Checking in on the Cubs, Brewers and the Latest Cardinals Forecast

The Cardinals are an 87-win team in 2018, at least in the projected standings at Fangraphs. That isn’t an exciting number, but 87 victories would likely put the Cards in strong contention to reappear in the postseason for the first time since 2015.

Here are the current projected standings for the NL Central:

Chicago,  94-68

St. Louis,  87-75

Milwaukee,  79-83

Pittsburgh,  65-87

Cincinnati,  72-90

If the overall NL projections are in the ballpark — or at least located on the closest parking lot next to the stadium — the 87 wins would be good for NL’s top wild card spot, putting the Cardinals ahead of the Giants (83 wins), Diamondbacks (82) and Mets (81.)

To no one’s surprise the Nationals (90 victories), Cubs (94) and Dodgers (93) are the projected winners of the NL’s three divisions.

Let’s check in with two of the Cardinals division rivals, shall we?

The 2018 Cubs: rested, happy, and extremely confident. 

I’ve been tracking the early buzz coming out of Mesa, AZ.

The Cubs are confident. They’re really, really confident.

Speaking with media outlets that cover the team, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts cited the accomplishments of the past three seasons.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team,” Ricketts said. “We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row. I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

Ricketts said, “We very much expect to win.”

After winning the World Series in 2016 the Cubs couldn’t get past the Dodgers in last October’s  NLCS. Having decided to move on from free-agents Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, the Cubs entered the offseason in search of starting pitching.

The Cubs found the rotation pieces by signing Tyler Chatwood early and  Yu Darvish late. Chatwood throws awfully hard and has a 3.18 ERA since 2012 in his starts away from Coors Field. Darvish was the top-rated starting pitcher on the winter free-agent market.

Darvish and Chatwood join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana in the five-man rotation.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way. ”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is feeling chipper. Buoyant, even.

The Cubs have plenty of pep. This is a change from 2017 spring training.

“The vibe is ridiculously good,” Maddon said. “I think I brought it up the other day, I think you can feel it. The interactions are — there’s a conservative confidence. Meaning there’s this mild swagger. They don’t want to show it, but they really feel good about it. I like it.”

Last year the Cubs were dragging as as camp opened. No wonder, considering the endless party to celebrate  their World Series conquest. The Cubs staggered through a 43-45 first half that shoved them to 5.5 games back of the first-place Brewers at the 2017 All-Star break.

The Cubs got out of their pajamas after the break and went 49-25 the rest of the way. They finished by winning 15 of their final 19 regular-season games and clinched the division at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals  won only five of their 19 games against the rival Cubs last season.

The 2018 Brewers: still searching for a starting pitcher. 

First, The Crew bid low on Darvish and he signed with the Cubs. Brewers GM David Stearns tried to wrangle a trade for Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, but the Rays preferred the Twins’ offer. Odorizzi headed to Minnesota.

Milwaukee made two prominent splashes, signing free-agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain and acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins. But the enthusiasm is tempered by concerns over the Brewers’ rotation.

Stearns got a jump early in the offseason by signing free-agent starter Jhoulys Chacin. The Brewers have three rotation spots allocated to Chase Anderson,  Zach Davies and Chacin. But Jimmy Nelson will be out indefinitely as he rehabs from rotator-cuff surgery. The Brewers have two rotation spots to fill, and the candidates include Brent Suter, Junior Gerra, Aaron Wilkerson, Brandon Woodruff, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley.

Stearns hasn’t called off the search.

“I’ll say we’ve explored a variety of starting pitching options out there,” he said. “We have a pretty good sense for what the market is for available starting pitching. Our stance is if we can make an acquisition that we think meaningfully upgrades our team at a responsible level, it’s something we’re open to. For us to spend resources, whether its financial or prospect value, to bring somebody in, it’s going to have to be somebody who moves the needle.”

Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant had a suggestion for the Brewers: sign Arrieta, his former teammate, who won 54 games (and a Cy Young award) between 2015-2017.

“He is just that presence and a big name … Jake Arrieta, Cy Young, All-Star, big-game pitcher,” Bryant told media covering the Cubs. “Anytime you have that on your team, it feels pretty good. So if he were to go there, it would definitely make our division a whole lot tougher. It would make the Brewers a whole lot better. They’ve already made some really good moves this offseason.”

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio declined to act on Bryant’s advice, at least for now. “We think this group right now, right here, can get to the playoffs,”  Attanasio told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Cubs and Brewers will open  Cactus League play on  Friday with a game at the Brewers’ complex in Maryvale.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Carpenter Can Excel Batting Third if the Cardinals Commit to Leaving Him There