A year ago, did you think we'd be looking at the Chicago Cubs from the position of strength they now occupy? Sure, at the end of 2014 many of us (myself included) thought the Cubs might sneak into contention and position themselves well for 2016.
They're surely positioned well for next year, all right, but after a year and baseball season that none of us will soon forget.
Here are some of the most memorable events that happened to the Cubs in 2015.
January 23: Ernie Banks passes away. The outpouring of love for Mr. Cub after his death at the age of 83 might have been unprecedented for an athlete in Chicago history. There were quite a number of stories and my own personal tribute to Ernie written here. You can read them all in this StoryStream. The Cubs honored Ernie by wearing his No. 14 as a patch all year, producing a video tribute to him that was one of the very first things shown on the new video boards at Wrigley Field, having No. 14 painted on the grass behind the plate at Wrigley all year, and having the entire team wear his No. 14 in a throwback-uniform tribute July 12.
April 17: Kris Bryant's callup and near-immediate success. The hype regarding Bryant in the big leagues began with his fantastic spring training (.425, nine home runs in 40 at-bats) and the controversy surrounding his demotion to the minor leagues (still active as the MLBPA has filed a grievance over the demotion). He was recalled after Mike Olt was injured, coincidentally just after the date that gave the Cubs another year of team control. It took him a while (21 games) for his first home run, but after that (and a bit of a slump in July) Bryant's hot bat got him the National League Rookie of the Year award.
June 16: Kyle Schwarber's callup and near-immediate success. Schwarber was originally going to be recalled just for a few days in June to DH in interleague games, and perhaps again when the Cubs played at the Cell. But with Miguel Montero injured in July, Schwarber was called up and pressed into service both catching and playing left field. His two homers that won the game in Cincinnati July 21 got him more regular playing time, and by season's end he had become a semi-regular in left field.
July 25: Cole Hamels no-hits the Cubs. The Cubs hadn't been no-hit in nearly 50 years, a record streak that stands at 7,920 games. Hamels, who had been part of a combined no-hitter for the Phillies in 2014, walked two and struck out 13 -- and then was traded to the Rangers six days later.
July 27: Bryant's first career walkoff homer. The two-run shot that defeated the Rockies was the first Cub walkoff HR hit while the Cubs were trailing since Aramis Ramirez against the Brewers in 2007. The win started the Cubs on a 22-5 run.
August 30: Jake Arrieta's no-hitter. Arrieta had teased us with several close calls in 2014, and in front of a national TV audience on ESPN, he threw the first Cubs no-hitter since 2008, allowing just two baserunners (one on a walk, the other on an error by Starlin Castro) and striking out 12. ESPN's Dan Shulman said, "Jake Arrieta throws his first career no-hitter" -- as if he were sure Jake will throw another one. Perhaps he will. Here's video with Pat Hughes' radio call:
September: A month to remember. The Cubs' 19-9 September was their best since 2003, and they won their four October regular-season games as well. There were many incredible wins, but perhaps the most memorable was a 1-0, 11-inning walkoff against the eventual World Series champion Royals in the year's final regular-season game at Wrigley September 28, on a walkoff homer by Chris Denorfia, the first home run to win an extra-inning scoreless game in major-league history:
October 7: Defeating the Pirates in the wild-card game. Several thousand Cubs fans invaded PNC Park to see Jake Arrieta shut out the Pirates and Kyle Schwarber hit a home run into the Allegheny River. There was a bit of a sideshow, too, when Arrieta was hit by a pitch, which he followed up by stealing second base. The win broke a nine-game Cubs postseason losing streak dating back to 2003. I know you want to see Schwarber's homer again:
October 13: Defeating the Cardinals in the division series. The Cubs split two games in St. Louis and then brought out the power bats, hitting six homers in Game 3 and two more in Game 4, including Kyle Schwarber's monster shot that landed on top of the right-field video board. Do you want to see that again? Sure you do:
November: Cubs win three National League postseason awards. Kris Bryant was the unanimous N.L. Rookie of the Year, Jake Arrieta won a close Cy Young vote, and Joe Maddon was selected N.L. Manager of the Year. For the Cubs it was their first Cy Young since Greg Maddux in 1992.
December: Big free-agent signings. Theo & Co. told the baseball world they weren't resting, with three big new additions to the Cubs for 2016 (and beyond): Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.
Those are some of the biggest moments for the Cubs in an eventful 2015. Perhaps I left out something that you remember well; feel free to add it in the comments. And here's to an even better 2016!