The Cubs took on October…and it didn’t end well. Turns out, for now, November is more of their month.
In winning three of the four major National League awards handed out by the Baseball Writers Association of America this week — the Cy Young, Manager and Rookie of the Year trophies — the Cubs pulled off a rare feat that made the club’s hard 4-game sweep at the hands of the Mets in the National League Championship Series a little better to swallow.
There may have been clearer signs of a potentially glorious future on the North Side (see next section for exhibit A), but nothing and no one exemplified excellence in the now times then the Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta.
Arrieta’s second half of the season, actually his final 20 starts, rival any run seen in modern baseball and on the strength of his 12-1 record and 0.75 ERA in 15 starts after the all-star break (a break he played no part in, btw) the Cubs took flight into the playoff race and picked off division rivals Pittsburgh and St. Louis on the way to one of this franchise’s most satisfying postseason runs.
A year ago the Cubs were on the hunt for a true pitching ace and it looked like they copped one in Jon Lester, but Arrieta asserted himself like few other players have in Chicago baseball. Today the Cubs still have a “pitching wanted” sign up, and they plan to spend a lot to secure such talents but after this year more of that paper than ever will go to making happy the once and future Ace Arrieta.
Back in spring training, Kris Bryant’s role in the coming 2015 season was to be brought along something less than briskly, that’s why there was no rush to bring the top draft pick with the club when they headed out of Mesa, AZ.
Little did the Cubs know that Bryant being held back a couple weeks (as much for contract considerations as anything else), would bring about the controversy it did. Back when Chicago was waiting for the weather to break our way again, there wasn’t much else to talk about.
Eventually, the seasons changed, Bryant made his home at Wrigley Field and the Cubs saw one of the best curtain rising performances from a first-year player. Showing little need to transition from the minors — where he was named Player of the Year in 2014 — Bryant just about immediately established himself as an everyday player, mostly at third base, while compiling a hitting campaign that was as good for any rook this franchise has seen since Billy Williams.
You mention a guy like Billy Williams and you’re talking about the first rank of beloved Cubs. Although the talented teams of Williams’ era didn’t break the Billy Goat Curse, they played hard and excellent over a long enough period to make themselves forever remembered by fans. Bryant is on track to do that much and he already has an NLCS appearance under his belt…whoa.
You can argue just how much of a role a baseball manager plays in a good baseball team playing like a great baseball team, but over the course of the game’s history some skippers got the benefit of the doubt more times than not, Joe Maddon is becoming one of those guys.
Simply hiring Maddon, as the Cubs did late in 2014, allowed followers of this most maligned franchise to dream. At last, a guy who you can envision winning with is back in control. It may not happen in the next year, but it’ll happen eventually…
Well, Maddon is known as an easy-going guy in all, but it seems that he isn’t too patient, or another way of looking at it is the proponent of #respect90 is always in the moment, which means he’s always ready to make the most out of a situation.
Opportunism is a valued trait in baseball, look no further than the current World Series champions in Kansas City for proof of that, to max out effort and manipulate opponents’ weaknesses are cornerstones in bringing success throughout 162 or more games.
In the Cubs, Maddon always saw a mold of clay that he could work with and so far he’s displaying something of a masterpiece, but the aim of much art is to function as inspiration as well as entice with its form.
If these Cubbies as constructed are going to go down as a true masterwork and provide themselves with a long-overdue championship (as well as Maddon’s first title as a manager, don’t forget) there’s more sculpting to be done, but no craftsman in the game has a surer hand than the major’s current renaissance man and he’s still in residence in Chicago.
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