by R. Lincoln Harris
When the year end postmortem pieces are written about the Cubs next week, there are a few themes that will undoubtedly emerge. The “bounceback” years for Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro will featured prominently, and their status as all-stars this season will be held out as a positive, which it certainly was.
The rookies who finally made it to the big leagues–Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Hendricks, most notably–will be another theme. In the minds of some, that will be enough to label this season as a success. When the team wins the World Series–whether its in 2017, 2019, or whenever it finally comes to pass–the groundwork will be seen as being laid this season.
And lastly, the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on the Fourth of July will probably come up, as will Kris Bryant and his award-winning season in the minor leagues. And the 100 years of Wrigley Field promotion might also come up, but certainly NOT the Cakegate fiasco or the stunning loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks-playing-as-the-Kansas City Packers of the Federal League in the actual birthday game itself. Those would simply be too painful to relive.
If that’s all that comes out at the end of the year, you might be tempted to call this a good year for the Cubs. But this was anything other than a good year. The Jose Veras signing was a flop, Masahiro Tanaka got away to the Yankees, Emilio Bonifacio had a great couple of days in late March and early before being traded away, and Rick Renteria proved adept at changing pitchers and challenging calls but not much else. And I won’t even get into Darwin Barney, Kyuji Fujikawa, Nate Schierholtz, or Mike Olt. At least Ian Stewart was nowhere to be found this season.
But there are a few team nuggets that are just as distressing for those who want to see winning return to the North side of Chicago. Two pitchers in the big leagues have won 20 games this year, and both of them beat the Cubs at Wrigley (handily, I might add) to get there. The team was shut out offensively more than the year before, and the numbers for shutouts have been on the rise during the Epstein/Hoyer era.
So what, you might be asking. Strikeouts are up, and shifts have taken away from the offensive element of baseball. And that’s true, but it doesn’t account for what has been a franchise record-breaking season in the strikeout realm. The prior team record of 1269 strikeouts was passed long ago, and the Cubs are now well past the 1400 strikeout mark, with five games left to play. They seem to have the team high for strikeouts by hitters locked up for the season, taking away the title from the Houston Astros.
Baez and Olt may strike out a lot, but they’re still learning how to hit. Or at least that’s what the defenders of “the plan” are going to say. But with a strikeouts (1,419) to walks (424) differential of +995, the Cubs are about to cross the 1,000 strikeouts to walk differential for the first time in the 139 years of the National League. I’ve even created the hashtag #Cubs+1K for the occasion.
The way things have been going this year, the +1000th strikeout won’t happen on the first time through the lineup on Tuesday night, but probably on the second time through time through it. I’ll take Alcantara in the fifth, for the K that puts the Cubs into plus-four-digits territory.
It gives me no great joy to find manifestations of the Cubs’ struggles this year, but we can’t turn a blind eye to it, either. The Cubs are the majors’ only team that hasn’t escaped from their division’s basement since April. The rookie prospects haven’t been on anything but a sub-.500 team in their major league careers. How this will help them to put Molina and Wainwright and the rest of the Cardinals on notice is beyond me.
A week from now this will all be over, so let’s acknowledge our moment of history tonight, even if it means the season hasn’t been as successful as we might want to believe.
R. Lincoln Harris is a guest contributor for Wrigleyville Nation. He also writes for BlueBattingHelmet.Wordpress.com, ChicagoSideSports.com, ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com, and FiveWideSports.com. Thanks R. Lincoln for the contribution!