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Reflections on what is likely the weirdest season in Cubs history

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No matter what else you call the 2021 season, we definitely saw many things we had never seen before.

Photo by @WillByington / www.willbyington.com

The 2021 Cubs season began as the last hope for the team’s World Series core to make one last run at the ultimate baseball prize.

It ended with guys most of us had never heard of wearing the blue pinstripes, setting a MLB record for most players used in a season and losing 91 games, the most for the team since the rebuild year of 2013.

We all knew a selloff might happen if contention didn’t. I wrote about that when this season began, comparing this year to 1973, another season in which a beloved core of Cubs players made one last run at the postseason, which ultimately didn’t happen. The parallels became eerie, as I wrote in July, when this year’s Cubs had a 26-11 run from May 3 to June 11 and resided in first place in the NL Central with a 38-27 record. That was similar to the ‘73 Cubs, who were 48-33 at midseason and led the NL East by eight games.

Both teams then started losing, and losing, and losing some more. At one point in their seasons, the 1973 and 2021 Cubs both had 11-game losing streaks (and post-selloff, the ‘21 Cubs added another loss streak of 12). In ‘73, before free agency, there were no midseason selloffs (and the trading deadline then, June 15, had already passed), so that core stayed together and nearly got back to the top of the division before fading the final week, but not before still being in contention on September 30, the latest they’d stayed there since 1945.

This year? Eleven players on the Opening Day roster were traded in July, eight of them at the trading deadline. It is not my purpose here to rehash all those deals and their immediate aftermath; if you want my reactions to the selloff, here’s my July 31 article on that topic.

Where do the Cubs go from here? President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer says this isn’t a “rebuild,” but rather a “re-tool” or something similar. In August, I laid out four reasons why the Cubs have to spend significant money on putting a team together for 2022 and I’ll stand by those reasons. They can’t afford not to.

Last week, Hoyer spoke to season-ticket holders at Wrigley Field (again, apologies for the lighting, but this is where they set up):

Now, obviously that’s a pep talk to try to get STH to renew. But I do believe Hoyer wants to put a team on the field in 2022 that can compete for the division title. Will it be a World Series juggernaut, like the 2016 team was? Of course not, but just look at what the San Francisco Giants did in 2021, coming off a mediocre pandemic season in 2020 and a 77-85 year in 2019. Did you or anyone think the Giants would win 107 games in 2021 back in March? No, no you did not, don’t try to claim otherwise. No one did. So things like that can be done. I wouldn’t expect the 2022 Cubs to do that, but I do think they can be an over .500 contender.

So it’ll be interesting to see how Hoyer and his baseball ops team approach 2022. A fix might not be too far away — it’s obvious the issue is pitching. The sub Cubs actually outdid their traded brethren after the selloff, averaging 4.62 runs per game, while before, the Cubs scored 4.2 runs per game. But the pitching... ugh. Before the selloff Cubs pitchers allowed a not-good 4.51 runs per game. After? 6.38 runs per game.

Fix that and you’re 95 percent of the way back.

The proverbial elephant in the room, of course, is the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement, which expires December 1. Nothing I have heard up to now makes me think players and owners will agree to a new deal by then. If free agency begins, five days after the World Series, with no CBA in place, there won’t be any FA signings. None. No team would want to commit money to new players without knowing the conditions under which the sport will be governed.

Owners, though, likely don’t want to lose another full year of ticket revenue, as they did in 2020 due to the pandemic. They might suggest to players that they kick the can down the road a year, play one more season under the current agreement and give the two sides more time to negotiate. This isn’t an unreasonable idea and it could happen.

But if not? Then we could be looking at a lockout and perhaps the loss of an entire MLB season. Don’t think it can happen? The NHL did so about 15 years ago. No one wants this, but MLB owners and players haven’t always done the most sensible thing, and personally, I think Rob Manfred is absolutely the wrong Commissioner at this moment in time. Say what you want about Bud Selig, but he loved baseball and understood what a labor stoppage would mean to the sport, which is why MLB hasn’t had one since the disastrous one in 1994-95.

I’ve digressed a bit from the Chicago Cubs, so let me finish with these thoughts. Despite that bad 21-37 record after the selloff, the Cubs did play some fun and enjoyable baseball games, including a seven-game winning streak in which they won twice on walkoffs, once on this bizarre missed popup [VIDEO].

Things like that reminded me of why I love baseball so much — the unexpected, the strange, the play you’ve never seen before even after watching thousands of games. Thanks to guys like Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega for providing some solid play and enjoyable moments over the season’s last two months.

And I’ll give one last salute here to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and the rest of the departed Cubs World Series core. Thanks for the title and the memories, even though it only happened once. You are forever Cubs World Series champions and there will be many reunions of that group in the future where you can be cheered again by the Wrigley faithful.

In the meantime, time and baseball move forward. This will be a notable offseason for our favorite team and sport. I’ll cover it all here as it happens, and it’s just 178 days until the Cubs — whoever they will be! — take the field to begin the 2022 season against the Reds in Cincinnati.

As always — as I have said so many times — we await developments. Tomorrow, I’ll have my final season grades for the 2021 Chicago Cubs, looking at the players in more detail.