CHICAGO — When it comes to all the questions surrounding the Chicago Cubs these days, there is at least one that doesn't seem to be bothering David Ross very much.
The second-year manager thinks his team's biggest offensive stars will rebound over the course of a more conventional season.
“I think when this team's rolling, it's as good as anybody in the league, especially offensively,” Ross said. “The back of the baseball cards, if you lined them up, that's a pretty nice, deep lineup that we have. So I'm extremely confident in that, and I think that it'll show in their production how good that we can be when they're all rolling.”
That rarely happened last year, when Chicago won the NL Central despite a .220 team batting average during the pandemic-shortened season. The offensive woes continued in the playoffs, with the Cubs managing just one run during an opening-round sweep by the Marlins.
Javier Báez hit just .203 and struck out 75 times in 59 games. Bothered by injuries for much of the year, Kris Bryant finished with career lows in batting average (.206), on-base percentage (.293) and slugging percentage (.351). Anthony Rizzo batted .222 for his lowest average since his rookie year in 2011.
“I don't want to even talk about last year. It was frustrating to me, to a lot of players,” Báez said. “It was two months of baseball that I felt in a rush. I felt like I didn't have time to make adjustments.”
As Báez, Bryant and Rizzo look to regain their form, their contract situations add another variable to the landscape. Each of the three sluggers is eligible for free agency after this season, putting new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer in a tricky spot.
Heading into his seventh big league season, Bryant said he is staying with the same approach he has employed all along.
“My whole life, this has been who I am. I don't want to put too much on myself, any more pressure,” the 2016 NL MVP said. “It's just every year, I want to go out there and dominate. That's just who I've always been and that's what drives me.”
The rotation is a concern after Yu Darvish was traded to San Diego in December, and Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana departed in free agency. Darvish went 8-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 12 starts last year, finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award race.
Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills are back. Zach Davies, who was acquired in the Darvish deal with the Padres, fills one slot, and Jake Arrieta returns for a second stint in Chicago. Trevor Williams is looking to bounce back after he had a 6.18 ERA in 11 starts for Pittsburgh last year.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Adbert Alzolay could be used in a variety of roles after the 26-year-old right-hander went 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA in six appearances last year, including four starts.
Joc Pederson takes over in left after agreeing to a $7 million, one-year contract. He replaces Kyle Schwarber, who signed a $10 million, one-year deal with Washington after he was cut loose by Chicago in December.
Pederson, who turns 29 in April, hit .190 with seven homers and 16 RBIs last season for the World Series champion Dodgers. But he set career highs with a .249 batting average, 36 homers and 74 RBIs in 2019.
Nico Hoerner had a strong spring training in his bid to earn regular playing time at second base. After an impressive big league debut in 2019, the 23-year-old Hoerner hit just .222 last year. If he can carry over his solid camp into this season, he could give Chicago's lineup a big lift as the Cubs try to make it back to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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Jay Cohen, The Associated Press