Disappointing Season Over, Cubs Set About Business of Picking Themselves up from Dirt
In a way, Tuesday’s Wild Card loss was an act of mercy. The Cubs were a hobbled thoroughbred limping across the finish line and collapsing in a flailing heap. A team lauded for its collection of talented hitters had been held to two runs over 22 innings in two games that determined the fate of their season. So perhaps the champagne-cork double-tap of watching consecutive celebrations by their opponents was for the best.
“Sometimes you need to get your dick knocked in the dirt to appreciate it,” Jon Lester said after the game. “Maybe we needed that.”
Had I told you heading into the season that the Cubs would win 95 games despite all the things they would be forced to overcome, you’d have thought I was insane. Yu Darvish, one of the winter’s marquee signings, made only eight mostly ineffective starts and endured two fruitless rehab efforts before being shut down. Brandon Morrow lasted only half the season. Kris Bryant was healthy for less than two months and missed a third of the season.
And that’s just the injuries. How about Tyler Chatwood devolving into the wildest pitcher of all time or Anthony Rizzo not hitting for most of the first half? Willson Contreras lost his power stroke and Addison Russell…well, his issues are many and varied.
Despite their free-agent swings and misses, the front office connected on several in-season pickups to patch holes and right the ship. Again, think about hearing six months ago that Cole Hamels, Jesse Chavez, and Jorge De La Rosa would be integral members of the pitching staff.
Taking all that into account and looking at things from a completely objective standpoint, racking up that many wins and making the postseason is incredibly admirable. But this team wasn’t built to achieve moral victories, and they’re not comfortable taking solace in simply overcoming obstacles along the way.
“No. We lost,” Albert Almora said when asked if the season could be considered a success. “There’s a lot of positives, but it’s not a success unless we win. That’s just the mindset that we have here.”
It’s too simple to say that these last two games, or even the last two months, were a wake-up call. But getting their dicks knocked in the dirt to the tune of scoring one or zero runs 19 times over their final 60 games — including their last two and three of the last four — tells you something has to change. And it’s going to take a lot more than whatever voodoo Snoop Dogg is hawking for Hims to get things moving in a different direction.
Exactly what form those changes take remains to be seen, but the Cubs’ lack of execution over the course of the season may have some headed for the gallows. And as much as the last four years of unprecedented success would tell you any sweeping alterations would be foolish, I don’t think anything is out of the question.
Not even Joe Maddon is untouchable at this point, a concept that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. I wrote as much based on what David Kaplan mentioned on the air recently, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal shared some very similar sentiments (subscription) in a Wednesday morning column.
Then there’s Chili Davis, who oversaw an offensive unit that regressed across multiple levels and saw an alarming decrease in power. Making matters worse for Davis is the success experienced by his former charges in Boston, where the Red Sox slugged their way to the best record in baseball. Correlation is not causation, and you’ve got to look at the addition of JD Martinez, but circumstantial evidence isn’t in Davis’s favor.
Here’s the thing, though: Moving on from Davis means employing three hitting coaches in three seasons and would represent the second big shakeup in Maddon’s staff over the last two offseasons. I mean, you only get so many scapegoats before people start looking all the way to the top. On the other hand, replacing a coach is much easier than turning over half the roster.
There will, however, be some player churn as the Cubs move beyond the idea that their young core simply needs time to develop. Russell is almost certainly gone, perhaps as the result of a non-tender. It also seems likely that at least one from among Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr., and Kyle Schwarber will be moved to create more room and structure. Flexibility has been a strength heretofore, but it may not be practical as the Cubs look to stay competitive.
Should they pursue of the top free agents this offseason, be it Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, that player is going to need the kind of everyday time that simply isn’t available without the loss of one or more current regulars. Even Maddon’s genius when it comes to finding time for everyone on a crowded roster wouldn’t be able to finagle things and keep everyone happy.
While the biggest changes will take place over the course of the next three months, it’s entirely possible we see something here very soon. In what could be a precursor to an announcement of some sort, Jed Hoyer pushed his scheduled Wednesday appearance on 670 The Score back to Friday. Or maybe that’s just a matter of letting Theo Epstein deliver his postmortem Wednesday afternoon to set the tone for how the rest of the organization will address things.
It’s been a frustrating, disappointing, and at times agonizing season and now that it’s over there are some raw nerves or simply numbness. And that’s in the wake of a 95-win season that ended in a playoff berth. Oh, how far we’ve come as fans when such a result is cause for anything but good cheer.
Regardless of how you felt in the wee hours or now as you’re reading this, there should at least be hope for the immediate future of this franchise. Whether it’s born of the core talent on the roster and a return to better health or just the ability of ownership to pay for new players (or both!), the Cubs should be just as competitive next season. And maybe the next. And the next.
By becoming successful, the Cubs fulfilled countless lifelong dreams for fans and players alike. They also exchanged one form of anguish for another, something fans in Boston can probably relate to. But that just means they’re hungry to get back, perhaps more so now than ever. It also makes the slog of the offseason that much less bearable. So I guess now we get to hurry up and wait.
“Right now it’s hard to swallow for all of us, but the big picture is we’ve done a lot of things here in the last couple years the Cubs faithful should be very proud of,” Kyle Schwarber told Tony Andracki of NBC Sports Chicago.
“And we’re expecting bigger things each and every year. So hang with us. Obviously, we’re all going to take our time here to swallow it, and trust us, we’ll be back and better than ever next year.”