Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show
There is always next year — Chicago Cubs fans know this.
In past years the phrase common to baseball circles have weighed with more dread on the North Side than in most areas, but the words are not as worrisome in 2017 like they were before 2016.
This was a very interesting Cubs season in many many ways. The team heading into 2017 looked as strong as any team and had a chance to repeat. The Cubs struggled out of the gate and never really recovered before the all-star break.
After the break things changed as the Cubs added left-hander Jose Quintana to their rotation and began to compile wins consistently, but not without occasional bullpen and hitting issues.
Regardless of the temporary hiccups the Cubs won more games than any National League team from the all-star break on and even added lefty reliever Justin Wilson right before the trade deadline.
Towards the middle of September, the Cubs defeated the Brewers in a four-game series which essentially gave the Cubs the NL Central title. The Cubs then defeated the Cardinals in St. Louis to officially clinch the division. Going into the playoffs, it seemed that the Cubs were as dangerous as any team around.
The NL Divisional Series was bound to be a challenge and it wound up being a brutal round for the Cubs against the Nationals. The Cubs got excellent starting pitching and needed every bit of it as Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were very impressive in each one of their starts. The Cubs had trouble with their bullpen closing games out due to a lot of walks.
On top of that, hitting was essentially non existent outside of the final game of the series. The Cubs were able to score a total of nine runs in Game 5 of the NLDS but they needed a lot of help from the Nationals to score those runs. The Cubs were able to get by the Nationals by the skin of their teeth and the flaws were very concerning.
Going into the NLCS for the third straight year, the Cubs got a huge break entering the series as Corey Seager, the stellar young shortstop for the Dodgers, was left off the roster due to a recurring injury.
Unfortunately, nothing really constituted a break for the Cubs in the series and they were really no match for the Dodgers. Overall, the series was pretty simple to break down — the Dodgers are a better team. From top to bottom, the Cubs were lacking in every area of the game compared to the determined LA team. Joe Madden was out-done by Dave Roberts in thr dugout, the Dodgers got better starting pitching and most definitely got better relief pitching.
The biggest problem of all, the Dodgers lineup was much better than the Cubs lineup. Now the Cubs may have comparable talent but it was more than that. There was no easy out for the Cubs against the Dodgers while the Cubs lineup struggled to make contact and move runners across the plate.
Clearly, the Cubs will have to go back to the drawing board and improve their team within and from outside the organization in order to beat these Dodgers.
That drawing board is what is important about this season for the Cubs. The Cubs are going to be a good team next year with all the talent and resources they have.
However, this season showed that the Cubs have flaws compared to the best teams in baseball. It’s clear that bullpen help is needed. Wade Davis is a free agent and who can trust Carl Edwards or Justin Wilson to be the closer for next year. The Cubs will also lose two starters from the rotation barring what would be unexpected resignings of John Lackey and Jake Arrieta.
Therefore, finding a couple of good (really good, actually) starters to round out the rotation is priority No. 1. Finally, the Cubs have to figure out their hitting woes, they have to find a way to make contact more consistently throughout their order and use all parts of the field. A leadoff hitter for the Cubs is priority No. 2.
The work on improving the team has already begun with what can be considered a questionable firing of pitching coach Chris Bosio. Hitting coach John Mallee was not resigned and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske moved to the Angels. Also, infield coach and third base coach Gary Jones were let go.
The replacements have already begun to be hired by the Cubs in new hitting coach Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield taking over as infield/base running coach as well as manning third base. Both of the coaches were with the Red Sox last season.
The most two impactful coaching staff moves were solidified with the turning of this week. Rumors had the Cubs in persuit of pitching coach Jim Hickey, well renowned and experienced with Joe Madden in Tampa, to take over for Bosio and Hickey agreed to terms with the team late last week.
Monday reports started to surface that those pesky Nationals swiped Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez to be their new manager, replacing Dusty Baker. The eventual loss of Martinez was to be expected but it comes as a less-than-expected surprise that the Cubs loss comes to be a gain for a team already among the best in the NL, a still very-relevant rival for the Cubs in future pennant chases.
After a still settles over the coaching staff next comes the roster movement. In all likelihood, the Cubs will not be able to solve all their issues with free agency.
The North Siders’ farm system has been squeezed for all its talent and needs time to replenish. That means the Cubs will most likely have to trade away a young positional player to acquire the talent they need.
Baseball’s winter meetings is around the corner and many trades happen during this time, it could be a fun active period for the Cubs. Whatever the plan is, Cubs fans should breathe easy because a plan is in place.
To be worried about the Cubs being able to beat the Dodgers in the future is a real concern, but the Cubs deserve the trust of fans after the moves they have made. Theo and company will not be sitting back after this postseason, they will be working hard to change the team as much as they need to to win while their window is open.
It is going to be a fun offseason and don’t be surprised if there are more than a couple new faces around the ball club in time for next spring.
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