Last season, the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 seasons. Now they’re trying to become the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the Reds in 1975 and 1976.
The Cubs have restocked their roster, trading prospects for big league players. Earlier this month, they acquired pitcher Jose Quintana for the rotation and then got from the Tigers lefty reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila on Sunday.
After the break, the Cubs identified their weaknesses - rotation, bullpen and backup catcher - and went after them.
Quintana has been solid in the rotation, giving the team not only quality starts but an emotion lift as well.
Wilson, a reliever in demand by contending teams, has a 0.94 WHIP and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. He’ll close on the days Wade Davis can’t in a bullpen that was above average without him.
Avila is a left-handed batter that will back up Willson Contreras.
The Cubs were 5 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central just after the break. Now they’re in first place with a chance to make their lead comfortable.
The Cubs, as well as the Yankees and Dodgers, are the most-improved teams after the non-waiver trade deadline.
The Dodgers added starter Yu Darvish, and two lefty relievers, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson.
Darvish is insurance in case Clayton Kershaw’s back acts up in October. If not, a rotation led by Kershaw and Darvish will be tough to beat in the postseason.
Cingrani and Watson, who lost his closer’s job in Pittsburgh to former National Felipe Rivero, will be keys in trying to retire the Nationals’ left-handed batters, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy in late-inning, postseason situations.
Considering the Dodgers were thinking about the Orioles’ Zach Britton, would Nationals fans prefer to face Cingrani and Watson?
A year ago, the Yankees were sellers, trading Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Ivan Nova.
This time around, the Yankees are leaders in the American League East and used trades to fortify their bullpen, rotation and infield.
They picked up their former closer, David Robertson, the guy who replaced Mariano Rivera in 2014, and strikeout machine Tommy Kahnle for their bullpen, and third baseman Todd Frazier, all from the White Sox.
Then, as Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline approached, they added Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray, who is under team control through 2019 and has pitched at least six innings in 11 of his 16 starts. They also got starter Jaime Garcia from the Twins.
Gray will likely take Jordan Montgomery’s spot in the rotation, which has CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino.
Garcia, who started the season in Atlanta before the Braves traded him to the Twins, gives the rotation depth because of the youth of Severino and Montgomery. Severino has already thrown 127 2/3 innings.
The Yankees, by the way, are the last team to win a World Series, in 1998, without making a major trade before July 31. They tried to get starter Randy Johnson from the Mariners, but the deal didn’t work and the Yankees still finished with 114 wins.
Here are the new-look rosters, alphabetically, for the season’s final two months:
Arizona: The Diamondbacks needed help against left-handed pitching, and they got with outfielder J.D. Martinez from Detroit. Martinez averaged 34 home runs a season from 2014-2016 and is another power bat in a lineup that has Jake Lamb, Paul Goldschmidt and David Peralta.
Baltimore: The Orioles listened to offers for Zach Britton, but he stays. The Orioles added starter Jeremy Hellickson and infielder Tim Beckham. Still, whether the Orioles contend or not, their long-term rotation depth is the biggest issue.
Boston: The struggling Red Sox fixed their most glaring need when they added reliever Addison Reed in a trade from the Mets. Reed, who has been closing for the Mets, will help Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree set up closer Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox are hoping to get Carson Smith back from the disabled list to add more depth to the bullpen.
Cleveland: With lefty Boone Logan injured, the Indians were looking for a lefty -Britton’s name came up - but instead the Indians acquired reliever Joe Smith. Question for this team: Do they have enough starting pitching after Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco?
Colorado: The Rockies added All-Star reliever Pat Neshak, the guy with the funky windup, to their bullpen. Can he help be the bridge from the young rotation - four rookies with none older than 24 - to the comeback closer, Greg Holland, a pitcher the Nationals thought about signing and didn’t. Also, the Rockies picked up catcher Jonathan Lucroy, an upgrade as the Rockies try to have their first winning season since 2010 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Houston: The Astros acquired lefty Francisco Liriano from the Blue Jays and will use the starter in a bullpen role, even though he’s pitched only 43 2/3 innings out of the bullpen during his career. The Astros are having trouble keeping their rotation healthy. Dallas Keuchel and Colin McHugh are back from the disabled list, but Lance McCullers went on the disabled list with a back problem.
Kansas City: The Royals were supposed to selling off potential free agents Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas. And for the first two months of the season, when the Royals were eight games under .500 and in last place in the American League Central, it looked as if the Royals would be sellers. Instead, baseball’s hottest team added starter Trevor Cahill and two relievers, Brandon Maurer and lefty Ryan Buchter in a trade from San Diego. Cahill joins a rotation that has Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy. Guess the Royals will worry about their free agent issues after the season and focus on getting back to the World Series with a lot of the same players that won the 2015 title.
Milwaukee: The Brewers, overtaken by the Cubs in the National League Central, have a rich farm system, but decided not to use it. They added relievers Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jefferess, a pitcher the Brewers traded to Texas at the deadline last season.
Tampa Bay: The Rays are usually sellers at the deadline, but this year, they added two relievers - Dan Jennings and Steve Cishek - and first baseman Lucas Duda. The Rays’ rotation is talented, so an improved bullpen gives them a chance to contend in the AL East, especially with the best offense they’ve had in years.
Washington: The Nationals, who added relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson earlier in July, acquired Brandon Kintzler from Minnesota. Kintzler is a sinkerballer who pitches to contact. He’s worked his way up from an independent league and was an AL All-Star this season.