2021 was a tumultuous year for me. I moved from my lifelong existence in the Chicagoland area to the Tampa area in Florida. We didn’t initially have a home when we moved here and we lived out of a condo that was smaller than my family and three cats needed. Selling a house in this market was great. Buying, not so much. Work has been crazy. I was involved in a major project, then our company was the victim of an international hacking ring, then I went back to the project and then I returned to my day job after months of being away from it without the work really going away.
That equation added up to less time to follow baseball than I’ve had at any time in years. I don’t say any of that for anyone to feel sorry for me, but it is just the way things were. More than I can ever remember, I’m ready for the off season to happen. Writing about baseball, particularly writing about often bad baseball has become much more chore than joy. Al is great and it has nothing to do with him. He’s been supportive every step of the way. I’m just wiped out. Trying to adjust to the time change and trying to get stories written early enough for eyeballs to see them before the next game was a slog at times.
I thank all of you for bearing with me. I’m sure at times my work product was less than it has been in the past. But the core readers were here every day. I appreciate all of you. There would be nothing for me to bother writing if there were no one to read it. So thank you to anyone who read any of what I wrote, but especially thank you to those of you who read all or most days. I can’t tell you what that means to me. A few of you have really been consistent for at least a few years now and that’s pretty cool to me. There are people on the internet interested to read what I have to write about the Cubs. Neat.
As for the season itself, I didn’t hate it as much as some of you did. I started the year slightly more optimistic than what I perceived as the “average community perception” of the Cubs. Here around Bleed Cubbie Blue, I felt like the average perception was that the team was likely to struggle, perhaps mightily. Some of you acknowledged the cracks in the foundation better than I did. I think, I’ve felt for a few years that they had been more rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship than positioning themselves for the next deep playoff run. But, I still looked at the team and what looked on paper like a weak division and thought if things broke right, they could win. Obviously, they did for a while. In May, this looked maybe like a team that could hang around.
But then June was awful and July not much relief. August was mostly yuck and it just didn’t matter by September. So this was not pretty by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. But if you’ve been reading, you have to see it in my writing. I’ve been caught up a bit in the stories of Patrick Wisdom, Frank Schwindel and Rafael Ortega. And even to a lesser extent in the young pitchers, Trayce Thompson, Robinson Chirinos, etc. Don’t get me wrong, with the exception of the collective young Cubs pitching prospects, I don’t expect anything from any of them next year. I’d guess that at least one of the older break through guys adds some value next year. But on some level it feels like an awful lot like Gary Gaetti. Or maybe just the Gaetti experience always makes me skeptical of a renaissance year or whatever. Of course, none of these guys are as old as he was, though he was also quite a bit more accomplished.
If you didn’t think this was a playoff team, then I don’t know how this season was super disappointing. To the contrary, I’m actually encouraged that management was able to pull the trigger and bring in as much talent as they could. From the Darvish trade until the June trades, this organization added a ton of talent. The system was already improving. It may still have been slightly under water compared to other systems across baseball. But there were already guys suggesting that though the Cubs didn’t particularly have much by way of top 100 talent, they were accumulating a lot of depth.
I think any sane person would rather have five guys like Brennen Davis’ than 100 guys who you profile as most likely to be fourth outfielders, fifth infielders, fourth starters and depth relievers. Of course, with guys like that, if you do have 100 of them, it’s likely that a few of them are going to take the next step and be significant contributors. But, to talent evaluators it was still looking a lot more like the background than the foreground. It’s a relatively small sample size, but particularly the guys they got for Yu Darvish look like they could break out as stars. They added more than a dozen players between the end of the 2020 season and now. And in that group are some really intriguing players.
I’ve had precious little time to get involved in the comments the way I used to around the BCB community. But if I did, you’d be hearing me excited about the future. I don’t know when this team will make its next deep playoff run. Throw the dart, aim for 2023 and hope if you miss it is because they get hot in late 2022 and not because it turns out to be 2024 or later. To me, the biggest thing to be excited about for 2022 is that the slate is relatively clean. You aren’t looking at a crowded roster and trying to find the long half of this potential platoon or the short half of that one. You aren’t locked into improving any one position or any slot on the roster.
Sure, the Cubs have Willson Contreras and he should be their catcher. You are going to want, at least initially, Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal to get a lot of playing time. You might be frustrated with him at times, but Ian Happ should probably be playing a lot somewhere. You have a lot of guys who can maybe produce somewhere between 1-3 WAR. That’s not going to look on paper like a 90-win team. But I’d think with almost the entire payroll being freed up, and not really having almost any legacy players, you are looking at clear skies ahead. I think you get a feel for who is willing to come here for what at least could be a long building process, and then you try to identify the most impactful players available to you and sign them. You can kind of work things out later positionally, particularly if the universal DH is coming.
