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. 

Advertisements

2015 All-Star Game Pre-Cap: Almost All-Stars and How Kansas City Broke (or Saved) the Fan Vote

Most blogs or writing sites would like to include surprise players that made the all-star team, and then rip them for not being good enough. I feel like that is an exercise in futility, because A) every team in the MLB must be represented, even the teams devoid of all-star caliber players; and B) because the players and coaches vote the remaining players in. That means that enough people around the league thought that guys like Brock Holt and Joe Panik played well enough to warrant all-star consideration. Who am I to say that the players and managers are wrong? If the all-star game was about selecting the best 25 players in each conference from around the league, then those two stupid rules wouldn’t exist.

However, because of these rules, a few worthy baseball players just missed out on making the Mid-Summer Classic. Here is a list of guys I think should have made the all-star team.

Snubs:

1) Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox

The current CF and former 2B has 9 HRs, 45 runs scored, 41RBIs, and 13 stolen bases to go along with a team-leading 2.9 WAR. He started off slow, but picked up the pace the last month and a half.

2) Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox

He’s the reason a prospect like Betts is in the outfield. The “Laser Show” has recovered from a wrist injury that marred his 2014 season. With a .306/.367/.452 stat line to go along with 9 HRs, 34 runs scored, and 33 RBIs; Pedroia just missed out on his 5 all-star appearance.

3) Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees

He has the same WAR as all-stars Nelson Cruz and Prince Fielder, is second on the Yankees with 16 HRs, and has found the fountain of youth at age 40. I know he didn’t make the team because of the Biogenesis Scandal, but if guys like Cruz and Peralta can get a second chance, why can’t ARod?

4) Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs

I’m going to give you a blind stat comparison. Which player is Arrieta?

Player A: 112.2 Innings Pitched, 7 wins, 4 losses, 114 strikeouts, 2.80 Earned Run Average (ERA), 1.05 Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP), and 2.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Player B: 113.1 IP, 8 wins, 5 losses, 114 SOs, 3.34 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 2.1 WAR.

If you guessed that Player A is the Cubs’ ace, then you would be correct. But who is Player B? That would be World Series Hero and Giants’ pitcher Madison Bumgarner. According to Fangraphs, Arrieta is sporting a WAR better than all-star pitchers Zack Grienke, Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, and the aforementioned Bumgarner. It’s a shame he wasn’t even good enough to make it on to the Final Vote ballet. At least he’ll be an all-star in my heart.

5) Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

The 1B competition is historical brutal, and this year is not exception. With guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, and Adrian Gonzalez not only having all-star seasons but MVP-type seasons it’s not too difficult to see why Votto narrowly missed an ASG birth. If he can take solace in anything, it’s that he’s the odds on favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award this season.

6) Yunel Escobar, 3B/2B, Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper and the tremendous Nationals’ pitching staff get all the attention and headlines, which is why it’s easy to forget about the season Yunel Escobar has been having. With a .315/.365/.405 stat line as well as 40 runs scored, 27 RBIs, and solid defense at both 2B and 3B, Escobar has been a pleasant surprise for the Nats. The 9 year veteran from Cuba has acted as Harper’s wing man in the line-up, due to the injuries to Anthony Rendon, Jason Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman.

7) The Losers of the NL and AL Final Vote

Regardless of who gets voted in by the fans, 8 very worthy all-stars will be left empty handed. Guys like Twins 2B Brian Dozier, Rockies SS Troy Tulowski, Cardinals SP Carlos Martinez, Mets CL Jeurys Familia and Kansas City 3B Mike Moustakas, league leaders at their respective positions, will be left out of the action. For many on this list, this would be their first all-star appearance. It’s a shame that, because league rules, many deserving players are hung out to dry by the MLB.

Speaking of rules, a big issue with this year’s ASG has to do with fan voting. For much of the summer, Kansas City Royals players were dominating the leader boards whether they deserved an all-star appearance or not.  Fans from opposing teams flooded the online ballots to ensure that players like Omar Infante and Alex Rios wouldn’t be voted in as starters. Many are clamoring for the MLB to change voting rules or the criteria for players to appear on the ballot. This year a broken system was exposed and now this will be a big issue heading into the offseason.

And I think this is pretty great. The ASG voting has been broken for a long time. Actually the whole ASG in general hasn’t been very good in a long time. Players like Omar Infante in 2010, Mark Redman and his 5.71 ERA in 2006, and Gil Meche in 2007 with his 9-13 record do not deserve all-star births. Not all teams need to be represented, and not all players need to be on the ballot. Players who deserve to be in the game should play in the game. I’m tired of seeing utility players and rosters with 8 closers because the game counts. No other all-star game in any other sport counts for anything. It’s just a fun exhibition game where star players show off their skills. The ASG needs to get back to it’s roots and allow the best players to play each, or else what almost happened this year is sure to happen in the near future.