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5 Cubs

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CONTENDERS

SCOUT'S TAKE

KEY QUESTION

There are a lot of great players on this team, but Kris Bryant is the most important. He wasn't healthy last year—he was trying to hold on with his bad shoulder, and it resulted in that one-armed release. His swing looks closer to what it was two years ago, but can Bryant get all the way back to MVP form?

GETS MOST OUT OF TALENT

Kyle Hendricks has the Greg Maddux approach down pretty well: He's not lighting up any radar guns—he topped out at 88—but this guy can flat-out paint. He's got a great mind for pitching that no one else in the league can match.

OVERRATED

Yu Darvish clearly has No. 1 starter stuff, but he's fallen flat in L.A. and now Chicago; maybe he's just not cut out for a big market. Between him and Tyler Chatwood, the Cubs really whiffed on their big starter signings from last year.

LAST LICKS

Javy Báez's instincts on the field are just off the charts. Is there a player who's more fun to watch? ... They've made some big deadline deals recently, but they don't have many more big chips to trade. They're going to get beaten at the deadline by teams that can offer more.

THE PAYOFF PITCH

IT'S RARE for managers to be cast in a lame-duck role these days, so take the Cubs' decision to not extend Joe Maddon's contract past 2019 seriously. Maddon, who led the Cubs to their first World Series title in a century, has regressed tactically, becoming a push-button operator of his bullpen as the rest of the league moves toward more fluid arrangements. His quirky style off the field may also be wearing thin as Chicago's young core becomes a veteran core. Maddon may be a victim of his own success, raising the expectations during his four-year tenure to the point at which a 95-win season—tying for the best record in the NL though 162 games—can be considered a disappointment by newly spoiled Cubs fans. Despite a championship and two division crowns, Maddon will be managing for his job this season.

OVER UNDER

89.5

The Cubs' core talent is still elite, but with the farm system emptied out and their NL Central rivals improving, the window on the North Side is closing—fast.

LINEUP

2B Ben Zobrist

.305/9 HR/.378 OBP

3B Kris Bryant

.272/13 HR/.460 SLG

1B Anthony Rizzo

.283/25 HR/101 RBI

SS Javier Báez

.290/34 HR/21 SB

LF Kyle Schwarber

.238/26 HR/61 RBI

C Willson Contreras

.249/10 HR/54 RBI

RF Jason Heyward

.270/8 HR/57 RBI

CF Ian Happ

.233/15 HR/.353 OBP

BENCH

OF Albert Almora

.286/5 HR/.378 SLG

IF Addison Russell

.250/5 HR/.317 OBP

FANTASY BREAKOUT

IAN HAPP was disappointing last year, but he's only 24. He has 20-20 potential and positional versatility.

ROTATION

LH Jon Lester

18 W/3.32 ERA/1.31 WHP

RH Kyle Hendricks

14 W/3.44 ERA/1.15 WHP

LH José Quintana

13 W/4.03 ERA/1.32 WHP

LH Cole Hamels

9 W/3.78 ERA/1.26 WHP

BULLPEN

CL Pedro Strop

13 SV/2.26 ERA/8.6 K9

RH Carl Edwards Jr.

2.60 ERA/1.31 WHP/11.6 K9

RH Steve Cishek

2.18 ERA/1.04 WHP/10.0 K9

MANAGER

Joe Maddon