No team has experienced as harsh of a fall from grace as the current iteration of the Chicago Cubs. It feels like ages ago when Chicago streets were packed to the gills with Cubs fans celebrating the team’s 2016 World Series victory. A fan once told me that every day since that moment has felt like falling deeper and deeper into quicksand. I understand the feeling, especially since I am a Cubs fan myself. The post-2016 years have felt like a slog and a half, there’s no way to deny that.
2020 feels much the same for a club that continues to inhabit the same space it has for the past few years. 2019 and 2020 featured consecutive offseasons where Tom Ricketts, the mouthpiece for the team owning Ricketts family, cried poor while effectively refusing to spend on the team. Once a celebrated hero for bringing a title to the North Side he found himself booed when he announced the upcoming Marquee Network at this year’s CubsCon. As Wrigley Field caters more and more to corporate fans, Chicagoland fans find themselves possibly not being able to get access to the new network (and thus any Cubs games), and reports of the team playing hardball with stars like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras permeate it’s easy to see why most are down on the Cubs heading into the new season.
Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras are still with the club. The same is true for Javier Báez, Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwaber, and Kyle Hendricks. The core of a great team still occupies the home lockers in Wrigleyville. At the same time, the National League Central Division is much the same as it was last year. The Cincinnati Reds are the only team making an effort to truly get better, while the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers have both seriously regressed. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a complete non-factor at this point and at times seem like they should be contracted to put Pirates fans out of their misery. All this adds up to the Cubs once again being in the thick of the NL Central race.
For as much as it’s been all doom and gloom for Cubs fans that doesn’t match the reality of the club. That’s not to say I don’t understand their frustration with ownership, I decidedly do. The Ricketts own a franchise that prints money on a daily basis and any claims that they could not afford to improve the team the past two seasons are flat-out lies. Understanding the frustration Cubs fans feel from ownership that seems to not care about winning while they simultaneously wanting to alienate their core fans is not the same as viewing the 2020 Cubs as a losing proposition.
It’s important to recognize how good the Cubs core has been, is, and can be. The players mentioned above form a group that is among the best in all of Major League Baseball. On their own, the core is good enough for the Cubs to contend. What matters more for the Cubs are the margins. How much better will they be now that first-year manager David Ross has decided to address their leadoff hitter woes by installing Bryant in that spot and following up with Rizzo in the two-hole?
Now that the pitch lab is up, running, and showing results just how good can their bullpen full of hard throwers with high spin rates and middling results actually be? What improvements will the team show from Ross taking a more focused approach to pre-game preparedness than his predecessor, Joe Maddon? Will the front office add any pieces the team needs if they are heading towards a potential division title or Wild Card appearance? Will Craig Kimbrel return to his pre-2019 form? Can this team stay healthy for the majority of the season?
Those are the questions that will determine the fate of the 2020 Chicago Cubs. You don’t need to be inundated with numbers about the core group of players. Baseball fans know how good they have been and how good they should continue to be moving forward. If everything goes according to plan there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be around 90 wins and vying for a division title. Unfortunately, that result is predicated on a lot of “ifs” and as the last couple of years have shown a few of those ifs not coming true could mean the Cubs miss the playoffs yet again.