A snarky comment about PECOTA and the Cubs got me digging back into the end of 2019. Were they really that bad? Was PECOTA right? In all honesty, no. I think the 2019 Cubs were done in by several factors but most notably the injury bug bit HARD at the end of the season.
Let's look at the reasons for optimism, from August 1st to September 16th (last win before the 2-10 streak to end the season) the Cubs went 25-18 and were hitting a robust .822 OPS as a team! The pitching wasn't bad either, 4.12 ERA in that stretch. The really interesting part is that they were even better to start the month of September!
They had just lost Baez to the thumb injury, Bryant's knee was barking, and guys like Robel Garcia (who I LOVE!) were starting meaningful games in September. They started 9-6, were slugging for an .887 OPS, and were pitching to a 3.61 team ERA.
I mean, look at those September splits!! And this is for the whole month, which includes the 2-10 stretch to end the season. It was crunch time and each of those guys were valuable. Schwarber was en fuego like we've never seen. Happ, Bryant, Rizzo, and Willy were strong. Even Heyward, Kemp, Robel, and Bote we contributors. Hoerner looked good too. Overall, his .741 OPS isn't world-beating but it is head and shoulders better than what the Cubs got at 2B this past season.
The pitching was also very good when it counted. The guys were on FIRE. Shrek is gone (and maybe Strop too *sad emoji* ) but otherwise these guys are back in 2020.
Okay, so it's not all puppy dogs and rainbows. It's looking more and more likely that Bryant is going to get moved. On the other hand, it's looking more likely (IMO) that Castellanos comes back. So, we're back to where we've been the last few seasons, down a bat to start the season. However, depending on what the Cubs get for Bryant the lineup might still be fine. The same goes for the pitching staff. I think the BP is set, and the rotation is currently; Cyle, Yu, Lester, Q, Mills. I'd love to add a true #2, but don't think that's happening. I think for the regular season that starting 5 will be fine, but when/if they get to the postseason they're a starter short.
So, while there hasn't been much change and the rest of the division is making moves, there is still more than enough talent to win. I think the biggest wildcard and reason for optimism is Ross. These past few Cubs teams have played well when there is urgency, (look at their second-half records under Maddon) but creating urgency was never something Maddon did. I have a feeling Ross will be the complete opposite of Maddon in this area. While we really have no idea about his managing style yet, my guess is they will still be loose and have fun but there will be an edge to them that we've never quite seen before. My best comp is when Nick came over from the Tigers. He was having fun, but he was also fired up 24/7. I'm a huge Maddon fan and wanted him to stay but I do think these last few teams have gotten too loose. He was also leaving for the Angels regardless, so it's worthless to play the what-if game.
Despite a slow off-season (so far) full of doom-boning, ownership hating, and declarations of never watching the Cubs again, I think the 2020 team has a chance to be the most fun one we've seen since the 2016 team. It's not been an ideal off-season, I'll admit but I cannot wait for pitchers and catchers to report.
Who's with me?
I AM! In 2018 the cardinals were in 3rd place, and the next year they were in the NLCS. In 2017, the Brewers missed the playoffs and then went to the NLCS the following year. The Cubs have a solid core of players with world series experience. To count them out because they have a few holes is premature. Every team has holes. The front office has often been at their best in times they haven't been able to throw big money at big names. They are already close to being a contender. A couple breaks and the Cubs could easily be in the world series in 2020.