So while I’m certainly happy it’s over, while I’m definitely looking forward to some down time. I’m already looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Unless players really freeze out this organization, and I just don’t know why they would, I don’t see why this organization has to be down long. I’m not quite as optimistic as they are that they can compete as soon as 2022. But at least a part of that is respect for the Brewers and Cardinals and how consistently good the two of them have been. Coupled with deep teams that figure to be good like the Dodgers and Padres, the NL playoff picture is as murky in the short term going forward as can be. But, I do think this organization can add some interesting pieces, be respectable, develop talent and start positioning for the next run of successful teams.
I’m not seeing “wait till next year” and hearing it as curse words. Let’s see what they build.
Let’s get down to business and recap the final game of the 2021 Cubs. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high-leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 162, October 3: Cubs 3, Cardinals 2 (71-91)
- Superhero: Joe Biagini (.263). 3 innings, 13 batters, 2H, BB, 2K, HBP (W 1-0)
*First and foremost, Joe is the 64th Cub to appear in Heroes and Goats. That is a record that may never be broken. Joe is also a reminder that I didn’t pay enough attention to Josh Timmers’ work. I have no idea who this person is.
- Hero: Matt Duffy (.234). 2-3, 2RBI, SB
- Sidekick: Frank Schwindel (.188). 2-3, 2-2B, RBI, 2R, K
- Billy Goat: Ian Happ (-.085). 0-2, BB, K, CS
- Goat: Trent Giambrone (-.076). 0-3, K
- Kid: Trayce Thompsn (-.072). 0-3, K
WPA Play of the Game: With one out and a runner on first in the fifth inning, Frank Schwindel faced Jake Woodford with the Cubs trailing 2-1. He doubled, driving in the tying run. (.165)
*Cardinals Play of the Game: With no outs and a runner on first in the seventh inning, the Cubs were leading 3-2. Harrison Bader faced off against Joe Biagini. He was hit by a pitch, putting two on with no out. (.115)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Frank Schwindel +30 (+1)
- Kris Bryant/*Patrick Wisdom +26
- David Bote -19
- Jake Arrieta -19
- Zach Davies -25
Schwindel wins this award with a four-point margin. Frank is the fifth different player to win the award in eight years of existence. Anthony Rizzo won it four times, hence the name of the award. I’m extremely unlikely to ever rename the award. Someone is going to have to take it from Anthony. I love that the award is named for someone who was involved with some of the coolest moments in Cubs history, a guy known for tireless off the field charity involvement, a guy who really embraced this team and the city he plays for. I love that he enjoyed the game so much while he was here. If Rizzo had played as long as he did here for the Yankees, he’d likely be immortal and one day headed to Cooperstown.
Up Next: The offseason is ahead. I will definitely have a full rundown of all of the players who received any H&G points this season from top to bottom. I should have the conclusion of our look back at the 1989 season in Historical Heroes and Goats. I might also thumbnail another year. We’ll see what the offseason holds for this space. But now I’m going to go enjoy the last few days of my vacation.
Enjoy the postseason. It could probably go without saying, but I’ll be rooting for the Rays. I’d love for them to bring Tampa yet another championship. The city certainly isn’t starved for another one with so many positive accomplishments in so little time here. But, I do love rooting for the underdog. Despite their finish with the third-best record in baseball and best in the AL, I imagine most of you do not believe they’ll win. That’s an underdog in my book. Besides, they are always an underdog in my book. Their payroll is a fraction of the Yankees and Red Sox who they occupy space with in the AL East. And then the Blue Jays went out and built an incredibly talented and amazingly interesting young team. It’s a crowded division and they won it going away.
Be good to each other. The world fills more and more with angst and hate each day. We’ve lost the ability to be tolerant of one another. Those of us here at BCB have baseball and particularly the Cubs in common. I think this world needs an awful lot more of people recognizing the things we have in common. We spend so much time pointing out our differences, sometimes in mean and spiteful ways. I share Al’s vision of this being a safe space for Cubs fans to come together, regardless of where they are coming from, to treat each other with respect and fairness, and to enjoy the good while commiserating about the bad. No matter how bad things get, we are still all in this together. And we are so much stronger when we are united than when we are divided. Peace, prosperity and happiness to you, one and all.