The player that most people will remember from this year’s outfield group is rookie Kyle Schwarber, and rightly so- the former Indiana slugger displayed some truly astounding power this season (That homer that landed on top of the scoreboard at Wrigley? Nuts!). There were many other contributors, though, to this very solid grade. Dexter Fowler was a fairly consistent leadoff hitter that stole 20 bases. While he did struggle with injuries, and had a power output that was lower than many expected it to be, Jorge Soler provided a decent average (.262) and a couple of important base knocks. Chris Coghlan, who started the year in left field, and Chris Denorfia gave the club a very capable pair of veteran backups, and another relative vet, Matt Szczur, filled in nicely when Fowler was hurt in the middle of the season. Deadline acquisition Austin Jackson didn’t make too big of a contribution, but did have a couple nice hits, and defensive plays, that helped out the Cubbies.
The players at the corners of the infield were among the best players, not just on this team, but in the entire league, this season. Rookie third baseman Kris Bryant lived up to all the hype that surrounded his call-up in April and is almost a shoo-in to win the NL Rookie of the Year after knocking in 99 runs and playing very steady defense at third. Anthony Rizzo cemented himself as the best all-around first baseman in the league, jacking 31 homers while saving 8 runs with his glove. The middle infield wasn’t quite as impressive, but were still productive. Starlin Castro started the season slowly and playing shortstop, but later in the season he moved to second and improved greatly, coming up with a couple of clutch hits. His replacement at short, Addison Russell, frequently flashed the potential that made him the heralded centerpiece of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, and he still has plenty of room to grow. Reserves Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez did not get a lot of playing time and were somewhat unsteady, but at times showed that they are capable of being good fill-ins for the current starters. Miguel Montero was underwhelming with his bat for a guy that got paid $12 million this season, batting a dismal .248, but both he and his backup, David Ross, were exceptional with their gloves and provided veteran leadership to a very young team.
Jon Lester was brought in to be the ace of the staff for the team this year, but that role ended up falling to the force of nature that is Jake Arrieta. The 29-year old righty won 22 games and had a miniscule 1.77 ERA this season, and is one of the two frontrunners for the NL Cy Young award. For his abilities, Lester had a relative off year, considering that his statistics in the NL (the league that typically has pitchers with better ERA’s) were worse than his stats last year playing in the AL, but he should be able to bounce back next year to be one of the best, if not the best, number two pitcher in the game. The two pitchers behind the big stars, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel, are solid back-of-the-rotation options, and each of them had a couple of impressive outings this season. But in a league in which extremely deep pitching staffs are virtually a necessity to playoff success, the 3 and 4 guys in the Cub rotation only threw for 180 and 170.1 innings, respectively, and were frequently pulled early in games by manager Joe Maddon. The two men that got the most starts as the number 5 guy, Travis Wood and Dan Haren, were decent, as far as 5 starters go, but as both men are fly ball pitchers, they both had some trouble with the small dimensions of Wrigley Field.
There was nobody in the Cubs ‘pen that was extraordinary this season, but the grade that they receive is based on the pitchers’ consistency, even while being used many, many times. The man with the most appearances, Pedro Strop, pitched in 76 (!!!) games this past season, picking up 28 holds and finishing with a respectable 2.91 ERA. Hector Rondon solidified the closer position for the first time since Carlos Marmol was good (it’s been a while), appearing in 72 games and saving 30 of them. Outside of those two, there were other people that had a significant effort coming on in late innings for the Cubs. 3rd year man Justin Grimm was a strikeout machine, averaging over 12 K’s per 9 innings, and veteran Jason Motte was relatively impressive coming off of Tommy John surgery. The two lead lefties, James Russell and Zac Rosscup, were both hit fairly well by the opposition- Russell finished with a 5.29 ERA and Rosscup had a 4.39 ERA- and were fairly inconsistent throughout the year. On the whole, though, this year’s relievers were extremely consistent.
Joe Maddon was brought in from Tampa Bay to provide a veteran baseball mind, with playoff success, to stabilize a very young team with very high hopes, and the Pennsylvania native did just that. Maddon and his staff mixed and matched their lineups to perfection, used the right pitchers at the right times, and brought nurtured the Cubbies’ young core into manhood very quickly, allowing them to exceed expectations and make it to the NLCS before anybody really expected them to. A great job by the coaches.
Front Office: A
This season’s success was the result of a master rebuilding job led by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Patience, fantastic scouting, well-worked trades, and impressive free agent signings all led up to the establishment of this year’s squad. A great year for the Cubbies’ brain trust.
Looking to the Future
It’s fairly obvious what the Cubs are going to go after this offseason- a big name pitcher to work with Arrieta and Lester. Zach Greinke and David Price are the two big names that the Cubs are rumored to be interested in, and I think Price is the most likely man to come to Chicago, due to his past relationship with Maddon. There are other, less subtle areas that might need some improvement, though, in order for the Cubs to be successful in the playoffs next year- another lefty bullpen arm, and perhaps a consistent, power-hitting outfielder. Whatever ends up happening, though, it’s obvious that the team is in good hands with Epstein and Hoyer.