“I’m surprised I’m even putting words together. It’s been a pretty grueling season for all of us.”
Those were Kris Bryant’s words from the Cubs clubhouse shortly after the final loss of the season, but they were mine as well. Whether it was the grind of following and writing about this team all year or the Irish wake we held for them into the wee hours, I had little desire and less motivation to write about much of anything this mo(u)rning.
But as both Chicago and my hangover faded with each revolution of my tires, perspective began to worm its way into my thoughts. Objects in the rearview mirror are, after all, closer than they appear and hindsight is 20/20, or so I’ve been led to believe. Put them together and you can see quite clearly.
This was such an odd season for the Cubs, coming as it did on the heels of something none of us had ever experienced. They labored through 2017 like some sort of collective Harrison Bergeron, held down by the weights and shackles of expectation — both ours and their own. And just when it looked as though they might have broken free, the Dodgers came out with both barrels blazing and summarily ended the dream.
2017 was Ghostbusters II, a cheesy sequel in which the main characters never quite jelled as they had in the original and the curious choices with the supporting cast (what was with Annie Potts’ dramatic change?) took away the overall vibe. I’m not mad about it, mind you, I’m just disappointed.
The Cubs were obviously flawed and injuries took a much greater toll than they had last season, a fact that I don’t think we can consider heavily enough. Various DL-worthy injuries hit several players and nagging maladies afflicted just about everyone to a significant extent. The same could be said for pretty much every team every year, but the timing for the Cubs was such that it sapped momentum and performance at key points.
There was also the issue of having too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. I wrote back in the spring that this season would present Joe Maddon with his toughest task to date as he juggled playing time for established vets and would-be stars. That certainly proved true, though it wasn’t the only chainsaw Maddon had in the air.
The starting rotation wasn’t nearly as effective, the bullpen had trouble throwing strikes, and it seemed as though no one could really settle into a groove offensively. Putting it that way, it’s crazy to think that the Cubs even made it as far as they did. All things considered, they probably shouldn’t have.
We could get into the myriad individual reasons for why the Cubs will watch the World Series from the comfort of their own homes, or from whatever exotic locales in which they find themselves in the coming days, but that’s not really worthwhile. If you want to point a finger or level accusations, fine. That’s not what I’m here to do. Rather, I just look back and marvel at the idea that a 92-win season that ended in the NLCS has become disappointing.
These are the Cubs we’re talking about, right? The team that hadn’t even won a playoff series within the span of most of our lives is now expected to win more than one set each season. I mean, that’s kind of a big cognitive shift. Out entire Cubs zeitgeist has been transformed in a mere handful of years, essentially turned on its ears as joys replaced fears.
Except it wasn’t very joyful to watch the Cubs fade into Bolivian with an 11-1 loss in which their lone run came vie the longball. In fact, every run they scored in the NLCS came from a hit that left the yard. I’m pretty sure that’s some kind of record. And yet, I go back to that acronym again, the same one we’ve had to use for the past three years. The Cubs are good and we expect them to be so again next year. And the year after. And so on.
This is what we’ve all wanted — well, except for those cotton-headed ninnymugginses who actually reveled in the lovable loser crap — in all our years of following this stupid team, so I find it difficult to get too upset now that it’s actually happened. But in order to keep it happening, there’s a lot of work to be done.
I’m going to go into each of the various categories in more detail with separate posts over the next few days, but we may as well look briefly at a few areas of the team that will need to be changed and/or shored up over the winter.
Theo Epstein has gone on record as saying that the bullpen will be addressed, specifically noting that the Cubs needed a pair of proven strike-throwers. They’ll also need to fill a couple spots in the rotation with the imminent departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
In order to facilitate that, and as a function of the need to clear a little space in what has become crowded roster, trades will be made. Perhaps not the kinds of deals that keep you refreshing your Twitter feed until 1am, but big enough to be felt.
Without giving away much of my juice from one of those future columns, I think the playoff lineups told us quite a lot about who’s going to be sticking around and how the Cubs view their guys. I could certainly be wrong there, but we’ll find out soon enough.
What began as a conversation during Game 1 of the World Series turned into some big changes with Cubs Insider that I think have made this place much better over the last year. It’s really been kind of crazy to see how we’ve grown and changed in that time.
None of that would be possible without you, dear reader, since you are the real reason we do it. Well, okay, it’s the fancy cars and fat stacks of cash that really motivate us. But after my ’06 Dodge Charger and the crumpled up dollar in my pocket, the readers come in a respectable (but still pretty distant) second.
It’s been really great working with so many different people, too. Jon, Brendan, Corey, Ryan, Todd, Teddy, Michael, Tyler, Dustin, Sean, Matthias, Husnaa, John, Brandon, Erik, and several others my sleep-deprived mind has missed have really made this place what it is.
I probably repeated it over and over in my slightly inebriated state Thursday night, but the best part about this whole writing thing and the (very small) slice of notoriety that has come with it has been the people that I’ve met along the way. Getting to be on radio and TV has been super cool and earning a little extra scratch here and there helps me buy better beer, but the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had far outstrip any of those other things.
And now my legs are doing that restless thing that signals the need for a nap and I am having real trouble getting my fingers to perform the proper keystrokes, so I’m going to go now. In my earlier stupor, I actually set the featured image for the recap as a W flag, if that tells you anything. And I’ve neither slept nor eaten in the six hours since.
Anyway, thanks again and here’s to some more super-awesome content to cmoe (figured I’d leave that unintentional typo as a beautiful oops).