When the 2016 Major League Baseball season concluded, the Chicago Cubs were able to do something that no one in their current fan base had previously been able to enjoy. The Cubs World Series Championship marked the first time that they had won it all since 1908 and thus they became rock stars within the Windy City. Every place that the Cubs went they were adored and given the red carpet treatment. The love affair with the Cubs would continue this year in spring training as they were selling out the majority of their exhibition games. And when the regular season began last month, the Cubs were able to raise their World Series banner, while also receiving exquisite World Series rings. But one of the questions that I posed in my baseball preview for this year was whether or not that the Cubs would have a World Series hangover here in 2017; and right now it appears that they just might.
Through 43 games the Cubs find themselves with a record of 22-21 which is good for third place in the National League Central. And after the Cubs won a combined 200 games over the last two regular seasons, they are going to have to put in some work this time around.
The talent is still in place for the Cubs to be successful as they have the likes of starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and third baseman Kris Bryant who is the reigning National League MVP, while Joe Maddon is still the manager of this team. But after the Cubs spent this past winter hearing how good that they were from passers by along with the media constantly discussing them, they must now accept the fact that they’re going to play 162 World Series games this season just to make it back to the postseason.
In winning 103 games last year, the Cubs won the National League Central by 17.5 games, while they also went 50-25 within the division. This season the Cubs are 15-11 versus the N.L. Central and it appears that they’re going to be in for a dog fight as the teams within the division have improved in the hopes of overtaking Chicago.
The Cubs were able to win their series last week against the Cincinnati Reds whom they swept, but the same could not be said about their previous three series. The Cubs were swept at home by the New York Yankees, while they also dropped series’ versus the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. And when you peel back the surface and take a look into the organs and infrastructure of the 2017 version of the Cubs, the key ingredient that is missing for them is hunger.
When Maddon joined the Cubs in 2015 after nine years as the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, he was the perfect person to lead this team that was young, hungry, and playing with house money as they all were attempting to establish themselves.The Cubs were the sweethearts in 2015 as they secured a wild card berth and made it to the National League Championship Series before being swept by the New York Mets. The Cubs would use the loss to the Mets as hunger for last year, but where will that extra desire come from this year?
The Cubs team earned run average of 3.94 is fourth in the National League, but that number is deceiving. Arrieta is 5-3, but his earned run average is 4.80, and he has been unable to get past the sixth inning in any start since April 9 as this is a far cry from a man who won the N.L. Cy Young Award in 2015. Starting pitcher Jon Lester was 19-5 last year with an earned run average of 2.44, but this time around he is 2-2 with an ERA of 3.57. In allowing relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman to leave as a free agent to re-join the Yankees, the Cubs didn’t skip a beat as they acquired relief pitcher Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals. Davis already has 9 saves, but he could have more if the Cubs starters were handing him the ball with a lead in the ninth inning.
The Cubs offense is surprisingly a middle of the pack unit in spite all of their firepower. Last year the Cubs were the modern day Murderers’ Row as they decimated opposing pitching staffs. Bryant is off to another solid start as he is batting .296 with 10 home runs and 22 runs batted in. Rizzo has 8 homers and his 24 runs batted in lead the team. However Rizzo has not been consistent at the plate which is illustrated in his .222 batting average. Outfielder Kyle Schwarber is a power threat, but his batting average is south of .200. The Cubs are not getting quality production from youngsters such as infielder Addison Russell who is only batting .216, while even a dependable veteran in utility man Ben Zobrist has yet to get it going as he is only batting .252. And after the Cubs gave outfielder Jason Heyward $184 million over eight years, his signing could be one of the worst free agency deals in the franchise’s history as the oft-injured right fielder is only batting .255 with 3 homers and 17 runs batted in this season.
But little did we know of the impact that outfielder Dexter Fowler had on the Cubs lineup over the last two years. Fowler was the Cubs table setter over the last two seasons, however Chicago allowed him to hit free agency and he joined the rival Cardinals, while leaving Chicago without a guy to generate some life for their offense which is showing up this season.
The Cubs are in third place in the National League Central, but they aren’t far off of the pace as they’re only 2.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs definitely have a run in them due to the fact that at some point their offense should be able to get clicking and the same is true in regards to their starting pitching staff. And even if the Cubs can’t get it going, I expect their president of baseball operations in Theo Epstein to use all of his resources to make deals in order to get this team back to the postseason.
The taste of victory was very sweet for the Cubs last year, but now that their appetite has been satisfied, will they have enough left for another helping of success this season?