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Why the Cubs will repeat -- and why they won't

February 1, 2017

Were Bill Murray ever to experience the same period of time over and over again, as he did when he played Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors in the movie "Groundhog Day,'' he could do worse than picking the 2016 baseball season as that time.Unfortunately for Murray and other famous Cubs fans,

Were Bill Murray ever to experience the same period of time over and over again, as he did when he played Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors in the movie "Groundhog Day,'' he could do worse than picking the 2016 baseball season as that time.
Unfortunately for Murray and other famous Cubs fans, life doesn't repeat itself in baseball. Repeating as World Series champion is a possibility, of course, but we know Joe Maddon's team won't follow the same road it did last season.
Truck packed, Cubs prepare to defend WS title
Odds are the Cubs won't be able to win more than the 103 games they won in the regular season, but they could. They could make a run at winning 110-plus; after all, they were on pace to win 115 the first two months of 2016 and should have tallied 107 according to the Pythagorean standings.
As they start gathering early in Arizona, here are five reasons why 2017 could be better than '16, as well as five reasons they might not be.
1. The Schwarber factor
Barring a recurrence of injury, this will be the first full season that Kyle Schwarber has played in Chicago -- no small factor given the Cubs' 40-21 record in his regular-season starts. Although Schwarber has only 278 regular-season plate appearances, he's quickly demonstrated that he can have the same impact in the lineup as Kristopher Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

2. Arrieta locked and loaded
It's easy to focus on either Jacob Arrieta's great second half in 2015 or inevitable fade last season (4.44 ERA in his final 16 starts), but the overall body of work is bigger than either stretch, and that's what you should use to build his 2017 projections. Only Clayton Kershaw has been better than Arrieta (50-19, 2.42 ERA, 0.973 WHIP, 9.2 strikeout/nine) over the past three seasons. With either free agency or a long-term deal to stay with the Cubs in his immediate future, he'll be on a mission.

3. Deeper bullpen
Wade Davis, acquired from the Royals for Jorge Soler, and free agents Koji Uehara and Brian Duensing join mid-2016 additions C.J. Edwards and Mike Montgomery to give Maddon arguably the best bullpen he's ever had. The depth comes from the continued presence of Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm. Should Montgomery wind up starting, the Cubs could turn to Jack Leathersich or David Rollins as a second lefty, but it will be hard to overlook Montgomery as a bullpen force.

  1. Winning the close ones
    One quirk of the Cubs' 103-win season was that they were beatable if you could get the game into the late innings. Their +252 run differential was almost 27 percent better than the next best team (Red Sox), yet they went 22-23 in one-run games, a record worse than that of the Phillies and D-backs. This happened because Chicago hit only .252 with runners in scoring position, ranking 21st, and was 18th in homers in the seventh inning or later, with 55. It seems a safe bet those numbers will improve.
    5. Hey, Heyward
    Jason Heyward has a World Series ring on his finger, so you'd have a tough time getting him to describe 2016 as a nightmare. But it took an impressive amount of mental toughness to make it through a year when, with the spotlight squarely on him, his batting average dropped 63 points and his OPS dipped 166 points. Heyward has worked with hitting coach John Mallee to overhaul his swing, and he figures to improve. That would be a good thing, as the Cubs owe him $169 million over seven years, and his glove is so good, you want him in right field.

And now, here are five reasons the Cubs could win fewer games:
1. No "You Go, We Go"
There's no question that the Cubs will miss William Fowler, who was a presence atop the batting order, in center field and in the clubhouse. His replacements -- Albert Almora Jr. and Jonathan Jay -- should be solid in the field but are unlikely to deliver at the plate like Fowler, who had a .393 OBP. The Cubs swooned when Fowler was on the disabled list with a hamstring strain last year, and finished the season 23-20 when he wasn't in the lineup.

2. Reality bites
Schwarber aside, the Cubs have been relatively lucky on the injury front. Their rotation has been unusually healthy, with all five members making at least 29 starts last season, and Schwarber and Fowler were the only members of the lineup to spend time on the DL. The versatility of such players as Javier Baez, Benjamin Zobrist and Bryant helps Maddon improvise when necessary, but their lack of starting pitching depth could be a big issue.
3. Rotation regression
No team in the Major Leagues had better starting pitching last season, with the rotation producing a 2.96 ERA and Jason Hammel winning 15 games as the No. 5 starter. It's a tall order to ask that to happen again, and the Cubs are now relying on the often injured Brett Anderson to fill the fifth slot in the rotation.
4. No midseason magic
Gleyber Torres wasn't an ideal fit in an organization that could be set up the middle through 2021 with Addison Russell and Baez. But you know it pained Theo Epstein to trade the 20-year-old shortstop -- now MLB Pipeline's No. 3 overall prospect -- to the Yankees for a rental on Albertin Chapman. It would be surprising if the Cubs dealt outfielder Eloy Jimenez (No. 14 prospect) or any of their other top prospects for help at the non-waiver Trade Deadline this time around, and it's hard to see the Cubs being a major player in trades without dealing Jimenez or trading from their young core.

5. Diminished appetite
After breaking the so-called Curse of the Bambino in 2004, the Red Sox saw their regular-season win total drop before being swept by the White Sox in the first round of the postseason in '05. The mood at Fenway Park was different that season, with fans satisfied wearing their championship gear. That figures to be the scene at Wrigley Field this season. The sense of urgency won't be the same. But the Boston parallel breaks down in one major way. This is a much younger Cubs team than the 2004 Red Sox, and it's built to stay together another four or five seasons. The Cubs believe they can not only win back-to-back titles but that they can become a dynasty along the lines of Joe Torre's Yankees of the 1990s.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for