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Reflections on the Cubs’ 2022 season

This year, we hope, was a transition from the bad into the good.

Photo by @WillByington /

One thing I think many have forgotten about the 2022 baseball season is how close we came to losing it — all of it.

When the lockout suddenly ended March 10, we were probably only a day or so away from Rob Manfred announcing that more games were going to be “removed from the schedule” — note, he was very careful to not say “cancelled.” As it was, a week’s worth of games had to be rescheduled once the lockout did end, which is why the season ended yesterday instead of this past Sunday. If another week’s worth of games had been “removed,” that would have been subject to more MLB/MLBPA negotiations, because players would have wanted to be paid for 162 games while owners wouldn’t have wanted to do that, and...

In any case, none of that happened and baseball had a full 162-game season this year, even with games shoved into doubleheaders (the Cubs played two lockout-induced DH, one against the Brewers and one against the Cardinals) and these last three games, which resulted in the Cubs playing six straight games against the Reds, three in Chicago and three in Cincinnati. And if you felt like that was weird, imagine being the Colorado Rockies, who had to play their final six games against the Dodgers — all in Dodger Stadium! (The 94-loss Rox managed to split those six games.)

I see I’ve strayed a bit from the purpose of this article, which is to share my thoughts about the Cubs season just completed, and offer a few about the future. I think — at least I hope — that you’ll agree with me that the Cubs leave 2022 on an upswing, with some optimism that 2023 will be a better year, with the possibility of wild-card contention.

This year didn’t start out that way. The Cubs began by winning six of their first 10 games, but soon devolved into losing, right after that losing 14 of 17. By the time the All-Star break hit, the Cubs had losing streaks of 10 and nine, and couldn’t win at Wrigley Field. One thing even previous bad Cubs teams could do was win at home, but this... this just didn’t happen for a very long time for the Cubs in 2021 and 2022:

Cubs at Wrigley, beginning of 2021 through trade deadline: 31-21
Cubs at Wrigley, 2021 trade deadline through All-Star break 2022: 27-53
Cubs at Wrigley, post All-Star break 2022: 18-12

One of the things that happened to this team after Jed Hoyer’s big selloff in 2021 was that a Cubs team was put on the field consisting of some players who had barely even met each other. It takes time, as any manager will tell you, for a team to create an identity, to know each other and to know who they are. The Cubs from July 30, 2021 through the All-Star break of 2022 didn’t have this.

But as the 2022 season went on, they seemed to create this team identity and winning, at least at home, followed. When this season began I thought they’d be a .500 ballclub. They did that for the last 102 games of the season, going 51-51. Perhaps they would have been able to do that all year if not for injuries to almost every member of the starting rotation. Wade Miley made just nine appearances (eight starts). Kyle Hendricks, so reliable for so many years, pitched (mostly) poorly and not at all after July 5. Drew Smyly and Marcus Stroman, who both threw well after the All-Star break, both spent time on the injured list beforehand. So it seems that Hoyer & Co. did put together a team that could play .500 ball and with a bit of luck might have competed for a wild card, only to lose that chance due to injuries.

I’ll also give a lot of credit to David Ross. Despite not having the most talented of teams, he had his guys playing hard every single day. I’m sure you noticed that on the field. This sort of attitude will serve the Chicago Cubs well when they have more talent on the ballclub.

There were lots of good things that happened in 2022 to the Chicago Cubs:

  • Nico Hoerner establishing himself as a fine player both at the plate and in the field and becoming a team leader at age 25
  • Christopher Morel’s great start, homering in his first MLB at-bat, and his decent play overall along with his infectious fun attitude toward the game
  • Seiya Suzuki’s good start and finish boding well for the future, despite slumps at times and an injury that cost him five weeks
  • The discovery of a solid relief option in Brandon Hughes
  • The emergence of Justin Steele as a useful starting pitcher before an injury shut him down
  • Adrian Sampson’s unexpected good run as a starting pitcher

There were also the long goodbyes given to Willson Contreras and Ian Happ before the trade deadline — then neither was traded. Contreras will almost certainly be given a qualifying offer. Will he take it? I’m putting the odds at 50/50. Will Happ be traded this offseason? Or offered a contract extension? Your guess is as good as mine on those choices. Happ had a good year, finishing with 4.3 bWAR and making the NL All-Star team. He’s 28 and could absolutely be part of the Next Great Cubs Team.

Which is where we stand as we enter another offseason. Jed Hoyer and his baseball ops team have work to do to identify players to sign or trade for who can fill holes on this team — starting pitching and power hitting are the two key categories. I’ll have some articles to come on players I think the Cubs should go after this offseason coming up as the weeks and months go by. One thing we’ve got to look forward to is the first “normal” offseason in four years. Yes, four: 2019-20 was interrupted by the pandemic, 2020-21 also had some pandemic effects and 2021-22’s offseason was ruined by the lockout.

And so we can turn our attention completely to the various upcoming deadlines and MLB’s Winter Meetings, which will definitely happen this year beginning December 4 in San Diego. Every indication the Cubs have given is that they will spend money this offseason.

Some people have compared the 2022 Cubs to the 2014 version, another Cubs team that started out poorly, then played pretty good ball (28-27) for the last two months. That team then added some key free agents, two outstanding rookies and a new manager and won 97 games.

Of course, the 2023 Cubs won’t have guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber ready to go, though perhaps Matt Mervis will surprise us with a strong rookie year in 2023. The Cubs won’t be changing managers, either, as Ross last March signed a two-year extension through 2024 with a team option for 2025.

Let me make a different sort of comparison. To me, this year’s Cubs team is more like the 1966 version. That was the first year under Leo Durocher, and, as managers back then had much more authority over player acquisition than they do now, Leo tried all sorts of guys out that year. The 1966 Cubs set a franchise record with 49 players used, a mark that wasn’t broken until 2012. The 1965 Cubs had finished eighth in the 10-team National League and famously, on the day he was hired Durocher said, “This isn’t an eighth-place team.” He was right — they finished 10th. But — the 1966 Cubs played better the last couple of months. They were 32-71 at the end of July and then went 27-32 the rest of the way — not a winning record, but much improved. Fergie Jenkins established himself as a member of the starting rotation. Randy Hundley and Don Kessinger had their first full years as regular players.

And in 1967, the Cubs began the year playing winning ball, hanging at or near the .500 mark until a 21-10 June, plus winning the first couple of games in July, put them in first place after a win over the Reds at Wrigley July 2. Memorably, fans at Wrigley refused to leave the ballpark that day until the team standing flags on the scoreboard were changed to reflect the Cubs’ first-place standing — the first time they’d been atop the league that late in the year since 1945.

That team stayed near first place for much of July, again tying the Cardinals for first by defeating them in St. Louis July 24, only to fade and finish third at 87-74.

That’s all a very long way of saying I think that’s the kind of year the Cubs can have in 2023, if they do go out and spend in free agency and build off the good last two months they’ve had in 2022. The only difference from that long-ago season is that 87 wins in 2023 likely gets you a wild-card spot — two of this year’s teams (Rays, 86 wins and Phillies, 87 wins) are in the postseason tournament with that many victories.

And beyond 2023, the trades Hoyer made last year, acquiring players like Pete Crow-Armstrong, Alexander Canario, Kevin Alcántara and others, as well as some good draft picks beginning to develop, should begin to bear fruit at the major league level.

We could be entering yet another Golden Age of Cubs baseball, to go along with the one we had from 2015-20. Ready?