Elegy for a baseball season
But Rizzo and Bryant and Contreras both had disappointing years at the plate, and Bryant was out for a considerable portion of the year. His bad start, like Darvish's, apparently was again due to that physical problem. There is no way that all of this didn't cost us quite a bit more than the one game it would have taken to have won the division outright. I'm confident that we'll win the division next year, especially since I'd be very surprised indeed if Theo and Jed Hoyer don't act decisively and intelligently to address this team's weaknesses after that pathetic end to both our hopes for a third consecutive divisional title and a fourth consecutive trip to the NLCS.
We had trouble with timely hitting. That beat us both in the tiebreaker and in the wildcard game. If you recall, it's what doomed us in both 2007 and 2008 when we also had excellent teams talented enough to have gone all the way. We lost in the Divisional Series both years- swept. as I recall, because we just couldn't hit.
That's what worries me the most. I'm not sure what you do about that when a whole team suffers from it. As much as I like Happ and Schwarber for their hustle and power, their batting averages were both in the .230's- and on a team that has trouble with timely hitting, that goes a long way toward neutralizing their upside.
I've always had mixed emotions about Addison Russell, a gifted player who again has always been inconsistent and never really lived up to his potential. I'm more comfortable with El Mago at short. The emergence of Bote and Caratini and the addition of Hamels and Caratini and Murphy, as well as what overall was an outstanding year for a bullpen that looked at the beginning of the year like it could be a weakness, were plusses. As much as I like Murph, his defense can be a liability and I wouldn't be surprised or overly upset if they signed LeMahieu and let Murph go.
People will disagree, but I think Schwarbs and Russell and Happ need to be traded for starting pitching. Another starter or two and this team could be where we'd like it to be and just wasn't this year. I've been a defender of Joe Maddon, and to a considerable extent, I still am. But his handling of pitchers has always been less than ideal, and his musical batting orders and lineups seem to me to be virtually guaranteed to keep the players from getting into a groove and developing exactly the kind of consistency they lack. I'm not putting the blame for that inconsistency solely or even primarily on Joe and his fondness for bizarre lineups that vary from day today, but it surely doesn't help. And yes, I've noticed that the unorthodox tactical moves he makes which were a plus in 2016 and took teams by surprise aren't working anymore. I'm not at the point of joining those who want to scapegoat Joe and I'm certainly not calling for him to be fired (there might be better tactical managers, but he's probably the best in the game at handling players), but it's something Jedstein need to keep their eyes on going forward.
We have a surfeit of quality position players, and I don't think we can afford to indulge Joe's passion for versatility, which, as I said, I think contributes to the lack of consistency. Our farm system isn't what it was once, but we have plenty of trading chips on our major league roster. It seems to be that Russell, Schwarber, Happ, Caratini, and Bote are all players who, while I'd hate to lose them (especially the latter two), are expendable and could bring some pretty darned good starting pitching. Another couple or three first-rate arms, with the addition of maybe LeMahieu and Harper could turn this team into something maybe even better than it was in 2016.
I continued this year to hear criticisms about this team's supposed lack of hunger. I don't know. Last year, that and fatigue may well have been issues; this year, too much else went wrong to put the blame there. While I've been a Cub fan far too long to count my chickens before they're hatched, I don't expect near that many things to go wrong two years in a row.
Knock on wood.
In short, as a Cub fan I'm embarrassed and humiliated by the way this season ended, and I have a newfound antipathy for the Milwaukee Brewers due to their lack of class in winning the division. But I never expected this team to go anywhere this season, especially given the way things sort of fell apart early on. I'm encouraged by the way they came back, and while the lack of consistency worries me- frankly, a lot- I not only believe that the problems are fixable but I'm confident that Jedstein will fix them.
In short, I see no reason not to be optimistic about next year. Winning the division again and preferably at least getting back to the NLCS will be the standard for whether the 2019 season is a success or a failure, though of course, only another world championship will truly satisfy me. And I still think this team has another World Series title or two in it if the right adjustments are made.
So I guess from this point on we put our trust in Jedstein, hope that the Bears and the Blackhawks pleasantly surprise us (and maybe the Bulls, though to be honest, I'm not much of a basketball fan), wait for spring training, and hope for better things.
I've been a great deal happier at the conclusion of Cubs seasons. But I've also felt a great deal worse. There are good reasons for hope.