Chicago Cubs: Will This Finally Be the Year?

Jul 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs infielders from left Addison Russell , Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant celebrate after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-0 in a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 15, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs infielders from left Addison Russell , Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant celebrate after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-0 in a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs have built a powerhouse of a young team, but the one question remains: Can they win the World Series for the first time since 1908?

When Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox to lead the Chicago Cubs front office in 2011, it began a new era of Cubs baseball. Epstein was notorious for rebuilding the Red Sox during the early 2000’s, eventually leading them to a “curse ending” World Series Championship in 2004.

Epstein moved on to Chicago in a quest to end another, even longer championship drought. Part of his plans with the Cubs included living through a few very bad seasons in order to ascend to the top. When Epstein joined the Cubs, they were a team with no direction; following their failure in the 2008 playoffs after having a very good season, things had fallen apart. Epstein made it clear that his plan was to rebuild the Cubs from the ground up over the next five or so years.

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Fortunately for Epstein, it didn’t even take five years for the rebuild to reach completion. Because they hit on so many of their prospects like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Kris Bryant, they were able to surprise everyone and compete in 2015, winning 97 games and a Wild Card spot. They were helped by recently signed Jon Lester, new manager Joe Maddon, and the emergence of Jake Arrieta as an ace, but the heart of their success lied with their young players developed in house.

Following their impressive and surprising 2015 season that ultimately ended in sad defeat as they were swept by the New York Mets, they made even more moves to bolster an already good team. By adding John Lackey, Jason Heyward, and Ben Zobrist the Cubs quickly became the early favorite to win the World Series. Their 24-6 record through the first 30 games of the 2016 season only served to increase the hype around the team.

When they suddenly fell into a stumble that, if you think about it, was practically inevitable considering the pace they were setting, people began to doubt whether the Cubs had what it took to succeed. With the Giants and Nationals emerging in the National league as true World Series contenders, the Cubs doubters came out in full force.

Perhaps the Cubs were moved by the lack of confidence among fans and writers or perhaps they already had plans in place for the deadline; regardless of the why, the Cubs front office set out to improve their bullpen via trade during the season. In three moves spaced out throughout the final two weeks before the trade deadline, the Cubs added Mike Montgomery, Aroldis Chapman, and Joe Smith. The Cubs bullpen was a point of concern, but still had good pitchers like Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon on the staff; the additions made during this season have made their bullpen one of the best in baseball.

Can this Cubs team win the World Series? That’s always a tough question to answer. Success in the playoffs often requires a good amount of luck and getting hot at the right time, so it’s difficult to say if the Cubs will march through the playoffs or not. If a team like the Giants, Nationals, Indians, or Rangers get hot in the playoffs the Cubs may not have a chance, despite their roster and coaching being the best.

In 2015, the Cubs seemed to be the hot team when they took down both of their divisional foes in the wild card and division series respectively. Ultimately they ran into a hot Mets pitching staff and and even hotter Daniel Murphy; the Mets, in turn, ran into the miraculous Royals. Because of all the uncertainty surrounding the playoffs, there’s no way of being able to predict whether the Cubs win it all or not in 2016. The one thing that is certain: they won’t make it easy on any team they face.

The Cubs have the best lineup in Major League Baseball, headlined by two MVP candidates in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. Not only do Rizzo and Bryant provide the Cubs with a powerful back to back duo in the middle of their lineup, but their defensive acumen is elite as well. In the outfield, injuries and Heyward’s slump have damaged an outfield that seemed like it would be the best in baseball. Despite those injuries, rookies Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. have come up and filled the rolls nicely when needed.

Defensive flexibility throughout the entire roster has also helped the Cubs deal with any injuries they have run into. Kyle Schwarber was injured in the first week of the season, and Kris Bryant easily made the transition to playing quite a few games in left field. Javier Baez has shown flashes of becoming a star as he shows plus defense all around the infield, and even in the outfield. Ben Zobrist, the most well-known active utility player is also on the roster. The maneuverability of the Cubs roster is incredibly underrated, and it has allowed Joe Maddon to show his true genius.

I could go on and on about all of the different players on the Cubs and how they help make this team the best in baseball, but it would probably get boring to read “this guy is very good” over and over and over. Long story short, the Cubs have great hitting and defensive depth from top to bottom.

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Oh yeah, their pitching is pretty good too. Over the first two months or so of the season, the Cubs rotation was not only the best in baseball, but also pitching at historic levels. Jake Arrieta has had his post Cy Young struggles, but appears to be getting back on track in late July. Despite appearing to be in a slump, his numbers still look very good with a 2.75 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 25.7% strikeout rate paired with 9.0% walk rate; he’s been worth 3.3 fWAR this season, 9th in Major League Baseball. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have both carried their weight at the top of the rotation, with Jason Hammel and John Lackey both being plenty good enough to round out the rotation. The bullpen, recently giving a face lift, can compare with the best in the league.

The Cubs have a unique combination of pitching, defense, and hitting like no other team in baseball has right now. The Rangers don’t have the starting pitching, the Giants don’t have the bullpen, and the Nationals don’t have the same hitting depth. Does this meant that none of those teams can beat the Cubs? Of course not. But the Cubs match-up well with the best of the best.

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Don’t let a small slump in July fool you, these Cubs are for real. They’re the best team in baseball in every sense of the word. Even if 2016 isn’t the year for the Cubs, it’s safe to say that Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and Anthony Rizzo will have what it takes to end the longest championship drought in baseball before long.