These Cubs are not like Those Cubs: 2015 vs. 2008

These Cubs are not like Those Cubs: 2015 vs. 2008

By guest contributor Jared Wyllys (@jwyllys)

There’s no questioning the fact that the level of excitement surrounding the Cubs is much, much higher this year than it has been in quite a long time. They are staying above .500 in a way that they haven’t since the 2009 season and are inspiring levels of enthusiasm from both fans and players that haven’t been with this team since at least 2008. In many ways, this degree of excitement feels a lot like what we experienced 7 years ago, but on closer look, it’s actually very different, and different in a good way, because it brings with it a promise that 2008 didn’t have. Let’s look at the two seasons separately:

2008:

That season was destined to be significant if for no other reason than it being the 100 year anniversary of the last Cubs championship. The fact that we were coming off of a playoff appearance in 2007 (albeit a brief one) helped as well. Going into the 2008 NLDS against the Dodgers, predictions ran amok that can sound eerily similar to some made just this year.

During the course of that season, the beloved Cubs showed early that they were going to win a lot of games, and win them easily. They finished just shy of 100 wins and went on a 9 game winning streak from May 26 to June 3 that year and then a 7 game streak that August. They finished the season 7.5 games in the lead in the NL Central and had the best record in the National League. But I’m preaching to the choir. We all remember. It’s not the regular season that we’ve blocked from our memories to protect ourselves psychologically.

2015:

This season, so far, has felt more like a culmination of several years of work rather than a short turnaround like 2008 was (look at the Cubs of 2006 to see what I mean). The course of the Cubs organization took a different course after 2010, and has finally arrived at the point where winning seems like something we can expect again. They’re steadily sitting above .500 and continue to win games that would have been out of reach even just a season ago. The absolutely barrage of young talent has the north side fans teeming with excitement as if they’ve been revived from an almost decade long coma.

They lost two games in a row for the first time against Pittsburgh on the 22nd and 23rd, but even then still split the four game series against a very tough divisional opponent on the road (and in the snow), and they have lost just one series so far, to the Padres on Kris Bryant Weekend, April 17-19. They’re averaging 4.5 runs per game, and that’s without the production of Bryant and newly added Addison Russell the whole time.

So what’s the difference?

I would like to propose that although 2008 was a great season in many ways, what we are looking at in 2015 is quite a bit better. Even if the regular season success this year is nowhere close to the 97 wins of 2008, which it very likely won’t be, what we are watching now is far more exciting in a lot of ways.

In general, the Cubs of 2008 felt more like a culmination in a very short window of opportunity. The Cubs were fun to watch for about 2 and a half seasons, from 2007 to most of the way through 2009. Then the window slammed shut. Things turned brutal for several years. Now, in 2015, it is more like a beginning, and a beginning that offers far greater promise than the reality of the team 7 years ago. That team was built around older players and larger contracts, and this year’s team is, so far, built around much younger players who are coming up through the system and under team control for a long time to come. Consider that the average age of the 2008 Cubs roster was just over 30 and relied on offensive production from codgers like Derrek Lee (32), Mark DeRosa (33), Aramis Ramirez (30), and Alfonso Soriano (32). Two anchors of the pitching staff, Ted Lilly and Ryan Dempster, were both over 30 as well. Compare that to this year, where the average age of the team is under 27, and the grizzled veterans in the infield, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, are both a hoary 25.

The window now stands to stay open for a very long time. We’ll see growing pains, for sure (if you’ve been watching Jorge Soler’s plate appearances lately, this is what I think we’re seeing with him) but already the 2015 Cubs are surpassing expectations, and doing so against challenging competition. This hasn’t been an easy schedule in April, and it doesn’t stand to get easier until the calendar rolls over into May and they’ll have two series against the Brewers in the first two weeks. But before we relax, there’s a series against St. Louis sandwiched in between those.

In all, I think can safely put the dark days of 2010-2014 behind us, because even if this year’s team fails to make the playoffs, we have a very bright future ahead of us. Chins up, Cubs fans, we lived through a 101 loss 2012 season. Things are looking up.

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