It feels like a broken record, but these young Cubs just keep coming up short against playoff hopefuls. “Learning how to win” is a sports cliché. It’s meant to imply A) that a certain amount of losing eventually teaches you something about winning and B) that there is some kind of “trick” to winning.
This isn’t a magic trick that the Cardinals, Yankees or Dodgers can just reveal and voila! the Cubs are suddenly a perennial contender. Also, teams don’t have to go through any kind of process to become good. Indeed, the 2021 Braves came off three straight years of being in the playoffs and losing in the first round before becoming World Series champions. Were the Dodgers just really slow learners? Probably not. They had been in the playoffs seven straight times before winning the 2020 World Series. They lost twice in the World Series and twice more in the NLCS before (and once after) winning the World Series.
That sure makes it seem like a process, though, huh? Well, no. There’s some causation correlation and faulty conclusions there. The 2019 Nationals won it all, but they missed the playoffs entirely in 2018. Before winning it all, the Nationals lost in the NLDS four times in six years. But we know the example that’s really different. The 2016 Cubs won it all. They were in the NLCS the year before. In 2014 and before? They were putrid. Or how about the 2015 Royals winning it all. The year before, they were in the World Series. The 2013 Royals were a good team that missed the playoffs. Before that, they hadn’t been good in 10 years.
The rise and fall from the top can actually be quite meteoric. Most of the above examples just go to show that a team, particularly one with decent financial resources, can really keep a competitive window open for a fairly long time. Of all the teams mentioned, only the Royals didn’t have a lengthy run and even there they had a very strong three year run with two World Series appearances.
For these 2022 Cubs, things started to come together around the All-Star break. This team is competitive more or less every night. They are only playing break even baseball, more or less. But, this is a far cry from the team that was getting blown away in the first half. The biggest problem is probably that none or very few of the biggest stars on the next great Cubs team are on the major league club today. If I squint, Nico Hoerner and/or Justin Steele might be heading for stardom. Maybe. Everyone else is, at best, a supporting player on a championship caliber team.
Maybe a Brandon Hughes or a Christopher Morel expounds on what they’ve shown here in 2022 and takes that next step to sustain dominance. There are probably a half dozen other guys I could have mentioned by name. Guys who have had flashes, but haven’t yet sustained high performance. It looks like there are a lot of supporting pieces here without a lot of stars to lead the way. So that is the challenge... growing and/or obtaining the stars that lead the way and successfully integrating them into the big league team.
None of these decisions are pressing, but as a for instance, the Cubs have a ton of outfield talent bubbling up. Ian Happ and/or Christopher Morel could eventually be odd man out. But Happ was an All-Star and Morel was arguably the piece that really turbocharged the team and provided energy. Can they revert to lesser roles? Whether it’s lesser roles or being moved out, the problem is, you are talking about replacing this team’s most productive players.
The conversation could repeat itself for shortstop. That is a position where some of the best and most impactful free agents exist. Nico Hoerner has been, fairly unquestionably, the best performing Cub. Certainly, by bWAR standards, he’s about half a win clear of Willson Contreras for tops on the team. Certainly Nico has shown the ability to play second, but it just illustrates again that adding to the team could be trickier than just saying we’re ready to win now.
Certainly, it does feel like the competitive window is just starting to open. Not affirmatively pursuing contention would feel like a real lost opportunity. That said, I’m respecting that building a championship caliber team is tricky. It’s going to be interesting to watch how the Cubs try to get better.
Let’s turn now to the positive performances from Tuesday night’s loss. As always, we try to identify three of them.
- Christopher Morel had a pair of hits, including a double and a homer. He drove in two and scored one.
- Jeremiah Estrada made his major league debut. Here’s a guy who started his year in South Bend throwing for the High-A team. Here he is now, throwing a scoreless inning at the MLB level. He did walk one but struck out two in his successful debut.
- Seiya Suzuki continued his recent forward trend. He had a pair of hits. I might have given him the second spot except for his caught stealing.
Game 130, August 30: Blue Jays 5, Cubs 3 (55-75)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Christopher Morel (.277). 2-4, HR, 2B, 2RBI, R, K
- Hero: Marcus Stroman (.119). 5IP (21 batters faced), 3H, 2BB, R, K, HBP
- Sidekick: Willson Contreras (.063). 1-2, HR, RBI, R, DP
- Billy Goat: Brendon Little (-.457). ⅔ IP (6 batters), 2H, BB, 3R, HBP (L 0-1)
Brendon is the 54th Cub to appear in Heroes and Goats. His appearance was a dubious one, recording the eighth worst WPA score of the year by a Cub.
- Goat: Nick Madrigal (-.132). 1-4
- Kid: Franmil Reyes (-.125). 0-4, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: The Cubs were leading 2-1 in the sixth and there were runners of first and second when Teoscar Hernandez homered against Brendon Little. That ended up being the decisive play of the game. (.310)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Christopher Morel’s homer in the top of the sixth gave the Cubs a short-lived 2-1 lead. (.169)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Somebody else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- David Robertson +22.5
- Nico Hoerner +19.5
- Scott Effross/Christopher Morel +17
- Patrick Wisdom +13.5
- Daniel Norris/Frank Schwindel/Rowan Wick -9.5
- Yan Gomes -15
- Jason Heyward -15.5
- Rafael Ortega -16.5
Up Next: The third and final game of the series in Toronto is Wednesday night. After this series, the Cubs finally get a day off. The Cubs ended up with three days off in August, one of those was due to rain and they played a doubleheader the next day. They played another doubleheader besides that one. Two of those days off were the 1st and the 3rd. So the Cubs have played a lot of baseball in August. From August 4 through Tuesday, the Cubs have played 28 games. They are exactly even at 14-14 over that period. Given the grueling schedule and the opposition, I’d say that was a fantastic performance.
It looks like Luke Farrell (0-0, 3.86) could make another start for the Cubs, though at this writing there’s no starter officially listed. The Blue Jays counter with Mitch White (1-4, 4.24).