Young and Hungry: Why the 2016 Cubs Will Be the Main Course (and 2017 Will be Dessert)

As a life-long Cubs fan, 2015 proved that every year  from this point forward could be the year. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the analytical wizards of the Cubs front office have established a blueprint for on and off the field success. The Cubs made the playoffs and won not one, but TWO playoff series! They may have crapped the bed verses the Mets, but they were never suppose to make it to the NLCS in the first place. The majority of their starters are under the age of 26, they had a replaced much of their coaching staff, and they played in arguably the toughest division in Major League Baseball. Yet, they still found a way to win 97 games.

Jake Arrieta had the best season for a pitcher since Bob Gibson. Or was it the best season since Sandy Koufax? Or maybe it was Orel Hershiser. Either way Arrieta dominanted down the stretch. And at age 29, he has at least two or three more seasons of dominion left in the tank. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Nolan Ryan, and Warren Spahn have all had successful seasons well into their 30s. Arrieta’s arm is still fresh enough to deal with the rigors of a full season and a deep playoff run. The Cubs’ 2016 opponents better watch out, because every fifth day this guy is coming for blood.

Kyle Schwarber turned into Reggie Jackson. He hit 5 home runs (a club postseason record) and played terrible defense to boot. But, those things can be ironed out. If Manny Ramirez can play left field his whole career, then so can Schwarbs. And what if he has the ability to stick behind the plate? Schwarber has the ability to be the best hitting catcher in all of baseball if he can sharpen his skills at the backstop.

Anthony Rizzo could have been MVP this year had Bryce Harper not played like the second coming of Ted Williams. Rizzo finished top 10 in the NL in runs scored, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, walks, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and hit by pitch (30!). Not to mention Rizzo stole 17 bases, which is pretty good for 6’3”, 240 lbs first baseman. In a normal year, Rizzo would have been able to take home some serious hardware.

(Editor’s Note: Rizzo is secretly a warlock masquerading as a baseball player.)

Kris Bryant won rookie of the year while setting a Cubs’ record for home runs in a season by a rookie with 26. He finished in the top 10 in the national league in every category among third basemen. He’s also only 23 years old (same age as me; we’re practically twins) with his best seasons ahead of him. Plus he’s the dreamiest Cub on the roster, so that has to count for something right?

(Editor’s Note: My girlfriend made me include all of that. I promise you I’m not weird.)

Speaking of young-ins, Addison Russell, Jorge Solar, and Javier Baez are still on the roster and none of them are over the age of 23. And the organization has even younger talent on the way, with 5 minor league prospects listed in the top 100 (led by 19 year old shortstop Gleyber Torres), and 6 of the top 30 international prospects (lead by outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez). The future is bright with potential difference makers or trade fodder for a difference making player (Sonny Gray or Chris Sale anyone?). Either way the Cubs have plenty of youthful talent seeping out of the minors and 2015 was a preview for more to come.

In a lot of ways the 2015 Cubs remind me of my new favorite, actor Chris Pratt. Pratt is best known as the guy who went from the lovable slob Andy on Parks and Recreation to playing the millennial scoundrel, roguish space outlaw, and pseudo-Han Solo type Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.

They surprised everyone with their leading man qualities, charm, and charisma. Hopefully the 2016 Cubs will be like the Pratt’s Owen Grady in Jurassic World, taking the world by storm with their heroic sex appeal and raptor training skills. Man, I really love Chris Pratt.

(Editor’s Note: I didn’t keep my promise. Things got a little weird. But sorry, I’m not sorry.)

The team has all of the ingredients needed to become a consistent force in the MLB: organizational stability, coaching genius, a surplus of talent, and a city fully behind them every step of the way. 2015 was just the appetizer for what this team can do. In 2016, the Cubbies are going to break out the eating bibs and gorge themselves on the scrumptious Nation League competition. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to get myself some reservations before I miss out on next year’s feast. I hope the rest of you have worked up a healthy appetite. Next year, dinner will be served. 

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“There’s Always Next Year” Takes on a Whole New Meaning

With last night’s debut of 21-year old Addison Russell, Cubs’ faithful are getting a tantalizing preview into what may become a juggernaut in the making. Aside from possessing the greatest name for a Cubs’ player to have (his name is Addison – that’s like the Knick’s new starting point guard being named Madison), the middle infielder has burned through the Cub’s minor league system like a California wildfire during a drought. If he had moved through the system any faster, he would have to change his name to Kris Bryant.

