Northside Mailbag

Northside Mailbag

 

  1. Will the absence of Kyle Schwarber affect the team and their chances of playoff contention?

Kyle Schwarber is one of the most dynamic players of the Cubs offense, hands down. His versatility and overall power make him one of the most difficult outs in the Cubs lineup, but he’s not the sole reason this team is primed for success. Don’t get me wrong, he’s going to be sorely missed, but depth wise the Cubs are fine.

They’re not going to replace him with pure power, unless it’s Jorge Soler power, but they’ve got a multitude of options. They’ve even talked about moving Bryant to LF some nights, and I definitely see them doing that. So will it affect the team? Yeah, it’s a tough pill to swallow but I see the team continuing strong even in his absence.

  1. Can Jorge Soler be the “next man up” in the outfield?

Hey, I just said that! Yes, I think he can. The only issue with Soler is his vision at the plate. Overall, his ability or lack thereof to hit a curve ball is going to take its toll eventually. Will it threaten the team? No it won’t, but having a player who hasn’t really improved overall when it comes to a certain pitch makes it an easier out.

His ability in left is better than Schwarber’s though, and that’s a boost. I look for Joe to mix it up in left on a series basis and find what really works. I do like Soler at this moment, and I expect him to keep getting the nod for the time being.

  1. When Javier Baez is healthy, will Joe Maddon still favor Tommy La Stella?

Baez is another player I’m perplexed by. The Cubs overall were a strikeout heavy team last season, though seem to be improving early in 2016. Baez has worked on his swing a lot and is showing signs of a breakthrough, though most would say he isn’t there yet.

The reason I like La Stella more is purely due to his contact abilities. With such a dominant power lineup, it’s great to have a guy like La Stella who consistently gets hits, whether it be singles or doubles or whatever. That kind of effectiveness is important and I’m sure Maddon likes having him in the lineup.

In Sunday’s game against Arizona, La Stella was big and I see him continuing to be a cog in the Cubs machine moving forward. Baez, when healthy is a great option, but I think he’ll have to show he can be continuously effective to jump over La Stella.

4. Where do you see the Cubs finishing their season, record wise, and why?

A lot of bold predictions have been made, and we’re already seeing how difficult the NL Central is going to be. Lowly Cincinnati sits atop the Central heading into their series at Wrigley, and the Pirates and Cardinals aren’t far behind the two. Out of the division, the Brewers are the only team that doesn’t worry me, because their pitching can’t carry them through an inning, let alone a stretch of games.

What makes Cincinnati so dangerous? That everyone pegs them to be awful. Even Reds fans thought they might finish with 100 losses. Low and behold they took 2-of-3 from the Pirates, who started red hot, and now not only sit at 5-1 but also have a pair of division wins under their belt.

The Cubs are still my pick to win the Central, but I don’t see them getting near 100 wins. The NL Central is the toughest division in baseball, and for good reason. With three teams sitting at the top of the standings heading into last years’ postseason, it’s too difficult to see them running away with it.

I’m saying the Cubs win 95 games this season, and even that’s a stretch in my eyes. It’s not because they aren’t extremely talented, which they are, it’s because of the difficulty overall in the schedule. Still, look for a top spot come playoff time on the Northside.

  1. Should we be worried about John Lackey’s rough first start?

It’s easy to say yes, with Lackey’s track record of being somewhat iffy. I don’t see it being an issue though, moving forward I think he’s going to find his groove. He put up one of his better seasons last year, and the Cubs were right to add him, albeit maybe for more than he’s worth.

What the Cubs needed was a solid rotation starter, and I think Lackey is that, though I’m not sure where at yet. The past few games have been good for Maddon to see which pitchers in the rotation are really feeling it early, where they might fit best, and how he wants to play that.

I think Lackey figures it out in his next two starts, but I still see him being a bit rocky throughout the season. He’s not Arrieta, he’s not going to pound the strike zone and get win after win. He’s built to be a solid rotation guy that is effective, the key is just getting runs to support him.

The Cubs are a team built for run support, I mean look at the first game against Arizona. That’s great for Lackey, who tends to give up a few runs in every few starts, to have a lineup behind him that can keep them in it is huge as the season progresses.

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Connor Ulrey @ConnorUlrey

 

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