SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- Last Thursday, you read the Cubs season preview I wrote for SB Nation, and many of you interpreted it as being pessimistic, a downer, negative, not looking toward the future...
Well. Considering that preview, and this article, are about the 2014 season only, I'd think you'd understand that, given the reality of who will be on the 25-man roster in Pittsburgh Monday. Regardless of any hope for the future -- and I'll get to that -- I can't think of a major-league Cubs baseball regular season I have gone into with less enthusiasm than this one.
Here's why. This thought occurred to me as I was watching the Winter Olympics this past February. You watch world competition and see winners expressing almost incalculable joy, the joy that comes from winning something you have prepared for years, or perhaps even your entire life, to accomplish.
That's what's missing in my life as a Cubs fan, anyway. There's no joy. I looked back at the Cubs' 2013 day-by-day results and I'm hard-pressed to find any game in that list that's particularly memorable, or brought any real excitement or joy on watching the contest. That's been the case for most of the last four seasons, all losing ones, all far out of any sort of contention for a postseason spot.
This year will be the fifth straight year of that -- no chance at all for contention, barring some sort of miracle. The last time I can really remember feeling joyous as a Cubs fan was watching Carlos Zambrano's no-hitter in Milwaukee, more than five years ago.
Do you know how long it's been since the Cubs have had five straight years like that? For the purpose of this argument, I'm defining "contention" as being over .500 and within five games of first place any time after July 1, however brief that period was.
The last time the Cubs had five straight years without satisfying those criteria were 1953-57. That's almost 60 years ago. Even during some of the bad times of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the Cubs always had a year or two during which they flirted with contention, getting hopes up, making things exciting at Wrigley Field even for a week or three during the summer, and of course there were the years of actual contention and making the playoffs, something we enjoyed six times between 1984 and 2008.
I have zero expectations that will happen this summer. And that makes me sad. As I have written before, I'm not getting any younger and there are times I despair of ever seeing the Cubs win the World Series. The drought of not even getting there, which will reach 69 years after this summer, is now nine years longer than the World Series-winning drought was in 1969, the year that this not quite 13-year-old kid thought the Cubs would win it all.
I would love to have the optimism of "Hey, why not us?" that some of you have posted in various comments here. But every time I try to think that, reality rears its ugly head and reminds me that the major-league Cubs, as currently constituted, are very likely a 95-loss team. Again. Please note that this is not a suggestion that Theo & Co. should have spent umpty-ump million dollars to put a team of aging stars on the field to attempt to pull off a pennant. It's simply an acknowledgement of reality.
You'll say, "Root for the prospects!" Sorry, I'm not a fan of the Iowa Cubs or Tennessee Smokies or Kane County Cougars. I'm a Chicago Cubs fan. If players on those teams do well, fine and dandy, but that doesn't help the 2014 Chicago Cubs win, most likely.
Could the 2014 Cubs pull a miracle and make the playoffs? Sure they could. Anything's possible in baseball, and if they somehow get off to a good start, I'm sure my optimism will return and show itself, to me and to all of you here.
Is there hope for the future? Of course there is. This year, I promise to be hopeful that:
- Anthony Rizzo takes a step up and becomes an All-Star caliber hitter
- Starlin Castro returns to his 2011-12 All-Star form
- Mike Olt becomes a fixture at third base and makes that trade Theo's best
- A breakout year from the talented Junior Lake
- A breakout year from the talented Welington Castillo
There are other things to be hopeful about, but those are the main things on the team as it is currently constituted. Among other things that I'll be hopeful for, and potentially excited about, going into the future:
- The major-league debut of Javier Baez, who is the one guy among all the prospects that I believe has "superstar" written all over him
- Bullpen help from guys like Arodys Vizcaino, Brian Schlitter and Neil Ramirez
- Kris Bryant's future
- Albert Almora's future
The latter four points, though, are still in the future (though I suspect we'll see Baez in the big leagues this summer), and they're not all going to come to the majors and be superstars right away. There will be bumps in the road, injuries and failures. A good comp might be the Kansas City Royals, who have had several talented young hitters come to their team since 2007: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. Those young players have taken several years to mature into the stars they are now, and 2014 might very well bring a playoff appearance for them and Kansas City -- but it's taken them at least six years to get there! Hopefully, it won't take the Cubs prospects that long.
Just having written this has helped me regain some enthusiasm. I love baseball, as you know, and have often said here, "Even bad baseball is better than no baseball." I still believe that, and maybe we'll have some fun, some surprises, more winning than anyone expects. It all begins again Monday, and though the weather isn't quite baseball-like in Chicago, the Cubs come home to open the 100th anniversary season of Wrigley Field Friday.
I'll be there. It will be fun, win or lose. I hope the Cubs win, a lot more than they have the last two years, and I'd just like a little bit of joy. Go Cubs.