By: Alex Patt
“Just one before I die!” turned into “I want more!” after Kris Bryant fielded the slow roller of Michael Martinez’s bat and threw to Anthony Rizzo on that historic night in Cleveland. At least, it did for me.
When the Cubs ended their 108-year World Series drought in 2016, the team was still so young and seemingly had so much ahead of them. People were even throwing the word “dynasty” around. While that was probably too big of a proclamation, considering how rare dynasties are, there was every logical reason to think that Cubs team had multiple titles in them. Just take a look at the core they had in 2016:
Kris Bryant: 24 years old – National League MVP – 7.9 fWAR
Anthony Rizzo: 26 years old – National League All Star – 4.9 fWAR
Javier Beaz: 23 years old – NLCS co-MVP – 2.2 fWAR
Willson Contreras: 24 years old – 12 home runs in first 76 games
Kyle Schwarber: 23 years old – hit .412/.500/.471 in the WS after severe knee injury
Albert Almora: 22 years old – 2012 first rounder who made his debut in 2016
The core had the veteran support from the likes of Dexter Fowler (NL All Star and career-high 4.6 fWAR), Ben Zobrist (NL All Star and WS MVP), Miguel Montero (WS-winning RBI), Jason Heyward (big free agent signing), Tommy LaStella, David Ross (clubhouse leader and took Andrew Miller deep) and others. Zobrist, Heyward, LaStella and Montero were still under contract going into 2017.
Then there was the starting rotation of Jon Lester (32), Jake Arrieta (30), Kyle Hendricks (26), Jason Hammel (33) and John Lackey (37). All of which had a sub-four ERA, two of which (Lester and Hendricks) were Cy Young finalists, two of which were All Stars (Lester and Arrieta) and all but Hammel were under contract past 2016.
I can go on and on about how good that team was in 2016 and how young the core was. Was it realistic to expect another season like that one? Yes and no. Winning 103 games with a 3.15 team ERA, +252 run differential and DRS (defensive runs saved) of 107 is basically impossible to sustain across the board even for the most talented of teams. Virtually everything went right for the Cubs that year. But winning more titles was certainly not out of the question. Remember the year before they won 97 games and made it to the NLCS, so them being title contenders was no fluke in 2016.
Now lets look at what they have done since 2016:
2017: 92 wins – NL Central Title – NLDS win vs. Nationals – Lost NLCS in 5 vs. Dodgers
2018: 95 wins – NL Wild Card – Lost NL Central tie-breaker to Brewers – Lost Wild Card game vs. Rockies
2019: 84 wins – Misses playoffs for first time since 2014
2020: 34 wins – NL Central Title – Lost Wild Card Round in 2 to Marlins
To sum it up, the Cubs have not won a playoff series or even a playoff game since 2017. In the middle of what was supposed to be the prime World Series window they are 4-9 in the playoffs. While they have been overall very competitive, other teams have clearly passed them by. It was going to happen eventually but little did we know it was going to happen this fast.
Compared to being a Cubs fan pre-2015? It has been really damn nice to win a few division titles and make it to an NLCS. Post-World Series win with higher expectations? Pretty disappointing. Heck at the very least it would have been nice to make it back to the World Series if not winning another one.
I could write a book on reasons why this team has not made it back. Aging pitching, core players not developing like they were expected, injuries, lack of development in the farm, trading away talented prospects, signings that did not work out, budget restrictions from ownership, etc. It is hard to have all that happen while teams like the Dodgers are consistently good doing all of that and be a legit World Series contender. Even with the new Marquee deal and profits from the World Series, the Cubs have yet to become the “Midwest Dodgers” like we had hoped.
The future of this team is so uncertain. With Yu Darvish traded away, could others like Bryant and Contreras be next? While the team as of right now can still be competitive, it is really hard to see them being legit title contenders without a solidified rotation and positional depth. Not having a clear direct is the worst. It should be either rebuilding or contending. It feels like this team is doing neither, just staying afloat while dealing with supposed financial woes from the pandemic. It is flat frustrating.
Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Mesa, Arizona is just a few weeks. While expectations are not as high for the 2021 Cubs, I will watch with the same optimism and blind hope I do every year. A month or so ago I admittedly was not thinking I would be very invested into this season, but I just cannot help it. I live and die with this team and always will.
I really wish they could have done what the Blackhawks did from 2010-2015 and win multiple titles, but at the end of the day I will be forever thankful for 2016. It was the happiest night of my life and no sports moment will likely top that in my life.