The Cubs will now seek to push for the playoffs once again in a unique 60-game regular season that has come about due to the coronavirus pandemic. The MLB regular season is set to open July 23 -- though most teams will start July 24 -- and so will begin a season of great intrigue for the Cubs.
Here are 10 reasons to be excited for the Cubs in 2020.
The Cubs watched the story of those Bulls and saw how that team came together despite outside distractions and a sense of finality as management eyed a rebuild. Cubs players texted with each other and understood the parallels to their team. The Cubs know their last dance could be coming.
Left-hander Jon Lester is in the final year of his contract. Core players like shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Kyle Schwarber have contracts that expire after 2021. Bryant already found himself in the middle of persistent trade rumors this past offseason. There's a looming possibility of change coming for this team, especially if it underperforms in this short season.
In hiring Ross, Cubs management believed their players needed a new voice to help create a renewed focus. Playing a shortened season with the threat of change looming, the Cubs should have plenty of determination.
The Reds were one of the biggest winners of the offseason, signing infielder Mike Moustakas and outfielder Nick Castellanos to solidify a talented cast already in place.
With that, the Reds announced themselves as serious NL Central contenders, joining the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers in that mix. In such a short season, the Pirates could even push themselves into the mix too with a hot streak.
The Cubs face a battle in what projects to be one of baseball's most hotly contested divisions. That would've been the case in a 162-game regular season. Now with only 60 contests, every game matters even more.
Several months ago in a more normal world, the Cubs were preparing to confront their realities. Signing both Bryant and Baez to long-term contract doesn't appear to be a realistic possibility. And so Bryant's name was swirling in trade rumors.
Then the pandemic hit, and the shutdown made a major impact on the business of baseball. What will it mean for Bryant's future?
If the Cubs remain in the playoff hunt for the first month of this short campaign, Bryant will likely remain in Chicago all season. But it's worth wondering if a long-term contract with the Cubs is more or less likely now for him, considering collective bargaining uncertainty looms for his free agency after the 2021 season.
For now, enjoy Bryant as he suits up for the Cubs.
Rather than seeking an outside hire for manager, the Cubs turned to a familiar voice in Ross, who stood out to the team because of his close relationships in the organization and willingness to engage in difficult conversations.
The Cubs will now be trusting Ross to push the right buttons with the roster in the condensed season. He'll be challenged in ways he never could've expected in his first season at the helm.
Ross could help be the spark the Cubs need, though his abilities managing a game will certainly be tested.
For the last several seasons, the Cubs have been searching for a talented contact hitter to add to their lineup. Rookie infielder Nico Hoerner could be that player.
The Cubs' first-round pick in 2018, Hoerner made his MLB debut late last season and made a strong impression. What's in store for the 23-year-old Hoerner in 2020?
While the Cubs have a number of options at second base -- including veterans in Jason Kipnis, David Bote and Daniel Descalso -- Hoerner could ultimately earn the everyday job.
Could outfielder Ian Happ finally be ready to fulfill his potential?
The 25-year-old Happ seems to be the Cubs' best candidate for a breakout this season. After spending the majority of 2019 refining his game at Triple-A Iowa after a poor spring, Happ hit 11 home runs and posted a slash of .264/.333/.564 in 156 plate appearances in the big leagues.
More importantly, Happ's strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 25%.
In the second half of 2019, right-hander Yu Darvish showcased the ace form that the Cubs envisioned in signing him ahead of the 2018 season. He posted a 2.76 ERA and registered 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings and just 0.77 walks per nine after the All-Star break.
Can he carry that into 2020? If Darvish is near that level of performance, the Cubs will have a rock atop their rotation and be tough to beat every fifth day.
No Cubs hitter was better in the second half of 2019 than Schwarber, who posted a slash line of .280/.366/.631 (.997 OPS) and hit 20 home runs in 70 games.
A consistently productive Schwarber would ensure the Cubs have a deep, dangerous lineup and more firepower behind Bryant, Rizzo and Baez.
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel has is a future Hall of Famer because of his work in the ninth inning, but last season was an exception to his usual performance.
Kimbrel posted a 6.53 ERA over 23 appearances with the Cubs in 2019. The back of Kimbrel's baseball card suggests he will bounce back well.
It has been a weird summer without the sounds of Pat Hughes, Ron Coomer and Zach Zaidman on the radio. Their return will be welcomed once baseball is back.