I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day and the subject of the Chicago Cubs came up. We were looking at a July 4th excursion to Wrigley Field when he asked me, "How are they doing this year, anyway?"
I had no idea.
For most of high school, all of college, and a few years after, I was all in on the Northsiders. Prior, Wood, Zambrano, D Lee - they had nearly a half decade of relevance and probably the longest streak of above average teams in eons. After the team fell into Baseball Hell - where overpriced stars were on the downsides of their careers and the farm system was depleted from neglect, the Cubs were purchased by a new owner, and a new management team was brought in. During that time, I just sort of stopped watching. It's hard to watch bad baseball 162 times a year.
Lets all take a minute and thank the heavens for Greatest Living Humans Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.
The duo carefully built the farm system from the ground up, slashing payroll in order to save it for when they were good again. They were honest with everyone about a five-year plan, focusing on long term growth and not short-term screams for "now".
They took a few years off from trying to win, so with that my interest in watching bad baseball sort of waned. But there is a buzz flying around this team this year, so I did some research - let's catch up with the Cubs.
So, where are we at in the grand scheme of things?
Sittin' pretty! As of June 26th, the Cubs are 39-32, in 3rd place in the Central Division, but tied for 4th place in the National League. Fangraphs, home to baseball nerds across the nation, even has them projected to win 87 games this year!
Why are they playing so well?
Good question! It turns out, drafting, trading and developing players well pays off for your major league roster.
Are there people on the team worth paying attention to?
There are! Anthony Rizzo is having a crazy good year batting .312/.421.856 with 15 home runs and 43 RBI. He'll be up in the running for MVP at the end of the year. We're also seeing one of the great Rookie of the Year races with our boy Kris Bryant leading the way. The rookie is already sporting a W.A.R. (wins above replacement - not my favorite stat) of 2.7, which great considering he came up a couple weeks after the season started.
Beyond those two, we're seeing youngsters Addison Russell (.250/.312/.400) and Jorge Soler (.265/.322/402) are playing great for their respective ages. Heck, the worst player on their team (by WAR, anyway) has been Starlin Castro (mostly for defensive reasons), who is still sporting a .261/.294/.339 "slash line".
Even on the pitching side, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel have been keeping this team rolling while their big offseason acquistion Jon Lester has gone through some early-season ups and downs.
Anyway, now that the NBA Draft is over, the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions and the Bears are months away from kicking off, it's time to get back to watching baseball. I took the past few years off because my team decided that not trying to win in the short term would help them win in the long run.
And it sure seems like they were right.
Photo credit: Roger Smith Flickr (Creative Commons)