It’s been an interesting start to the season, as the Cubs have stumbled out of the gate following an amazing World Series run in 2016. The team’s sluggish offense, inconsistent pitching, and inability to keep key players on the field have both players and fans scratching their heads and looking for answers.
While you can blame some of the team’s early struggles on bad luck that is bound to end soon, what the team has gone through to this point is noteworthy. This iteration of the Cubs is getting its first real taste of adversity, something the team didn’t have to deal with much until last season until Game 5 of the World Series (trailed CLE 3-1). Many of the team’s young players have never faced this type of adversity before in the big leagues, aside from perhaps Anthony Rizzo, who was a part of the miserable rebuilding years when Theo and Co. were putting the pieces in place.
The fact of the matter is that the 2016 season was an outlier for the Cubs as far as facing the challenges of a 162-game season plus 17 postseason games. This is not to take away what they accomplished, but what they did and how they did it was insane. All things considered, the Cubs played the perfect season in 2016, which has magnified the team’s struggles that much more this season.
The Cubs were the best team in baseball from Opening Day until Game 7 of the World Series last year and dominated the sport, starting 27-9 at this point last season. The offensive juggernaut wreaked havoc on opposing pitchers led by dynamic duo of “Bryzzo” and catalyst Dexter Fowler, while other veterans and young players made big contributions. The pitching staff was the best in baseball, with three of its five starters finishing in the top 9 of NL Cy Young voting.
This season hasn’t been nearly as productive in any aspect. While Kris Bryant has remained consistent from his MVP season, Rizzo and the rest of the lineup have been ice cold. Kyle Schwarber’s transition into the lead-off spot in the order has not gone as well as skipper Joe Maddon would have hoped and the team’s pitching has been up and down.
One of the team’s biggest strength last year was keeping their core players healthy. Schwarber tearing his ACL in the third game of the season was easily the biggest injury the team sustained and was barely a blip on the radar as the Cubs didn’t miss a beat. Schwarber even returned in the World Series just seven months after his gruesome knee injury. Not only did he return, but he played well and helped the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years. That’s the stuff movies are made of.
There are very few constants in baseball, but one constant is that guys get hurt. Last year, Schwarber’s injury didn’t hurt the Cubs much, but this season’s injuries to Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist have forced the team to scramble to put together lineups and call-up top prospects Jeimer Candelario and Ian Happ.
The way the Cubs played during their World Series championship season was dominant, fun, exciting, historic, fortuitous, but unrealistic. It is very hard to have that combination of health, production, and good fortune for one season, which makes it even more unlikely two years in a row.
Despite their struggles, the Cubs are still just a month and a half into the season and are closer to being last year’s elite juggernaut than the mediocre team they’ve played like to start 2017. However, it is far enough into the season where we are allowed to ask questions. Great teams find a way to get themselves past the rough patches, and the Cubs have shown they have what it takes to be a great team. There’s too much talent to continue to play this poorly, but the adversity they have gone through thus far should help them going forward as they try to regain the swagger that made them so dangerous last year.
Lead photo courtesy Scott Kane—USA Today Sports