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Reflections on the cusp of the Cubs’ 2022 season

This is the beginning of a new Cubs era, hopefully as good as the one that just ended.

Photo by @WillByington / www.willbyington.com

Once upon a time there was a baseball team.

It had been a very long time since they had won a World Series, and though they had made a number of postseason appearances since, they’d always fallen short of the ultimate prize.

They had a number of homegrown stars who eventually did help them win that elusive World Series title, but over time, the team grew stale and many of those stars stopped producing and left the team.

They went into the regular season as an afterthought, a team with a number of question marks, particularly in the pitching staff. Most projection systems had them around 75 wins.

And then ... oh, wait, you thought I was talking about this year’s Cubs. No, the team I’m talking about here is the 2021 San Francisco Giants. As you know, those Giants won 107 games before being rudely dispatched in a division series by the 106-win Dodgers.

Now, before you call me crazy and think I am saying the 2022 Cubs are going to win 107 games, no, absolutely not, I am not doing that.

But sometimes, teams outperform their projections. What I am going to say here is that the negativity I have seen expressed by many surrounding this year’s Cubs truly puzzles me. Is this a World Series contending team? No, most assuredly it is not. But I do believe this year’s Cubs have enough talent to play .500 ball, and with the new 12-team postseason, .500 might get you in contention.

Sixty-nine nice players, a franchise and major league record, played for the Cubs in 2021. Forty of those players are no longer in the Cubs organization. It really has been a completely retooled house of Cub.

One of the things the Cubs did very poorly after last summer’s selloff was pitch, both in the rotation and bullpen. Pre-selloff, the Cubs were averaging 4.2 runs per game and allowing 4.5 runs per game. After all the Cubs stars were traded — including three very good relievers — the remnant Cubs averaged 4.6 runs per game, which is better! But the pitchers who were left gave up 6.4 runs per game, which is... awful. If a team did that for a full 162-game season, it would allow 1,039 runs. Only two teams have allowed that many runs in the last 80 years — the 1996 Tigers and 1999 Rockies.

This Cubs team won’t do that. Jed Hoyer and his baseball ops team have addressed starting pitching by signing Marcus Stroman and signing Drew Smyly and Wade Miley. That’s an automatic upgrade from the last part of 2021, when Zach Davies was still taking the mound every fifth day. Justin Steele seems ready to take a rotation spot. He’d be the first homegrown Cubs rotation starter since Jeff Samardzija. Hopefully Miley’s spring training setback won’t cost him too much time.

The Giants entered the 2021 season with three big question marks in their rotation in Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. All had been either injured, bad or both previously. All had great 2021 seasons.

Hoyer and the staff have also addressed the bullpen, which was pretty awful after Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera were traded. The signings of Chris Martin, David Robertson and Daniel Norris give the Cubs three guys who have had previous MLB success. Similarly, Rowan Wick and Scott Effross seem on the cusp of becoming solid contributors. The 2021 Giants got similar years out of pitchers they weren’t certain about coming into last year such as Jose Alvarez, Zack Littell and Dominic Leone.

Hitting-wise, the Cubs have added Seiya Suzuki, the best hitter in NPB. Now, we all know that Japanese position players generally lose something off their NPB numbers when coming to MLB. But Suzuki is 27 and his skillset — he’s an on-base machine with power — would seem well-suited to Wrigley Field. The Cubs have another on-base machine in Nick Madrigal. Put those two at the top of the lineup and the Cubs should, at least, have plenty of table-setting baserunners. The Cubs had a .343 OBP from the leadoff spot in 2021. That ranked eighth in MLB. I think it’ll be better this year.

Yes, there are question marks. Patrick Wisdom set a Cubs rookie record with 28 home runs in 2021 (in just 106 games), but he strikes out a ton. That’ll have to change for him to continue to play every day. Will Frank Schwindel continue the hot hitting he had for two months as a Cub in 2021? (I think yes, but it’s obviously still uncertain.) The health of Nico Hoerner will be critical to any Cubs success, as will Ian Happ becoming a more consistent hitter, instead of the streaky guy he’s been the last couple of years. Clint Frazier, during Spring Training, showed some of the talent that made him a No. 1 pick in 2013 (three picks after Kris Bryant). His career has been derailed by injuries. He appears healthy now and could be a real good under-the-radar signing.

Then there’s the question of Willson Contreras. I think the Cubs should extend him. There’s no immediate catching help in the system and if the team does intend to be a serious contender in 2023 or 2024 and beyond (and I believe they do), they’ll need Willson’s bat and leadership. All we can do is wait and see what happens.

Again, it’s clear the 2022 Chicago Cubs are not built to be a World Series contender. Many have criticized the Ricketts family for not investing more money in Cubs payroll while bidding $3 billion (or more) to buy a British soccer team. Regardless of how you feel about that, one thing is clear: The Cubs, over the last two years, have sold about one-third of the six million tickets they would have likely sold in 2020 and 2021 absent the COVID pandemic. I’m not attempting to make excuses for Tom Ricketts’ “biblical losses” comment, but that’s likely well over $200 million in reduced revenue (note, not “losses”) from lack of ticket sales. Again, that’s not an excuse, but it is part of the explanation for lowered payroll spending. Hopefully, revenue bounces back in 2022 and spending increases in 2023 and beyond. Seems to me that some people would rather bitch and complain than root for the guys who are actually here to succeed. Could the Cubs have spent money on Carlos Correa this year? Sure, but — again, how many of you think the Cubs are a 90+ loss team? Yes, I see your hands raised over there. Would Correa have moved the needle that much in 2022? Maybe not, but he’s likely opting out after this year and next offseason, he could be a perfect target for Jed & Co.

I’m going to end this article by circling back to the beginning. At this time last year, literally no one was predicting that the San Francisco Giants would win 107 games. Most thought they had little chance of even having a winning record. Again, I am NOT saying the 2022 Cubs are going to win 107 games. But this team has more talent than many give them credit for. They’re not going to lose 90+ games. Of that, I am certain.

And you never know, all these guys might put together really good performances and the Cubs sneak into the new postseason scrum. It happens. Because baseball.

Poll

How many games will the Cubs win in 2022?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    100 or more
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    95-99
    (8 votes)
  • 3%
    90-94
    (27 votes)
  • 19%
    85-89
    (162 votes)
  • 32%
    80-84
    (267 votes)
  • 25%
    75-79
    (211 votes)
  • 11%
    70-74
    (91 votes)
  • 3%
    65-69
    (30 votes)
  • 1%
    60-64
    (10 votes)
  • 0%
    Fewer than 60
    (7 votes)
822 votes total Vote Now