The Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series last fall after more than a century of futility. One key player in their drive to get to the postseason was Dexter Fowler, their regular centerfielder in 2016. Last season for the Cubs, Fowler had an OPS of .840, he stole thirteen bases, and he scored 84 runs as the lead-off hitter for Chicago despite missing 37 games. In the playoffs, Fowler remained a key player as he hit three homeruns for the Cubs en route to their World Series victory. But Fowler is now a member of the in-division-rival St. Louis Cardinals and the implications aren't great for Chicago as they have lost a key player.

Chicago struggled with Fowler on the DL

There was a stretch of games for Chicago last season where they did not have Fowler's services. The outfielder missed 28 games in the latter half of June and the first few weeks of July. Those weren't happy times for Chicago fans as their team went just 11-17 during that time frame. It was really the only blip in Chicago's armor during the season as they were strong to start and they were strong to finish. However, Fowler's influence in centerfield and batting lead-off appears to have been enormous.

Who will replace Fowler?

A big part of the question with whether Chicago will be the same in 2017 has to do with who will replace Fowler.

That's a matter that has been discussed a lot in Chicago's media of late. For instance Gordon Wittenmeyer, writing at Chicago Sun Times, reviewed options for the lead-off hitting position: "the Cubs for right now are penciling in Kyle Schwarber as the replacement in the leadoff spot" (February 23rd).

Whether it ends up being Schwarber or Jon Jay, it's certainly not good that the issue seems to be up in the air. What might result is a cold start for the Cubs.

When it comes to playing centerfield, the word is that Albert Almora will get the starts. Dan Schmelzer suggested Almora early in February at DaWindyCity.com: "The Chicago Cubs have many options, but Albert Almora must make a majority of the starts in centerfield," Schmelzer wrote (February 4th).

For those not already overly familiar with the Chicago Cubs and future prospects, a valid question is who is Albert Amora?

Almora will turn 23 years old in April and he has 47 career games to his credit in the big leagues. He certainly hasn't played poorly at the plate thus far in his career, but a .763 OPS is well below what Fowler did last season. In 18 career starts in centerfield, Almora doesn't have any errors and that's good news for the Cubs. But if there are any growing pains with becoming an everyday player then Chicago stands to fall short of their performance last season.

The Cubs are an interesting team to keep an eye on, because of the high expectations following the World Series and the roster changes. We'll see how this team handles the pressure of being a target when spring training changes to real games in April.

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