If you asked me in April, July, or even at beginning of September if the Cubs would be fighting it out in the Wild Card game I would have laughed in your face. This team is a powerhouse, a team that had the NL Central lead, and best record in the NL, since early July, a team that was leading the Brewers by five games on September 2. They took a 2.5 game lead into the final week of the season.
However, through all of that, the Brewers clawed their way to a tie atop the NL Central and beat the Cubs in a division tiebreaker game. That set the stage for the one-game playoff versus the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night.
I’m not going to sit here and dwell on the little things. What if Jon Lester continued pitching? What if Anthony Rizzo isn’t relieved for a pinch runner? What if this pitcher stayed in? What if that pitcher didn’t pitch? The list goes on and on.
It was a great game between two playoff caliber teams. The umps missed a few calls (both ways), the pitching was outstanding, the crowd was in on every pitch, and of course it could not be decided in nine innings, as the two teams battled it out until the 13th inning. One could not ask for a better game. Folks in Chicago wanted a different outcome, but what can you do?
What’s next for the Cubs?
First, I’d like to say, if anyone knows Tom Ricketts could you tell him to open his pocket book and give Theo some money to play with this offseason, in the realm of about $400 million or so? Yes, that price tag only fits one player and that player is Kris Bryant’s best friend, Bryce Harper. There are issues with signing Harper, though. It would create a big-time log jam in the outfield. Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Ben Zobrist already create lineup shuffling issues for Joe Maddon. If the Cubs add another piece to the puzzle they will have to rid themselves of at least one, if not two, of the aforementioned guys. Getting rid of them via trade for a bullpen arm would be a best-case scenario.
The bullpen lapsed late in the season after being top-5 through most of the season, they saw a huge dip in numbers in September. The Cubs two top guys, Strop and Morrow, were out and their third guy, Edwards, was lost in his head. We did see some promising young arms come in their place, and while they might not be the answer for shut down relief, they could be good middle relief guys next season and they’ll only progress. Bottom line, if you need to rely on not one, but two starting pitchers to be in your bullpen for the biggest game of the season then you probably need to pick up some new pieces.
The offense struggled this season, and it only got progressively worse as the season went along. The only player on the team to progress was MVP-candidate Javier Baez. Everyone else suffered a setback from previous years. Kris Bryant missed most of the season, and when he was playing he was noticeably hurt. Other than that there are no other big injuries, or excuses to come up with. I don’t think the Cubs have to go out and get any new bats, as they have a stellar set of players. Bryce Harper is an exception, with a chance to get a generational player like he is you go out and you get him. One thing they do have to change, however, is they must fire hitting coach Chili Davis. With pretty much the same roster year over year, there should not be this big of a setback collectively up and down a lineup. The Red Sox fired Chili last offseason and this season they went on an offensive tear that resulted in 108 wins, a 15-win improvement.
There is some buzz in the media that puts Joe Maddon on the hot seat. He has one year left on his deal and I would be surprised if he doesn’t finish it. Four seasons of 90+ wins and a world series championship is enough to earn a fifth year in my book. I would pay close to attention as to what the Cubs do to others on the coaching staff though, as I do not think he is resigned when his contract is up, and I would expect the cubs next manager to come from within the organization. Will Venable is an option that is already on the team. The Cubs reached out to Mark DeRosa last off-season about becoming a coach, they could try for him again.
To wrap this up, the Cubs still have a young core group of players. Anthony Rizzo is still the captain of this team. Kris Bryant will be healthy and back to MVP form. Javy Baez will continue to be El Mago. Kyle Hendricks is still the ace. Yu Darvish will be healthy and ready to live up to his $126 million deal. The door is far from closed on this team. They will be right back in the thick of things next season. Jon Lester said last night that, “you need to get your dick knocked in the dirt to know where you’re at.” Well the Cubs definitely got knocked in the dirt, and the Cubs definitely know where they are at. It will be interesting to see where Theo and the front office take this team during the offseason and where they will be at come February when they report to Mesa for Spring Training.