First off, let me start off by saying that the Cubs are not bad. However, for a team that has averaged 100 wins in the last 2 seasons, it is little surprising to see them be only .500 through the first 78 games of the season. I, like many, thought the Cubs would continue their dominant run into this season. They lost only one starter from their World Series Champion team (Dexter Fowler). Fowler was a great leadoff hitter, but was he really worth the 12 more wins the Cubs had at this point last year? I don’t think so. For the Cubs it has come down to every aspect of the game of baseball from hitting to pitching to fielding. Everything they did so great last year is nowhere near that level this year. But what is the main reason for this less-than-stellar season? Let’s look at everything to find out.
Let’s begin by looking at how historically bad this Cubs team is. In 1962, the MLB officially extended the amount of games in a season from 154 to 162. Since then, only 14 teams have won 100 or more games and the World Series in the same year 1. Of those 14 teams, the Cubs have the worst record of all of them through the first 78 games of the following season. Of all the dominant teams of the last 55 years to win a World Series title, the Cubs have played worse than any of them the following season.
Could the hitting be the reason for this mediocre season the Cubs are having? Well the Cubs have already been shutout in 6 games this season, the exact same amount they did in 2016. Last year the Cubs batted .256, good enough for 15th in the MLB. This year, they are batting .239, which puts them at 29th. However the Cubs are not built for having a high team batting average. Instead they are more better suited with having a high OPS. In 2016, the Cubs had the 3rd highest OPS in the MLB with .772. This year the Cubs have an OPS of .744, which puts them at 17th in the MLB. The Cubs are getting on base less and hitting fewer extra base hits than they did last year. Lastly, the Cubs finished the MLB season with the 3rd most runs at 808 runs. This year the Cubs are 16th in runs scored at 356 runs, which puts them on pace for 749 runs. Unless the Cubs can catch fire, the Cubs will remain average at best offensively.
Now lets look at the pitching of the Cubs this season. Last year, the Cubs’ pitching was arguably it’s best strength. They had a team ERA of 3.15, the best in baseball and 0.36 points better than the next team 3. The Cubs were so dominant in pitching for many reasons. First, they had the top 2 pitchers in ERA, Kyle Hendricks (2.13) and Jon Lester (2.44). Second, their “3rd” best pitcher 4, Jake Arrieta, led the league in fewest hits per 9 innings pitched. Lastly, they had a closer in Aroldis Chapman who could touch 103 mph on nearly every pitch. That combination of pitchers was at times unhittable. This year the story is different. For starters, their team ERA is 3.98, which puts them at 7th in the MLB. Their best starter, ERA wise, is Eddie Butler at 3.71. The aces they had last year are not the same this year. The only thing that hasn’t gotten worse is the closer spot. The Cubs ended up losing Aroldis Chapman to free agency only to trade for Wade Davis from the Royals. Both guys are great in different ways. The Cubs still seem to have that reliable guy they can throw out their with the lead at the end of the game. However, the starters haven’t given the Cubs as many opportunities to do so.
The last thing I want to discuss regarding the Cubs doesn’t offer any stats. This thing is the locker room. The Cubs lost Dexter Fowler and David Ross this past year, two great locker room guys that seemed to get along with everybody. They also lost Travis Wood, a guy who seemed like the life of the party at the Cubs World Series Parade, in the bullpen. Losing these three guys might not seem like a lot, but this year has shown how much of a positive effect they had on the team. The Cubs last year seemed to have so much fun. They didn’t care how much playing time they got and they kept any complaints they might have had in the clubhouse. This year has been different. Miguel Montero just got released for blaming the Cubs pitching staff for having 7 guys steal on him one game. It was an inappropriate and selfish comment Montero made to the media that he could have kept to himself. Even Anthony Rizzo, the unofficial leader of the team, called him out for it. With Montero out of the locker room, this distraction will hopefully no longer be there to affect the team.
It’s the hitting. The Cubs went from having one of the best offenses in 2016 to a middle of the pack offense in 2017. They still haven’t been able to even find a true leadoff hitter. Yes, the pitching isn’t like what it was last year. However, the Cubs decline in pitching has been less than their decline in hitting has been. They haven’t seemed to get in a groove with the bats and they are constantly adjusting the lineup to find something that really works. If the Cubs want any chance in the playoffs this year they are going to have get something going offensively. Let’s hope that happens before it’s too late.