Sunday, July 26, 2015. The Chicago Cubs lose to the Philadelphia Phillies 11-5, completing a three-game sweep for the Phillies at Wrigley Field. The Cubs fall to 51-46 on the season, and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 11.5 games in the N.L. Central. For all intents and purposes, the season was over.
Cubs fans had seen this script before, too. In 2004, the Cubs were leading the Wild Card race going in to the final week of the season. They lost it by three games.
2009 saw the two-time defending N.L. Central champion Cubs never fully maximize their potential, finishing second in the division. Oh how we loved the Milton Bradley year.
So after those awful three days against Philadelphia in July, the assumption was that just like in years past: the Cubs were going to fade away and finish the season around .500. And would you really be mad? I mean being such a young team, they weren’t expected to contend this year anyway, right?
Then, magic happened.
The Cubs went 46-19 from that point on, won the second wild card spot by 13 games, and finished three games behind the Cardinals for the division lead. Jake Arrieta pitched the greatest second half in MLB history. They had winning streaks of six, nine, six, five, five, and eight games in that stretch (that’s 39 of the 46 wins). Guys like Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant all broke through. Starlin Castro, after being benched, re-invented himself as a second baseman. Veterans like Dexter Fowler, Jon Lester, and Miguel Montero found new life. And a young bullpen was almost lights out, as the closer of the future in Hector Rondon emerged with a 30-save season.
And then there was the Wild Card game. The back-to-back hits by Fowler and Schwarber to put the Cubs ahead early. Then both men hitting home runs later in the game to give the Cubs their first playoff win since 2003. That Arrieta guy was okay in that game as well I guess.
Then, and probably the sweetest victory of them all: they defeated the Cardinals in the NLDS. A fan base desperately wanting to beat their archrival, and with a strikeout of Stephen Piscotty on a Tuesday evening at Wrigley, it happened. The Cubs were going to their first NLCS since 2003. Maybe “Back to the Future II” was going to come true.
The storybook ending for this Cubs team didn’t come, though. It seemed finally, after an incredible three-month run, that the youth finally caught up to them. Couple that with incredible starting pitching from the New York Mets, and it spelled doomsday for the Cubs.
But don’t worry, Cubs fans. This season was just a pre-cursor for what is to come in the next decade. Yes, I said decade. As in 10 years.
The average age of the starting infield this year? 24. The outfield? 25, and that includes the 29-year old Dexter Fowler. To put some perspective on it: Addison Russell should still be a junior in college. That’s how old I am.
The ages of the “core players” for the Cubs: Addison Russell, 21; Javier Baez, 22; Kyle Schwarber, 22; Kris Bryant, 23; Jorge Soler, 23; Starlin Castro, 25; Anthony Rizzo, 26; Jake Arrieta, 29; and Jon Lester, 31. That’s an average age of 24 years. And that doesn’t even factor in Hector Rondon being 27 and Pedro Stop being 30.
Simply put, every key player for the Cubs is young. And, besides Lester, none had dealt with any adversity before the NLCS. That’s why the loss may be a blessing in disguise.
Every team needs to go through some adversity in order to win a title. The Boston Red Sox needed 2003 to make 2004 that much sweeter. The Cardinals lost in 2004, which made 2006 even better for them. Heck, even the 1906 Cubs had to lose before winning back-to-back in 1907 and 1908. I know that’s a bit of a stretch, but I digress.
2015 wasn’t supposed to be the year for the Cubs anyway. It was year four of Theo Epstein’s five-year plan. This was supposed to be a year where the Cubs brought up all their young talent, show flashes of what they could be, and then finish at or above .500 for the season. 2016 was supposed to be their first big year, not 2015.
Instead, 2015 became a year of such hope and optimism for not only the Cubs players, but also a fan base begging for an enjoyable baseball team to watch again. Boy, were they ever given one this season. 97 wins, tying the 2008 total. Playoff victories over the rival Pirates and Cardinals. The potential N.L. Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Cy Young Award winners all on the same team. Moments like hitting six home runs in game three of the NLDS that just made you think, “Man, we really are good.” It was that type of season for the Cubs in 2015.
So while Cubs fans everywhere are left with a disappointing feeling in their stomachs, let me be the first to say thank you to the Cubs for a wonderful year. This was the most fun I’ve ever had watching Cubs baseball, and I am so excited for what the future will bring this team. Thank you again, Cubs. We’ll see you in 2016.