By Randy Richardson
An unexpected and unforgettable season that took the Cubs all the way to NLCS has yielded a bountiful harvest of honors that has kept the celebration going almost all the way to Thanksgiving.
The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) served up an early feast for Cubs fans this week with a trio of postseason awards over a three-day span.
On Tuesday came the unanimous selection of Kris Bryant as National League Rookie of the Year, after he posted arguably the greatest rookie campaign in club history, batting .275 with 26 home runs, 99 RBI and .369 on-base percentage. The 23-year-old, who started the season at Triple A before being called up in mid-April, led all NL rookies in doubles, homers, RBI, on-base percentage, runs (87) and WAR (5.9). He became the team’s sixth ROY winner, joining Billy Williams (1961), Ken Hubbs (1962), Jerome Walton (1989), Kerry Wood (1998) and Geovany Soto (2008).
The following day the BBWAA voted Joe Maddon the NL’s Manager of the Year for taking the club from last place in 2014 to 97 wins and the NLCS in 2015. In his first year as the Cubs’ skipper, Maddon, who won the award twice before – in 2008 and 2011 – as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, guided the young Cubs team to a surprising 24-game turnaround. Only Hall of Famers Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, each with four, have won the award more than Maddon, who tied Lou Piniella, Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker and Jim Leyland with three. Maddon is the Cubs’ fourth MOY and first since Piniella in 2008.
Then came the gravy on Thursday, when Jake Arrieta won the league’s Cy Young Award for an historic season in which he posted a 22-6 record and 1.77 ERA. The 29-year-old righty, acquired by the Cubs in a 2013 trade with the Orioles, led the majors in complete games (four) and shutouts (three). Oh, and he threw a no-hitter. Down-the-stretch he was unreal. In his last 20 starts, he went 16-1 with a 0.86 ERA. He is the Cubs’ fifth Cy Young winner, joining Fergie Jenkins (1971), Bruce Sutter (1979), Rick Sutcliffe (1984) and Greg Maddux (1992).
Cubs’ fans, usually starved for wins, aren’t used to all this gluttony.
Only once before, 31 years ago, in 1984, have the Cubs had such a bountiful postseason harvest. That year, they also made it to the NLCS, only to fall to the San Diego Padres three games to two. The postseason prize haul had Ryne Sandberg taking the Most Valuable Player, Rick Sutcliffe winning the Cy Young, and Jim Frey getting the MOY. Two other years – 1989 and 2008 – the club won two of the top postseason awards. Never have they swept all four.
For the first time in a long time, Cubs’ fans have plenty to be thankful for. After a 107-year World Series drought, they are filled with an unusual amount of joy and hope. So when one of them takes their usual place at the table for Thanksgiving dinner, don’t be alarmed by the upward curve at the corners of the mouth. That’s just an expression of happiness, something that they don’t have reason to display all that often.
Let them indulge. They’ve suffered long enough. Pile some extra turkey on their plate. Just make sure that they save some room for the pumpkin pie.