I don’t care if you’re a passive sports fan or a die-hard Cardinals supporter, who wouldn’t get excited to see the Chicago Cubs make a run at a World Series title? There’s a big difference between a championship drought, and what the north-siders have had to endure for over a century. Men and women have been born, and died, without seeing the Cubs hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. For an organization in a major city, with a substantial payroll, and a myriad of hall of fame inductees, it is incredible that the last time they won, Teddy Roosevelt held office. Forget the Billy goat, forget the Bartmen disaster, I’ll tell you why the Cub’s elusive championship title may just be on the horizon.
Young talent – every team wants it, the Cubs have it. The majority of buzz around the club (and league for that matter) has been the arrival of much-anticipated slugging phenom Kris Bryant – and rightfully so. His “slow start” appears to be over as he recently just snapped a 12-game hit streak with 7 long balls in the last month. What’s most impressive about his game isn’t his ability to send the ball deep, it’s his poise at the plate. Nearly every hitter from the three to five spot can knock homers, but Bryant adds patience to his power. Currently, he is in a tie for third in all of major league baseball in pitches per plate appearance, seeing 4.26 every at bat – by far my favorite statistic. Who cares right? Pitchers care. A power hitter who will lay off 0-2 sliders out of the zone, and force strikes is all you can ask for. Bryant has seen a full count 45 times, which is third in the majors. For a rookie known for his power, clearly there is way more to his game than meets the eye. It seems as though the line-up as a whole shares this same patience. As a result, the Cubs are accepting walks, not looking for them, and are currently third in the league with 156 base on balls.
With all of the hype that comes along with the touted youngsters, Anthony Rizzo is quietly putting on an all-star performance. He leads the club in Avg. (.316) home runs (9) RBI’s (29) OBP (.440) and hits (49). Not to mention having a confident glove at first base. While only 25 years old, he has already taken the helm as a predominant leader alongside shortstop Starlin Castro – a critical role for a group this inexperienced, which won’t appear on any stat sheet.
For the first time in decades, this club has become buyers instead of sellers. Transactions are no longer limited to the disposal of top assets for prospect potential. If this last offseason showed me anything, it’s that the Cubs believe the future is here. A few major moves include the acquisition of talented Addison Russell, top shortstop prospect from the Athletics organization who came over as a part of the blockbuster trade of RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel (who they have since gotten back). Shortly after, Jed Hoyer (VP and General Manger) and Theo Epstein (President of Baseball Operations) successfully courted highly sought left-hand ace Jon Lester, in a massive six-year deal worth $155 million – an addition that will bolster any rotation. If the Cubs can manage to make it, there are few proven arms more reliable in the post-season than Jon Lester. Even with Bryant, Russell, and Lester new to Wrigley, I would argue they were not the most important piece to join this past year.
The biggest off-season addition to the 2015 Chicago Cubs is not even a player, it’s manager Joe Maddon. Who better to shepherd a group teeming with potential than the great Joe Maddon? The respected and rambunctious skipper notorious for propelling rising talent, joins the Cubs organization at the perfect time. If there is any doubt of his capabilities, look no further than his accomplishments with the Tampa Bay Rays in the consistently relentless AL East. A team that resides on the lower tier of payroll never ceased to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox for divisional dominance.
At the end of the day, the Chicago Cubs, for the first time in a long time, are oozing with confidence. They have the swagger of a young group, with the leadership and guidance of choice veteran leaders. All of who are marching to the beat of Joe Maddon’s drum. The Cubs are third in the majors in steals with 43 and seventh in walks at 163, a cool indication of their multi-faceted approach. Last night marked Chicago’s MLB leading 6th walk off win; a testament to their ability to come out on top in close games. Looking ahead, we will learn a lot about this club’s resolve. Having just completed a 4-game series against the Nationals, and an abbreviated 2-game set with the Royals, June looks like murderer’s row. Chicago will have series against the Nationals, Tigers, Twins, Dodgers, and finally the Cardinals. The key for the Cubs is to stay relevant heading into the fall. Once September rolls around anything can happen.
Aforementioned Theo Epstein has been in this situation before, successfully breaking the other constricting curse by bringing a World Series title to Boston…twice. In addition to the current front office and roster, the Cub’s deep farm system has the squad loaded with depth, such that if they are still in contention heading into the offseason, they will have plenty of blue chip trade potential to explore. What I see is a talented club that is not only impressive now, but should be sustainable for years to come. Should the Cubbies find themselves in contention come fall, the Midwest, if not United States as a whole may serve as their tailwind. Hop in and buckle your seatbelt, the Cub’s bandwagon has plenty of room. Keep an eye on this team; the “loveable losers” might be in store for a new nickname.