Speaking of Bryant, he has done a very nice job since is first at bat versus James Shields. He is now hitting 8-18 (.444 BA) with 3 doubles and 6 RBIS. He hasn’t hit a homerun yet, but I doubt he’ll have trouble in that department.

The emergence of these two super-prospects, plus the continual success of Jorge Soler, lead many fans to be excited not only for this season, but the seasons to follow.

Why, if the team is succeeding in the present, are fans looking more to the future than ever before? With a bevy of incoming top prospects many, including myself, believe that we are witnessing the makings of dynasty. For the non-believers out there, here are a few reasons that might be the case.

  • Kyle Schwarber and the Rest of the Youngsters

Even with Bryant and Russell playing for the big league team, the Cubs still have a lot of fine prospects available down on the farm. Catcher Kyle Schwarber, the team’s first pick (fourth overall) in 2014, has hit 19 homeruns and 56 RBIs in only 81 minor league games. It doesn’t matter if he can stay behind the plate (it would help), the dude can flat out hit.

C.J. Edwards was one of the pieces in the now famous Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers. At the age of 23, Edwards has already struck out over 300 batters without even pitching 250 innings. Durability concerns aside, Edwards has the repertoire to produce in the big leagues.

These two prospects are just the tip of a supremely talented iceberg. Billy McKinney, a throw-in player in the Jeff Samardzija trade, looks like a Matt Carpenter clone. Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in 2012, looks like a rich man’s Johnny Damon. Players like Duane Underwood, Gleyber Torres, Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Dylan Cease, all of which are 20 years old or younger. This is discluding the prospects that are close to the major league level. Regardless of how you cut it, the Cubs are in great position for sustainable success.

  • Nothing to See Here, Just Passing Through

Another great reason the Cubs are morphing into a premier organization is the fact that the team has managed to become competitive through free agent acquisitions without hamstringing themselves finically in the future. Players like Dexter Fowler, Chris Coghlan, Chris Denorfia, Travis Wood, and Jason Motte are one-year rental players that fix major holes for the ball club. Miguel Montero, Jason Hammels, and David Ross are only around for two years, adding veteran leadership to a club that is learning how to win. In both cases, the Cubs have brought in competent players that can help bridge the gap to their top prospects. The team has only six players on the active roster that are signed through 2017, and one of them (Montero) has a club option. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have done a great job of maintaining the balance between rebuilding a team, and winning now.

  • Grandpa Lester, Uncle Rizzo, and Papi Castro

It’s nice to have a core group of players to help build a baseball club around. The top three players in the group are Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro. Of the three, Lester is the only player above the age of 30. Rizzo and Catro, both age 25, represent the two longest active Cubs on the roster. Upon the hiring of Epstein and Hoyer, Rizzo was the first addition to the rebuilding franchise.

Castro, on the other hand, is the last remaining hold over from the Jim Hendry era. These two players will act as a stabilizing force for the rest of the team. With both players currently beginning their primes, the team now has two all-stars that can help them achieve legitimacy.

And when both Rizzo and Castro begin their inevitable declines, players like Bryant, Soler, and Russell will be there to carry the torch that other players lit.

All these reasons have the Cubs’ arrow pointing up. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer didn’t just create a flash in the pan, they built a machine capable of continual success, much like our bitter rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. In essence, the Cubs are trying to become a loveable version of the Marvel Terrorist group HYRDA. “If one head is cut, another two take its place.” If Baez is a bust, Torres could be there to fill his void. If Almora is more a defensive ace rather than a table setter, McKinney has the tools needed to lead off a game. Either way, the Cubs future looks limitless. That is why “there’s always next year” doesn’t mean what it used to anymore.

The Booth Review Vol. 1

The Booth Review is an article recapping what was in Chicago Sports over the weekend of April 17-19. Here are the top stories:

The People v. Corey Crawford

The biggest sporting news this weekend comes at the hand of the Chicago Blackhawks. After giving up 3 goals in the 1st period of Game 1, Corey Crawford had been on thin ice with coaches and fans alike. Crawford may have fallen through after the Hawks beat the Predators Sunday, 4-2. Darling finished the day with 35 saves, adding on to his league leading save percentage (.975) and goals against average (0.94). This leaves many to wonder if this is the end of Crawford. Darling starts Game 4 tonight and in my opinion, until he falters, he should remain the starter for the remainder of the playoffs.

“I have a Venti Latte for Kris.”

