Last offseason, Rob Neyer of Fox Sports concluded that with the addition of Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs would – on the outside – be four or five games better than they’d been the year before. Eighty wins would have been nice. Granted, at the time he wrote the analysis, Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija had been mailed off to Oakland, and no one saw Jake Arrieta coming at all. Still, Rob was not alone in predicting an okay, but not great season, building toward something more in 2016.
Oh how the passing of a season changes everything. 2,959,812 fans planted their butts in Wrigley during the 2015 season – more than 300,000 beyond the total for 2014, and they got their money’s worth as the Cubbies took put together an amazing 97-win season and visited the NLCS for the first time since 2003, before being swept by the Mets and ending the miracle.
Because that’s what it was. A lot of great things happened in 2015, and any one of them could have gone a different direction. Jake Arrieta had his coming of age as a Cy Young level pitcher, breaking records and posting the best stats after the All-Star break of any pitcher in history. Rookies Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber came up from the minors and stepped into the big-league shoes without a hitch, pounding balls over walls, into rivers, and even planting them on top of scoreboards.
Here are some highlights, things to remember going into 2016.
-The first three months of the season, the Cubs were over .500 – the first time this happened since the 2008 season.
-In May, the Cubs swept the NY Mets in Wrigley for the first time since 1992. They continued to sweep the Mets throughout the regular season, going 7-0 against the team that, ironically, would end their run in the NLCS – with a sweep.
-In July, both Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were named to the National League All-Star Team. They also both appeared in their first Home Run Derby.
-Not everything was good. On July 25th, Cole Hamels (then of the Phillies) no-hit the Cubs, breaking the longest active streak in the major leagues of games without a no hitter. It had been almost 8,000 games since it last happened.
-August 30th, Jake Arietta threw his first no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
-Also in August, the Cubs pitching staff struck out 1,128 batters (second best of all MLB teams) and had a combined WHIP of 1.20. Kris Bryant was named Rookie of the Month, and Jake Arietta was named Pitcher of the Month.
-On September 11th, the Cubs clinched their first winning record since 2009 by beating the Phillies in both games of a double header, and on the 25th they clinched their Wild Card slot.
-When the season ended, the Cubs had the third best record in baseball, and still came in third in the National League Central behind divisional rivals St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The season ended at 97-65.
The rookie class combined for 65 home runs, between Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler – the most by any class of Rookies in Cubs history. The 97 wins was the most ever by a first-year Cubs Manager, adding that honor to the Manager of the Year Award Joe Maddon received in November. Kris Bryant also received Rookie of the year, and Jake Arietta brought home the first Cubs Cy Young Award since Greg Maddux won it back in 1992.
In the Wild Card Game, Jake Arietta performed as his season promised, pitching a full game shut-out, and allowing only four hits. Kyle Schwarber and Dexter Fowler combined for five hits, with a home run apiece, to lead the offense as the Cubs moved on in the post season with a 4-0 victory.
In the Divisional series, the Cubs faced their arch rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, who took game one 4-0 behind the arm of pitcher John Lackey (now a member of the Cubs). After that, the Cubs never looked back, taking the next three games and moving on to the NLCS for the first time since 2003. In Game 3 against the Cardinals, the two teams combined for a total of eight home runs, setting a MLB record for homers in a single post-season game. Six different Cubs players homered in that game, and that was part of the magic of the season. There were power bats up and down the lineup.
With the off-season additions of John Lackey and Jason Heyward, both formerly of the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2016 season is looking bright. As stated above, things can always go either way, but the momentum is in Chicago’s favor, and with Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon at the wheel, Cubs fans may be able to get used to some things that are pretty unfamiliar. For instance, that let-down when your team loses ONE GAME… as opposed to the sensation of inevitability as they lose ten. It’s been said before. It’s been written and whispered and sung in the bleachers, but here it is again, and this time, with feeling… This could be the year!