It’s February 11. The first Cubs spring training game is just 11 days away, and the official pitcher and catcher report day is today.
Can you remember such a date in recent years having as little enthusiasm as today does? The Cubs have made almost no moves this offseason, adding just two players (Jeremy Jeffress and Steven Souza Jr.) on major-league deals. Neither of those players generates a huge amount of excitement, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The Cubs are coming off a tough year in which they collapsed from an almost-certain wild-card spot and possible division title with a dreadful nine-game losing streak in mid-September. In many ways that one was worse than the famed 1969 collapse, yet I spent quite a bit of time chronicling that team on this site over the last year. 50 years from now, I doubt the 2019 season is anything more than a footnote in Cubs history.
And yet... despite all the non-action and bits of negativity we hear around Cubdom, I want you to remember we are still in a Golden Age of Cubs baseball. Four of the last five years have resulted in a postseason berth. Those four teams all won at least 92 games. That hadn’t happened in franchise history since an eight-year run from 1904-11. One mediocre season in that bunch doesn’t change the fact that we are still in a window of contention.
Remember that September 2019 was played without Javier Baez for the entire month and with an injured Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant for a stretch. I can imagine better than an 11-16 mark that month with those three healthy and contributing. Just reversing that mark to 16-11 — which would have basically matched the 16-12 August — would have resulted in the Cubs in the wild-card game (assuming one of those swapped wins was against the Brewers, who won 89 games).
Now, there were certainly players out there who could have helped the Cubs if they had been willing to spend even a little bit of money. Clearly, they weren’t. The reasons for that could be (and have been) debated endlessly. We’re not going to change that. Perhaps only the next collective-bargaining agreement can change that.
But who knows. Maybe this team can spring a surprise on the rest of the N.L. Central. David Ross has been hired as manager to instill some discipline into a team that was perceived to be too lackadaisical, but he should absolutely remind them of Joe Maddon’s mantra, “Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” If this team goes out and has fun as well as being disciplined, the talent level could very well result in another playoff season.
It all starts today. I’ll be in Mesa for the first official pitcher/catcher workout tomorrow and will have photos and video.
Enjoy it. Baseball is back, games start soon, and the 2020 regular season isn’t far away.