’s nothing to worry about, especially not before the start of the season. Heyward did however hit three home runs, and also bagged a pair of triples over the past two weeks. Never really known as a power hitter, Heyward only hit 13 home runs in 2015, but is projected to have an upswing in 2016. I think the most exciting aspect of Heyward’s game isn’t his offense, but he’s another hitter in the lineup that can’t be overlooked heading into the season.

3. Who’s the most promising player from Spring Training?

 

I know what you’re thinking. Who’s the most promising? It’s gotta be Bryant or Rizzo right? No, and here’s why. The question is promising, and who’s been the most improved in spring training and looks to be on track for an amazing 2016 season? IMG_4099Addison Russell. What a trade that’s looking like for the Cubs. Back when he was acquired from the Athletics, some feared though he was talented, he wasn’t worth what the Cubs were giving up. That’s been proven to be false, and it’s another reason why Theo Epstein might be the best thing that’s happened to the Cubs in at least a few decades. Russell’s spring training numbers are insane, and here’s why: He’s batting .259, which is all well and good, but also has a .611 slugging percentage to go with his six crushing homers. The shortstop also has 12 runs on his 14 hits, and has 13 RBI’s in his 54 at-bats. He tops in home runs, but sits near the top in nearly every category. In just his second full season, and his first full season as the Cubs shortstop, look for Russell to really shine.

 

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By: Connor Ulrey     @ConnerUlrey
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