A few caveats before you wade into the following muck. One, losses to the Cardinals make me irrationally angry. Losses to the corpse of Adam Wainwright make me more irrationally angry. This piece’s purpose is to show how two things can be true at once. It very well might not make any sense. It could also be completely wiped out contextually by the Cubs winning the next five games. Yeah, well, life is strange, said Slim.
Ok, to it.
I’ve been thinking about the ’85 Bears a lot lately, which you know if you follow me on Twitter. The parallels are getting too hard to miss with the Cubs. A life-defining, long-overdue championship. A manager/coach that is seemingly on every ad, and seemingly more interested in celebrating his style than actually managing the team. At odds with the front office. An ownership that seems content with the one. Follow-up seasons that are short of expectations. Competitors passing by and seemingly for good. Trying to balance the elation of that one night and how much it meant, that season meant, with the disappointment of what’s come after. Do I have a right to be disappointed? Am I disappointed enough? Am I erasing 2016? Did it mean too much?
It is hard to not be infuriated with this team right now. This was/is the biggest road trip of the season. They’ve fallen on their face so far, pretty much. They haven’t played like a team that even wants to win the division, much less can. The offense has simply gone away at the worst time, and there haven’t been any Scherzers or Strasburgs or deGroms doing the disappearing. It would be next to impossible to not be frustrated. How did this happen?
I keep looking at this lineup. Is this really the best we can do not even three seasons after having the best offense in baseball? Should it fall this far this fast? You’re pinning your hopes on Robel Garcia, a tinder-swipe of a hope if there ever was one? Ian Happ?
It’s much more fun and much easier to yell at the Ricketts, and they would deserve it. But let’s cut through to the heart of it. The cash the Ricketts aren’t opening up for Theo and Jed is for them to buy their way out of the holes in the team the system they made hasn’t filled. Since 2015 and basically Javier Baez’s recall (who wasn’t their draft pick, remember, though that doesn’t mean they didn’t develop him), who has come up through the Cubs system and proven a piece? You can search all you like, you won’t find one.
But is that fair? Because after a stretch of developing or acquiring Rizzo, Arrieta, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Hendricks, Rondon–all at least unproven before arrival–is it really the expectation you can keep at that pace? Well, yeah, because others are doing it, but that is two Cy Young finalists/winners and two MVP finalists/winners.
Still, it feels like from standing on top of the baseball world not yet three seasons ago, the Cubs have been passed by the Dodgers, Astros, possibly Braves now, Yankees, Red Sox, and you might even convince yourself or me to throw one or two other teams on there. They deservedly beat the Dodgers in six games but from that October night, the Dodgers have added Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo, rehabilitated Joc Pederson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and still were able to trade for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado in that time, and still have one of the best systems in baseball, with Gavin Lux just twiddling this thumbs waiting for a spot.
It feels like the Dodgers have sprinted miles ahead, with their better records in ’17 and this year…except the Cubs won more games last year in a tougher division. But they didn’t beat the Rockies at home, the Dodgers did. Am I really going to hang that conclusion on a coin-flip and the small sample size of the playoffs?
This team won 95 games last year with half a Bryant, basically no Darvish, and bullpen crumbling as the season went along like it was sent from the Acme Co. We bitch and moan about Maddon now, but sure that was actually excellent managing, no?
The Astros created their super team, swung trades for Verlander and Cole, and still have Yordan Alvarez punching holes in the sky, and Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley waiting. Now maybe the latter two will turn out to be nothing…but with their track record, is that what you’re betting on?
Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, it’s Ian Happ being rightly demoted. It’s the stock in Kyle Schwarber they kept telling us they had to buy that has yet to produce 1 WAR this year in his nearly fourth full campaign. It’s whatever iteration of sadness Albert Almora is today. It’s Carl Edwards being wheelbarrowed to the zoo. It’s Addison Russell hopefully being locked in a dungeon to never see the light of day. It’s ANY pitcher that doesn’t actually exist.
And what’s on the way? Nico Hoerner? The 12 minutes Alzolay will be healthy? Miguel Amaya three years down the line when everyone may have left by free agency already?
Am I going to be that guy in 25 years (no, I’ll be long dead but go with this) barking at some poor kid about how he missed out on 2016, just like I’ve heard about 1985 a zillion and a half times? Yes, I absolutely will be, because 2016 was that worth it and also very well might be all we have. And that kid will long for the season he remembers just as fondly, only so he or she can stop hearing about 2016 again. And if that season also should end for them with Rex Grossman fumbling away the World Series, boy wouldn’t the symmetry be complete?
Should there be more money? Of course there should be. They’re worth $2 billion, after all. But that doesn’t absolve the front office either. The trade for Aroldis Chapman was “necessary,” (only convinced of this after Strop and Rondon both got hurt that year, but had they stayed healthy also think they would have been enough). The Quintana trade was worth it. But as stated above, your rivals were trading for All-Stars and top of the rotation pieces. And their systems survived those culls. Yours hasn’t. Why?
And yet…we’re talking about two seasons? 2017 and 2019? Because 2018 saw them win the most games in the NL. Can we really be that upset about that? And 2017, it was kind of understood it was going to be a slog from the get-go. Then again, that’s when they told us their “second wave” would start. Well, I’m still sitting on my board in the sun, and it’s getting hot and I’m getting burned.
It’s not good enough. It was more than good enough. And here we are, stuck in the middle with this.