I’m still not entirely over the way the Cubs ended their 2018 season. It bugs me that they never really got to celebrate a 95-win season. And while there were a few moments to celebrate in the Wild Card game, as extra innings continued the feeling of “Oh no, bats. Not again...” was palpable at Wrigley Field. That not with a bang, but a whimper feeling tended to overshadow the fact that a lot of great things happened in 2018.
Since we’re in the middle of the long baseball drought of the offseason, I decided to take a look back on a few of the plays that made the Cubs season awesome. Here they are, in no particular order, five plays I’m thankful for from 2018.
5. Anthony Rizzo’s 1000th career game
I had to work on July 26 so like I do a few dozen times during the regular season I listened to this game on the radio. Things didn’t sound good for the Cubs, who trailed the Diamondbacks 6-4 heading into the bottom of the ninth. But Brad Boxberger just didn’t have it that day and after walking Ben Zobrist to start the frame he proceeded to give up three hard hit balls to the next three batters. Javier Baez hit a drive to deep center that the Diamondbacks ran down, but no one was going to be able to run down what happened next.
The legend of David Bote began on this day when he drove a game tying HR to left center, but most people will need to be reminded of that because Rizzo followed that up with a monstrous walk-off blast [VIDEO].
This is the greatest Cubs team of my lifetime and the heart of that team is Anthony Rizzo. He was here for 100-loss seasons. His charity work runs deep through the city. Even the small moments of controversy have revolved around Rizzo standing up for teammates or playing the game with a competitive spirit. He is building a legacy as one of the great all time Cubs. Great players seem to have storybook moments and Rizzo hitting a walkoff home run in his 1000th game is one of those moments.
4. Walkoff grand slams (yes, plural)
Speaking of walkoffs and David Bote, 2018 was the year of the comeback for the Cubs and twice they managed to do that with a grand slam. Both times it came from unlikely players.
Jason Heyward’s offense improved markedly in 2018 but he’s still not close to the player the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him in 2015. When he came to the plate on June 6 the Cubs were down to their last out. They were also down 5-3 to the Phillies. I have been unapologetically #TeamHeyward since the beginning, but I confess, I did not expect what happened next [VIDEO].
It was an incredible and well-deserved moment for a player that has struggled at times. I almost wrote I couldn’t think of a player who deserved it more, but then...
Let’s get back to this Bote kid. A lot of words have been written about David Bote, how he got to the big leagues, his work ethic and his penchant for the dramatic. But as I said at the time, this home run is the most exciting moment I’ve ever witnessed at a baseball game. It was truly remarkable and I definitely want to see it again [VIDEO].
Oh, and one of the best parts of rewatching these videos? Albert Almora Jr. was on base for both grand slams. Both times he raises his hands above his head almost instantly. He clearly knows they’re gone. You know what they say about watching outfielders to find out if it’s really a home run? Well, apparently Almora can see that even when he’s standing on base in the infield.
3. Willson Contreras celebrates his bobblehead day
Not all memorable grand slams are walkoffs and Willson Contreras had a great one on his bobblehead day this year, but he wasn’t even close to done. A second home run, a double, a single and seven RBIs later, he was done [VIDEO].
As you all know I love the numbers. Entering the series against the South Siders on May 11 Willson was slashing .246/.326/.407, by the end of the game he was slashing .268/.343/.488. Adding 81 points to your SLG in a single day is something I’d expect from an everyday player in mid-April, not mid-May. That particular series was good for Willson who followed up the 4 for 5 day on the 11th with a 3 for 5 day on the 12th. By the time the White Sox left Wrigley on the 13th Willson was slashing .275/.349/.504 and well on the way to making his case to be an all star.
2. Kyle Schwarber: plus defender
Willson Contreras wasn’t the only player showing off on May 11. Kyle Schwarber made this outstanding throw to gun down Nicky Delmonico. One of many similar plays the Cubs left fielder would make in 2018 [VIDEO].
I mean, look at the smile as Schwarber runs off the field. He loves these guys running on him.
It’s almost as if everyone got so worked up with the “Kyle Schwarber is a bad outfielder” narrative that they forgot he was a catcher with a great arm. It seemed like every team thought they should try to run on Kyle and every few games, Kyle proved it was a bad idea. Here he is gunning down Francisco Lindor at second 12 days later [VIDEO].
I mean, he even makes a nice slide on that play. Oh, and Schwarbs isn’t close to done. I know you want to see him throw out Harrison Bader:
Defensive metrics have their shortcomings, but Kyle Schwarber finished the season second in the National League in UZR and first in the National League in UZR 150. He was tied with Andrew Benintendi for first in MLB with 11 assists from left field. Kyle Schwarber: plus defender is for real, and if people keep testing his arm there are going to be a lot more people looking like Harrison Bader when they are thrown out:
1. Javier Baez steals the show
Javier Baez had a career year in 2018 and finished second in MVP voting as a result. He did everything. He played outstanding defense. He hit 34 home runs. He slashed .290/.326/.554.
He also stole 21 bases, including home. Twice.
I already wrote a couple thousand words on these two plays earlier this year, so I really tried to keep this section brief. But before I let the videos of Javy stealing home take center stage I wanted to take a look at how rare it is to steal home twice in the same season.
Javier Baez just stole home for the second time this season.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 4, 2018
He's the fifth player to do so in the last 10 seasons.
Juan Pierre, 2010 CWS
Elvis Andrus, 2011 Tex
Jacoby Ellsbury, 2016 NYY
Travis Jankowski, 2016 SD
No @Cubs player in the last 40 years has done it.#EverybodyIn
No Cubs player has stolen home twice in a single season in more than 40 years. Seeing multiple plays like this in the same season is very rare, indeed.
Matz and Gonzalez clearly missed the play and were caught flat footed. Keith Hernandez talked about the play for another half inning he was so floored. The Tigers, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly what was coming, and Javy stole home anyway [VIDEO]:
Something tells me el Mago still has a lot more tricks up his sleeve for 2019.
What other Cubs moments were you thankful for in 2018? Share in the comments and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.