Rozner: Look for Chicago Cubs' offense to bounce back in 2019
Take a deep breath, Chicago Cubs fans, and remember that there are no perfect teams in the National League.
The Dodgers have such extraordinary depth that they are the club with the fewest flaws, but even they have enough players with injury history to cause a pause before you anoint them.
Start with that and wrap yourself in a Cubs blanket that includes four straight postseason appearances and an average of 97 victories the last four years.
Yes, the Cubs have holes, but if enough players return to form there will be opportunities to improve the club during the season.
It's a big year for Kris Bryant, who has brought an edge to 2019, and the quiet giant has a renewed desire to show those who doubt him that he can be an MVP again.
It's a big year for Kyle Schwarber, who had essentially the same WAR in 2018 that he had in half the games played in his 2015 rookie season.
It's a big year for Albert Almora, who might -- might? -- finally get a chance to play every day, at least until the Cubs recall Ian Happ and go back to the old routine.
It's a big year for Addison Russell, who has to prove he's a different person off the field, and on the field he has to bring back the substantial value he once offered the Cubs. If Russell can again be Russell, it would offer Joe Maddon so many more options.
It's a big year for Willson Contreras, who posted a .585 OPS in the second half last year.
It's a big year for Anthony Rizzo, who had his lowest WAR in 2018 since 2012 and needs to put together two halves this season.
After averaging the previous four years an OPS-plus of 140, .909 OPS, 96 runs, 32 homers, 38 doubles and 106 RBI, Rizzo fell to a 121 OPS-plus, .846 OPS, 74 runs, 25 homers, 29 doubles and yet somehow still managed 101 RBI.
Rizzo has been remarkably consistent and should be forgiven an off year. It was his misfortune that so many players around him had bad offensive seasons.
Javy Baez carried the offense for months and it's fair to think he'll take a step back, but if he can duplicate 2018 -- and do it over six months instead of three or four -- the Cubs should be in good shape because you have to think several players will bounce back in 2019.
The guess here is offense will not be the problem again.
It's a big year for Yu Darvish, who will be fine if healthy, but would you bet on that?
The Cubs do have rotation depth, so that's a good thing, perhaps the most important thing.
The bullpen is the biggest concern, given past workload for some of these relievers, the lack of a proven closer and the wait for Brandon Morrow and the worry over whether he's recovered from his injuries.
The relief corps knows what people are saying and take that as motivation. Fine. If that helps, good for them. It doesn't change the fact that there's legitimate reason to be apprehensive.
Maddon isn't pretending he's got it all figured out heading into the season.
"Some guys have made really good impressions here," Maddon said of the bullpen during spring training. "Of course, we've got guys coming off of injury that you have to be mindful of moving forward."
The Brewers' rotation is young and they have major bullpen questions.
The Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt, and the underrated Marcell Ozuna -- off a repaired shoulder -- should be considered an MVP candidate in his walk year, but the Cards have worries at a couple of positions.
The Reds made headlines all winter and the Pirates, well, no one is ever sure what Pittsburgh is doing.
Add it all up and the Central Division should be very good with three teams at the top battling all year.
The wiseguys made a late move to move the Cards (88) past the Cubs (87) in the wins totals, with the Brewers (86) close behind.
For the Cubs, it might come down to what in-season moves they can make, but much of that will depend on players bouncing back and increasing their trade value, a factor that hindered the Cubs over the winter.
The Cubs are still very good, a fact that is sometimes lost amid a winter in which they were so quiet, and after the way the Brewers chased them down and won Game 163 when the Cubs' offense went silent down the stretch.
It's important that the starters do their jobs and that Maddon lets them go deep, protecting a suspect bullpen.
If that happens, and the offense bounces back, there's no reason the Cubs can't reclaim their spot atop the Central Division.
Buckle up. It should be fun. Again.