The 2015 Cubs were incredibly fun…until they weren’t, but a thud of an ending to the season doesn’t erase everything that happened before it.
There was nothing tragic about this year’s NLCS. Â To put it simply, the Cubs finally ran into a team with pitchers who wouldn’t let them slug their way past some pretty weak defense and not enough pitching.
And honestly, it’s not that surprising. Â
The incredible assortment of young hitters that the Cubs have assembled blew past any realistic timetable. Â They showed up ready to hit. Â Maybe they’re not all sure what to do with their gloves just yet, but put them in the batter’s box and they’re comfortable.
Mix in Jake Arrieta putting it all together to go with Jon Lester, and let Chris Bosio and Joe Maddon cobble together a bullpen and suddenly, you had a team that could do real damage.
And it did. Â A whole shitload of it.
Ninety-seven! Â When you look at it all spelled out it just looks ridiculous.
They roseÂ to the occasion in the Wild Card game.
They knockedÂ the unctuous Cardinals out of the playoffs. Â While that didn’t make up for falling short of the World Series…it’s still pretty goddamned great. Â It’ll never get old.
But in the end, they didn’t play good enough defense, or have enough good starting pitching to withstand their offense being slowed down by the Mets.
And so, we wallow in disappointment. Â And they do, too.
There are already people freaked out that the Mets are going to stand in their way for years and years and years.
That’s probably not true. Â Sure, the Mets are going to be good, but pitching gets hurt, and the pitching that doesn’t get hurt gets really expensive and the Wilpons will forever be hamstrung by Bernie Madoff absconding with so much of their money.
And that’s the beauty of this thing Theo and Jed are building1. Â The organization has a lot of talent in it. Â A lot. Â Like, legitimately more than anybody else’s. Â So they have a shit ton to work with.
This is a team with money and talent and smart guys allowed to do things the way they think they should be done.
This will clearly be an interesting offseason. Â The Cubs want to add not just one, but two, front line starters. Â Most likely they’ll buy one and trade for one.
They need to decide if it makes sense to bring Dexter Fowler back. Â I doubt the money will be an issue, it’ll be the years. Â If another team will give him four, he’s gone.2
They have to decide if they really want to roll with the Miggy Montero-David Ross catching “platoon” for the final years of both of their contracts .3 Â And to decide how often Kyle Schwarber catches.
How much of the amazingly trustworthy postseason bullpen comes back? Â Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Travis Wood for sure. Â I would guess that Fernando Rodney is released to open a 40-man spot during the offseason, and yet, somehow finds his way to Mesa for Spring Training. Â Did Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard do enough to convince some team to give them a chance to start? Â Where do Neil Ramirez and Carl’s Junior fit?
It’s hard to imagine how much better Kris Bryant and Schwarber will be in their second seasons. Â Bryant is an ascending superstar, and Schwarber made headlines for his bombs in the postseason, but he can just, plain, hit and he won’t remain a liability against lefties forever. Â Plus, if they tell him he’s going to remain a leftfielder long term, he’ll work his ass off to get better. Â If Ryan Braun can become a passable outfielder, anybody can do it.
Addison Russell hasn’t even scratched the surface of his offensive potential and he’s already one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Â Jorge Soler had the lightbulb go on in the playoffs, and he’s a friggin’ monster.
Other teams just look at the Cubs roster with envy.
For a team full of young talent to have a young, established, unquestioned leader is a huge advantage. Â This is Anthony Rizzo’s team, and because of that, they are in great hands.
The biggest decision is probably what to do with Starlin? Â The decision was pretty much made at the trade deadline. Â He was gone. Â It was over. Â Too erratic to play short on a real playoff team, too unproductive at the plate, Starlin was on his way out.
But nobody wanted him. Â At least not for what the Cubs’ minimum price on him was. Â So he stayed.
And he moved to second.
And he never pouted. Â He just got back to work. Â And he looks like a much more dependable second baseman then he ever was a shortstop, and he went back to hitting like we all know Starlin can. Â Suddenly, his long-term bargain contract looks like a bargain again.
His trade value has been restored. Â So do the Cubs cash in and use him in a deal to get pitching? Â Or do they go into next season with him at second and Addison at short?
It’s a real question. Â He’s suddenly valuable both ways.
I hope he stays. Â I’ve always liked him, and his redemption late in the season was amazing.
But sentiment only gets you so far. Â If Jed and Theo find the right deal and he has to be in it to get it done, he’ll be in it. Â Otherwise he’ll be starting at second and batting fifth on opening day in LA.
What we know is that the 2016 Cubs will be different. Â They will be better. Â They will be built with better starting pitching. Â Their offense will be more mature. Â Hopefully they’ll upgrade the defense through players getting better at their spots (Schwarber, Soler and Bryant, in particular, all have plenty of room to improve) and through a new player or two.
They’ll also be different in ways we’ll miss. Â It’ll never be this innocent again. Â Everything was new and the first time and it was just fun. Â We’ve never had a Cubs team that was this much fun to watch and that had this much fun playing. Â Oh, they’ll still be goofy, because it’s in their DNA, but every team is different.
That was the sense of loss that I felt most Wednesday night. Â I wanted them to beat the Mets and win a pennant, so it not happening was sad. Â But more that that, it was also that “this” team will never be together again. Â Next year they’ll have a few different guys, they’ll have an enormous, comfy clubhouse, and they’ll have actual expectations.
I have no doubt they’ll handle all of it. Â So it won’t be bad, but it’ll be different.
Despite the downer ending, these Cubs will always have a warm spot in my heart. Â Until them, my favorite team of all-time was the 1989 bunch. Â That team only won one more NLCS game than this one did. Â They also didn’t go back to the playoffs for nine years. Â I don’t worry about it with this team. Â They will be perennial playoff participants. Â But this one, the first team of this “era” will always have a unique feel about it.
This team made all that crap we suffered through before and during the rebuilding worth it. Â They’re the foundation on which the rest of this will be built.
I miss them already.
But I’m already excited about what comes next. Â That’s what they’ve done. Â They have allowed us to enjoy the present and expect great things about the future.
Are they really the Cubs?