This story is not going to have a happy ending for you, at least the history isn’t.
But it might give you, the Cubs fan, some hope that this year’s model could blast out of its mediocrity and make the postseason.
It’s the story of the 2008 Dodgers, who not only muddled around well below .500 for much of the season, but who won the N.L. West with only 84 victories, one of the lowest division-winning totals in history.
That Dodgers team, after winning eight in a row in late April and early May, slid into mediocrity. That included being swept in a three-game series by the Cubs at Wrigley Field in late May, a series in which Cubs pitching held them to three total runs.
They were 13-15 in May and 11-16 in June and the entire division looked much like the N.L. Central does today. Entering the All-Star break, not a single team in the N.L. West that year was over .500. The Dodgers were three games under .500, but only one game out of first place.
They managed to have a winning July at 16-10; all that did was put them at .500, 54-54 — but still just two games out of first place on July 31.
That day, they were part of a three-team, six-player deal that brought Manny Ramirez to L.A. The Dodgers sent Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates, and the Red Sox sent Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates. The Red Sox got Jason Bay from Pittsburgh in this deal. If that seems lopsided, remember that at the time Manny had become persona non grata in Boston and Theo Epstein, then Boston’s GM, was looking to dump him at any cost.
And Manny just started hitting like crazy. In 53 games for the Dodgers, he hit .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs, posting 3.5 bWAR in what amounted to about one-third of a season. It didn’t do much for the Dodgers in August, as they still finished with a losing record, 13-16. On August 29, they lost their eighth consecutive game and were five games under .500, 65-70, and 4½ games out of first place.
But then they started winning, and winning, and winning some more. They went 19-8 from August 30 through season’s end, the best record in baseball. That included an eight-game winning streak that immediately followed the eight-game losing streak. They won the N.L. West by two games. You surely know that they continued this dominance through the division series with the Cubs that year and I don’t want to belabor that. They did wind up losing the NLCS to the Phillies.
The Dodgers’ offense was pretty mediocre in 2008. Through July 31 they had scored 450 runs in 108 games, 4.17 per game, though they had allowed 451. But with the addition of Manny they increased that scoring to 4.63 runs per game from August 1 through season’s end. Even with that they finished 13th in the N.L. in runs scored, but had the league’s stingiest pitching, allowing 648 runs, 23 fewer than the second-best Cubs staff.
The point of this article is to again show you that a team can be mediocre, or even bad, for several months and still win its division. The 2008 N.L. West looked somewhat like the 2017 N.L. Central, with no one really taking charge until the Dodgers did late in the season.
The Cubs are going to need someone to pick things up like Manny did for the Dodgers in 2008. (No, it won’t be Manny himself. C’mon.) The Cubs have several hitters who are capable of carrying a team that way. They could use some starting pitching help and I think they’ll go out and get it.
And then this year’s Cubs just have to go out and do it.