MLB National League Preview: It’s the Cubs’ Year

by Jules Gonsoulin

sports editor

In the lifetime of current Millsaps students, the Chicago Cubs have never been the favorite to win the World Series. The Cubs have been close to winning their first World Series in over a hundred years in the past, most notably in 2003 when Steve Bartman notoriously interfered with an in-play ball in left field. Had he not reached out to catch the ball, the Cubs likely would have clinched the National League pennant and reached the World Series. Last year, the Cubs’ stellar season was met with a quick ousting in the NL Championship Series, where they lost to the New York Mets and appeared overmatched.

After making several off-season transactions, the Cubs will enter the 2016 season as clear favorites to win the National League pennant and reach the World Series, where one would be hard-pressed to find an American League team that can match the skill and determination of these Cubs.

The Cubs’ dramatic rise to prominence can be credited at least in part to its new skipper, Joe Maddon. Maddon, formerly the Tampa Bay Rays’ manager, won the NL’s annual Manager of the Year award last season for his stellar work in reviving the lowly franchise.

There are also a few young players that cannot be overlooked in the Cubs’ rise. In particular, third baseman Kris Bryant (2015 NL Rookie of the Year) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have been key contributors to Chicago’s success. Rizzo and Bryant’s impressive batting averages (.278 and .275 respectively) were a huge factor in the Cubs’ hot pursuit of the NL pennant last season, and their defensive skills at the corners of the diamond allowed the Cubs to rack up double and triple plays regularly last season.

The Cubs entered the off-season ready to compete for a 2016 pennant, but they were not complacent. The Chicago front office stayed busy and made three important acquisitions, in Jason Heyward, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist. By acquiring players from the Cardinals and Royals, two teams who have extensive postseason experience, the Cubs are complimenting their youthful roster with experienced players the 2015 roster seemed to lack, as the Cubs burned out in the NLCS.

Most notable of these acquisitions is arguably the addition of starting pitcher John Lackey. The Cubs’ rotation is already gleaming with confidence, featuring the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, Jake Arrieta. Adding Lackey means the Cubs will boast a legitimate pitching advantage even on some of Arrieta’s off days.

The Cubs have taken dramatic steps over the past two years to become World Series favorites in 2016, but a thorough preview of the NL is incomplete without identifying their toughest competition to secure a pennant. The Cubs will need to outlast the Cardinals, Pirates, Mets, and Nationals, all of whom have made similar moves this offseason to field competitive teams.

Purple & White NLCS 2016 Prediction: Cubs over Nationals