It’s really tempting to make this the shortest blog post possibly ever posted and just say, “yes,” but I doubt that would accomplish what I am going for here, so I am going to make an attempt at supporting the idea that the Cubs of 2015 are actually a good baseball team. The desire to do this stems from the regular interactions and observations I have had with the Cubs fanbase that tends to the fatalistic and reactionary at times. Not that they can’t be forgiven for such a thing, given the team’s history, but any sort of joy in watching a team like this year’s gets sucked out of you when you’re constantly waiting for something to go wrong or not allowing yourself to recognize when something good is happening. So, with that said, while I can accept that some things have not gone well this year (and as a long time Starlin Castro apologist, it pains me to say this, but um, Starlin, what’s going on with you this year?) Miguel Montero first insisted several months ago that we are good, and I have always thought that he was on to something, so here’s why:
Check the standings:
Maybe it’s a simplistic and reductionist place to start, but the plain reality is that the Cubs are doing a very nice job of winning games. They have 49 wins so far, and if you take a moment to consider that they won a total of 66 in 2012, we are in a different world of Cubs baseball now. More importantly than win/loss comparisons to previous seasons, the Cubs are in a very real playoff hunt for the first time in 6 or 7 seasons. They are poised to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. If the Cubs were in either of the eastern divisions, they would be tied for first with the Nationals in the NL East, and just a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East. The unfortunate reality is that the Cubs share the NL Central with that team from Missouri who has hacked their way to the top of the division (pun absolutely intended) from the beginning of the season and never really looked back. So the likelihood of the Cubs ever catching them for the division title is pretty slim (not to mention that the Pirates would be leading 4 other divisions if not for that team from Missouri), and the best scenario is a wild card appearance.
With the wild card, the Cubs have to stay ahead of the Giants and Mets (one game above San Francisco and two games above New York as I write this), and though I expect a dog fight for that spot that could go one until the end of September, I am confident in this Cubs team to accomplish that. Though New York has a fearsome pitching staff, unless they can make a trade I expect that their anemic offense is going to catch up with them. The Giants are a bit more worrisome, given their Cardinals-esque penchant for getting into the playoffs even when it seems like they shouldn’t. In all, even without a playoff appearance this year, the Cubs are well on their way to producing an above .500 season, something that hasn’t happened since 2009.
The pitching staff:
Here’s one example of when I think a player’s salary should be kept private, if for no other reason than to avoid clouding the judgment of fans and beat writers. If you look objectively at the season Jon Lester has had so far, you’d be hard pressed to find basis for strong criticism. He’s averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, has just 31 walks in 117 innings, and has given up just 51 hits so far. Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have both had better years for sure, but rather than focusing on the frustration that Lester isn’t putting up the numbers we think he should (and probably based on his salary alone – his performance is pretty much on par with what he’s always done), we should pay attention to the fact that our pitching staff is actually very, very good. In fact, take a look at what Beyond the Boxscore (@BtBScore) tweeted just recently. In short, our starting rotation has the best FIP in baseball, at 3.17. (See FIP explained here – it’s helpful to see other ways to evaluate a pitcher outside of W/L records and ERA, but that’s another subject)
In fact, a case could be made that our pitching staff has exceeded expectations considerably (again, look at what Arrieta and Hammel have done this year), and our offense has probably been the surprise weak spot.
We are young:
Lastly, as I mentioned in my first post for Behind the Pinstripes, this team is very, very young. Just look across the infield. The combined age there is 94, and the old timers in the infield are both a whopping 25. The important thing here to remember is that for such a young and inexperienced team (our second baseman is still developing as a player and being asked to do so in the majors. In a wild card race.), they have been more competitive than I expected. I genuinely had no playoff expectations for them until 2015 and was just hoping for an above .500 season this year, but at the pace we’re seeing, they’ll exceed those expectations.
The great thing about being such a young team is that it is not unrealistic to expect that we may finally have a long stretch of some really great years ahead of us. I don’t watch the Cubs expecting them to fail, I really don’t, and I think what we are seeing in 2015 is just the tip of the iceberg for what can happen in the next few seasons. It seems almost pandering to mention the possibility of ending “the curse,” but the coming years are some of what I expect will be a real possibility at finally winning it all.
So, yes, we are good. Truly, we are. Try and enjoy it.
Filed under: Cubs Thoughts