Last year was a tough season for the Chicago Cubs. After holding on to the National League Central lead for much of the year and with a five-game lead on September 2, they lost control on the final day. Instead of holding the best record in the NL, the offense sank while losing game 163 to the Milwaukee Brewers. That loss forced Chicago into a one-game Wild Card instead of a trip to the divisional series. Though they had the second best record in baseball, a crushing extra-inning loss to the Colorado Rockies quickly ended their title hopes.
While many in the Central have continued to improve, the Cubs are banking on improved health from a number of star players. Specifically, a revitalized Kris Bryant is a huge need for the Cubs. Looking to get back on top of the NL Central, a healthy Bryant is key to the Cubs success.
The NL Central looks to again be among the best divisions in all of MLB. The Brewers, who were one game away from the World Series, are getting a healthy Jimmy Nelson back into the rotation and added Yasmani Grandal as their catcher this winter. The St. Louis Cardinals, who were in the race all year, have added Paul Goldschmidt to their lineup and Andrew Miller to their bullpen. Even the last-place Cincinnati Reds look much improved with the additions of Sonny Gray, Alex Wood, and Yasiel Puig. The division will be a gauntlet for any team to run.
Bryant’s Return to Health
Even without additions all around, simply having Bryant coming back is a gigantic help for Chicago. Since the day he debuted at the MLB level, Bryant has lived up to every bit of his high expectations. Drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 over several top flight pitchers, he has showcased power each and every healthy season.
Battling injury for much of 2018, Bryant simply was not the player he has proven to be throughout his career. Playing in only 102 games, Bryant batted just .272 with 13 home runs and a career low .834 OPS. During his 32 games after the All-Star break, his power was almost non-existent as he homered just three times while driving in twelve runs. As he struggled, the Cubs offense sputtered.
At just 27-years-old, a healthy Bryant gives the Cubs and their fans hope for 2019. When healthy over the course of his career, Bryant has been elite. Before this past season, Bryant had not had a season where he played in less then 150 games. During this time he has won both the Rookie of the Year Award and Most Valuable Player Award. After a stellar rookie year in which he hit 26 homers, Bryant followed it up with 39 home runs in his MVP campaign in 2016 and 29 in 2017.
More Cubs Dominance?
When the Cubs finally broke their curse in 2016, it was expected to be the first of many from this core group. However, it has not been easy to return to dominance. In 2017, Chicago had a target on their back with the teams around them upgrading. Instead of making a move this winter, the Cubs are betting on themselves. More importantly, they are betting on Kris Bryant to get them back to where they want to be.
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