Getting his first (and hopefully only) cup of coffee with the Cubs this past weekend, super-rookie Kris Bryant made his major league debut. Going 3 for 10, with a double and 4 strikeouts, Bryant did disappoint. However, he is too talented not to succeed. Cubs’ fans must be patient with the Phenom; he’s no Mike Trout. There will be growing pains along the way, but they will be well worth it.

Every Rose Has its Thorn(s)…Still

The Bulls also played their first playoff game this year against the Milwaukee Bucks, and an old friend came out of hiding to steal the show. Derrick Rose finished the game with 23 points and 7 assists. But it was more than what appeared in the box score for Rose, who played in his first playoff game since 2012. He dunked, nailed pull-up three pointers, and got the crowd hyped up. If he can maintain this level of play for the rest of the playoffs, Chicago may be able to topple the mighty Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this June.

Welcome Back, Kaner

Very rarely does a super-star returning from an 8-week injury get bumped down to fourth on a list of hot sports topics, but it was that type of weekend in Chicago sports. Patrick Kane is back with a vengeance, scoring 3 points in his first three games back from a broken collarbone. Now 3 points may not seem like a lot, but he is currently tied for third on the team in total points. The Hawks are getting it done as a team, and Kane has served as a catalyst for the second line. As he goes, the team goes, so it is great to see him getting back into his comfort zone.

That’s all for the weekend recap. This time next week I will be covering the NFL Draft, and hopefully a handful of Bulls and Blackhawks victories. See red and let’s go Hawks!

John Lester’s Yips: Is This Really a Thing?

Lester-Jon

News broke yesterday that Jon Lester, the Cubs’ $155 million free agent signing/messiah, has the yips. Buster Olney, ESPN baseball insider, recently reported that Lester has been unable to throw to first base since his earliest days in the Red Sox organization. According to the report, Boston was able to hide this fact from the media by having him take fielding practice in private. The situation has been brought to light in Chicago thanks to Lester’s horrendous play in his first two games as a Cub.

The Cubs do not seem too concerned by what is happening to their prized offseason addition. Joe Maddon down plays the issue. In an interview on Chicago’s 670 The Score, Maddon states, “There’s a lot of pitchers throughout Major League Baseball who aren’t that good at that.” While that may be true, none of them are making $155 million over the course of five years. None of those pitchers are expected to lead a struggling franchise to its first playoff appearance since 2008. None of those pitchers face the same pressures as Lester.

The yips, as defined by the Mayo Clinic are involuntary muscle spasms. “It was once thought that the yips were always associated with performance anxiety. However, it now appears that some people have yips that are caused by a focal dystonia, which is a neurological dysfunction affecting specific muscles.”

There is a goddamn medical definition for the yips. This is a problem that Lester and Cubs organization should not take lightly. There have been cases where seasons and careers have been altered because of a case of the yips chronicled below.

The Curious Case of “Fundamental Sound” Chuck

Chuck-knob

One of the more well known cases of the yips surfaced in former Twins and Yankee great Chuck Knoblauch. A 4-time all-star second baseman, a gold glove winner and potential hall of famer, Knoblauch was one of the driving forces behind both the Twins and Yankees World Series championships in the 1990s. In 1999, however, Knoblauch was unable to make routine throws to first base. His case of the yips was so severe that in 2000, then Yankee’s Manager, Joe Torre moved Knoblauch to left field and designated hitter. In the 2002, he left for the Royals, and in 2003, Knoblauch retired from baseball.

Steve Blass Disease

steve blass

The most famous sufferer of yips, essentially the man who started it all, was former Pittsburgh Pirates Pitcher, Steve Blass. A former all-star and World Series champion, Steve Blass was considered a great pitcher in the early parts of his career. Then, in 1973, Blass inexplicably lost his ability to pitch. In ‘73, Blass finished with a 9.85 ERA, 84 walks, and only 27 strikeouts. Before the term “yips” was coined, the disorder was commonly referred to as “Steve Blass Disease.”

Steve Sax – who suffered from the same ailment as Knoblauch, which at the time was called “Steve Sax Syndrome” – along with Rick Ankiel, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Mackey Sasser are all players who have suffered from the yips. This is such a prevalent disorder that other athletes outside of the sport have suffered from it as well. John Starks, Nick Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Joel Stave, and Nick Folk all have had documented cases of the yips.

steve-saxRick-Ankielstarks-john

I believe the Cubs and Lester should be concerned with his case of the yips. If they are not corrected soon, the North Sider’s season could deteriorate very quickly, and Lester’s career could be over sooner rather than later.