Rozner: With strong winter, Chicago Cubs might be team to beat

Picking World Series entrants a year in advance is akin to finding a needle in a stack of needles.

But that never stops us from trying.

So where to start …

The World Series champion Astros are young, talented and their stock is soaring.

That was the case for the Chicago Cubs a year ago and they never once in 2017 looked like the Cubs of 2016.

The drought for winners is alive and well and will reach 18 years when Houston fails to repeat next season.

As for the Dodgers, since the Yankees lost in 2001 to the Diamondbacks, only the 2009 Phillies, 2011 Rangers and 2015 Royals have reached consecutive Fall Classics.

World Series fatigue is real and if you don't buy into the mental side, there appears to be no way to overcome the pitching exhaustion and what it brings the following season.

After the Astros and Dodgers at 5-1 are the Indians at 8-1. Cleveland was really good in 2017 and has the advantage of the Central Division, giving them an easy path to the postseason.

First in pitching and third in scoring runs, the Indians are for real if their starters stay healthy, which is a big ask considering the workload of the last few years.

Next come the Nationals and Red Sox at 11-1, but both will have rookie managers.

In the last 70 years, only Bob Brenly in Arizona (2001) and Ralph Houk with the Yankees (1961) won a World Series as a first-year manager.

Both were veteran teams built to win immediately.

If you include Dallas Green in Philadelphia (1980) and Tom Kelly in Minnesota (1987), both of whom managed a month the previous season, the list is still very, very short.

The Cubs are 11-1 and we'll circle back to them in a moment.

The Yankees are also 11-1 and that would be the selection here, but they fired a good manager probably because of money - don't buy the New York narrative - and they will also likely have a first-year manager to be determined.

If the Yanks find a quality manager with experience, considering the depth of that roster and all the kids they have coming, that's the team to watch.

The Mets at 22-1? Yecch.

The Cards are 24-1 and would be much more interesting with Giancarlo Stanton, but he wants to play on the West Coast if he surrenders his no-trade.

Arizona at 28-1 would make a lot of sense if the club could re-sign J.D. Martinez. The landing spots for Stanton (owed nearly $300 million) and Martinez will change forecasts significantly.

Toronto (28-1) is a mess and Milwaukee (33-1) and Tampa (33-1) don't have a clear path to the postseason.

Seattle (33-1) will be a chic pick, but they can't stay healthy and have several holes, while Colorado (40-1) is at least a year away. (Stanton would be fun to watch in Denver.)

The Giants (45-1) were terrible in every way in 2017. They also need Stanton and probably don't have the pieces to get it done. They need youth, better defense and a rotation revival.

The Giants need everything.

Shohei Otani? Yu Darvish? Marcel Ozuna? Christian Yelich? Stanton? Martinez?

It's obviously very early to know who will win the winter, but that is never a guarantee of winning the summer or fall.

And that brings us back to the Cubs, who might be the most logical pick, this side of the Yankees.

The Cubs need at least two starters, and it doesn't sound like they want to spend a ton in free agency now, looking ahead to some big free-agent classes, so that means trading some of their young core to get an established starter.

If John Lackey doesn't retire, his 30 starts as a No. 5 guy make a lot of sense and it wouldn't cost a lot by today's standards.

There's a lot to do in the bullpen and the Cubs will look for volume again, as they have in the past.

The winter meetings are a month away and much of what occurs there will be discussed at the GM meetings beginning in 10 days in Florida.

The Cubs have some heavy lifting to do, but they start with a team that's been to the NLCS three straight seasons and is still very, very good.

When it's all said and done, they might just be the team to beat again.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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