Just a week ago we were talking about how the Cubs aren't done developing yet. That fact made their 97-win season and run to baseball's version of the Final Four as improbable and impressive as anything that the baseball world witnessed in 2015. This is a team that wasn't supposed to be locked and loaded until next year at the earliest. Instead, they hit their way into the NLCS. That was when they were told to meet the Mets and the pixie dust blew away like a breeze out of Wrigley Field. Such is baseball, the cruelest of all sports mistresses. What follows is a look at some of what we here at Beyond the Box Score wrote about the Cubs along their wild ride to the playoffs.
Pre-Season Coverage and Predictions
We picked the Cubs to finish in third place in our pre-season poll. That seems to have been an astute assertion, yet I'm sure that nobody foresaw a 97-win third place team. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo made cameo appearances in the pre-season poll that sought to divine the top players for the coming season. Bryant was ranked 45th and Rizzo was ranked 38th. [Editor's note: We gave Scott Lindholm a lot of crap for putting Bryant on the list. He was 12th in baseball in fWAR. Whoops.]
Matt Goldman published an article shortly after the season kicked off that advocated for a Jake Arrieta extension. If only Matt knew how right he was. Arrieta would go on to post the second best WHIP in the league behind Zack Grienke and repeatedly do this to hitters. He is a bad bad man.
When the Cubs brought up the presumptive Rookie of the Year, we kind of freaked out a little bit. What ensued was a small kerfuffle of excitement. Matt Goldman and Michael Bradburn debated whether or not the Cubs did the right thing when they left Bryant down at Triple-A for service time reasons, and Bradburn also looked at what the projections said about the top prospect. Matt Jackson wondered if he was too tall to play third base. Neil Weinberg examined why we care so much about an untested player like Bryant. Finally, I pondered whether or not Bryant would strike out too much to be productive.
I think we can safely say that Bryant can play third base, and that he didn't strike out too much (even though he did strike out 199 times). Oh, and he may be the next Ben Zobrist, if Bryan Grosnick is to be believed. What a time to be alive.
Early on in the season, I noticed a rather strange thing happening at Wrigley Field. Anthony Rizzo was stealing bases. I documented the six steals had at that point in the season in this article, surmising that Rizzo had not suddenly turned into Barry Allen but rather was picking his chances incredibly well. Rizzo would finish with 17 steals, a massive total for a first baseman not named Paul Goldschmidt.
Steven Martano pegged Bryant as the likely winner of the Rookie of the Year Award back in July by having him edge out a then still-buoyant Joc Pederson by virtue of his batting average. Since then, Pederson has faded away and Bryant has been unbelievable. Pederson's monstrous strikeout totals helped limit him to a 79 wRC+ in the second half and effectively removed him from contention. Bryant posted a 136wRC+, was worth 6.5 fWAR, and hit 26 homers. It isn't particularly close.
Goldman urged us to be patient with Jorge Soler in August. Pointing to Soler's consistently elite exit velocity, he said that the young slugger would shake off his bad slump and injuries to get back to mashing. Soler just finished hitting .750/.750/.1250 in the playoffs and while that's a remarkably small sample of work, the 23-year old is just getting started. He finished with a .262/.324/.399 line, and going to be a rock in the middle of this lineup for years and years to come.
The Run to October
In case you need to be reminded just how amazing Jake Arrieta is, Shawn Brody looked at his August campaign. This was before his stellar September as well. Arrieta is very good at throwing baseballs. Incredibly good. Best-second-half-since-Bob-Gibson-good. Fear him.
Spencer Bingol, owner of a wonderful name, wrote two separate pieces on the reinvention of Chris Coghlan. He examined Coghlan's new power, and his sudden ability to hit the ball all over the field. The former Rookie of the Year finished third on the club with 3.3 fWAR while hitting .250/.341/.443. Not bad for a scrapheap pickup at all. Coghlan was one of Joe Maddon's favorite toys this year and proved to be an invaluable asset.
The Matts struck again when Mr. Jackson told us why the Cubs would win the World Series (hitting) and Mr. Goldman watched in awe as Starlin Castro hit his way back into our hearts. Nick Lampe compiled a rundown of all the former starting pitchers, such as Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard, that are thriving in the Chicago bullpen. And finally, I wrote that this isn't even the Cubs' final form, and that they will continue to mash our souls to death until the goat-headed demon that lives under Wrigley Field has been satisfied.
The Cubs were swept away in quick fashion this year. They fell victim to their own tricks; effective pitching and a steady diet of dingers. There's no cure for Daniel Murphy turning into Barry Bonds so it's no surprise to see that the Mets will represent the National League in the World Series. Fear not, Cubs fans. This team will be back and better than ever. Just wait until next year.