MLB preview: Cubs to lean on starting pitching, defense as they try to turn it around
They're nowhere close to being as good as the Braves, Dodgers and Phillies.
As it stands now, they'll also be looking up at the Mets, Padres, Cardinals, Brewers and Giants.
The Cubs open the season Thursday against the Brewers at Wrigley Field (1:20 p.m., Marquee) and they're not in the same class with the National League's big boys.
But after two lousy seasons, the Cubs are at least getting themselves back in the hunt.
"We've got a lot of winners, former winners, hardware, World Series champions," manager David Ross told reporters before the Cubs headed home from spring training in Arizona. "We'll make our identity as the season goes on and what we're all about. But I like where we're at. I love that we're built on pitching and defense."
The bullpen has some inexperienced arms and no proven closer, but the Cubs' starting rotation looks good with Marcus Stroman, who faces Milwaukee in the opener, Justin Steele, newcomer Jameson Taillon, Drew Smyly and Hayden Wesneski.
"This is probably the best pitching depth we've had for a really long time," Ross said.
If one of the starting five falters, Kyle Hendricks should be ready to pitch at some point in May. The former ace is coming back from a capsular tear in his right shoulder that ended his season last July.
Defensively, the Cubs stack up as one of the better teams in baseball.
New shortstop Dansby Swanson won a Gold Glove with the Braves last season and left fielder Ian Happ was a Gold Glover for the Cubs.
Nico Hoerner is back at second base, where he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2020. Three more newcomers - center fielder Cody Bellinger, first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Tucker Barnhart - have seven Gold Gloves between them.
"The best teams I've been on played elite defense," Ross said. "I think that is something that you can bring to a team every single day. Up the middle is obviously important, but it's everywhere.
"It helps your pitching staff. We don't talk enough about how the pitching and defense go together."
Offensively, the Cubs will lean on Swanson, who hit .277/.329/.447 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI for Atlanta last year.
They also signed Trey Mancini, who hit 20 or more homers for four straight years before having colon cancer surgery and missing the entire 2020 season.
Happ, Hoerner, Bellinger and Patrick Wisdom are other bats to watch and the Cubs could be getting Seiya Suzuki back at some point in April after the right fielder missed most of spring training with an oblique injury.