Cubs’ 2018 season characterized by acquisitions


Matthew Conway, Sports Editor

The Chicago Cubs finished their 2018 season at 95-68, good for second in the NL Central. More telling about the team was their pitching throughout the year, which varied from stellar to subpar. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and new additions Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels combined for a 3.52 ERA; the successful veterans have won two NLCS MVPs and made a combined 13 All-Star appearances.

A common theme throughout the season was Chicago’s inability to please or satisfy its fan base. After winning the 2016 World Series, the fall came fast and hard for the Cubs. They lost ace Jake Arrieta, winner of the 2015 Cy Young, and proceeded to lose star center fielder Dexter Fowler to St. Louis in free agency. They replenished their ranks by bringing up gobs of young talent from their farm system and inking Darvish to a six year, $126 million contract, one of the largest in the MLB. This caused further dissatisfaction when Darvish failed to perform up to expectations and tallied just a 4.95 ERA during his time with the Cubs before being placed on the DL.

Frequent weather delays and cancellations early in the season dulled the interest of Chicago fans, but after those were all out of the way, the team gained some momentum by winning nine of eleven games in the latter half of the month, fueled by strong pitching from Kyle Hendricks and Pedro Strop. While the Cubs were inconsistent at times throughout the rest of the season, they finished just two games out of first place in the NL Central. After losing to the Milwaukee Brewers on Oct. 1, a wild card elimination game that decided which team would receive a first round bye in the playoffs and which team would have to play a wild card game, the Cubs lost the chance to win their third division title in a row.

This has been one of the best four-season runs in Cubs history, as they have won 387 games in the past four years, good for an average of 97 wins per year in a 162 game schedule. In addition, Chicago has won sixty percent of its games since the 2015 season, one of the best marks in Major League Baseball.

Manager Joe Maddon, who has won nearly 60% of his games since taking over before the 2015 season, was mentioned in talks of being on the hot seat as well as having a strained relationship with team president Theo Epstein, who engineered Chicago’s drastic turnaround. These reports were later refuted, but raised uncertainty among fans about whether the man in charge of their resurgence was the right man for the job.

The Cubs finished August strong as they won seven games in a row at the end of the month, their longest winning streak of the season. They were unable to sustain this momentum into September, but came alive and moved ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in early September despite a very strong month of August for the Cards, where they tallied a 22-6 record. The Cubs fell behind Milwaukee in the division after the Brewers went on a 20-7 tear during the season’s final month. The Cardinals and Brewers were dead even heading into September, with both teams tallying 76 wins, but the Brewers surged ahead and won the division for the first time since 2011, when they also won 96 games. These factors all contributed to widespread disappointment among the Cubs’ fan base once the season ended, as Chicago supporters had become accustomed to annual trips to the NLCS, a dramatic shift for the franchise.

Meanwhile, the Cubs’ hitting has been phenomenal this season as well. Despite firing hitting coach Chili Davis after one season, Chicago showed improvement from 2017. Sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant garnered most of the headlines, but second baseman Ben Zobrist and outfielder Kyle Schwarber were just as essential to the success of the Cubs this past season. Rizzo smacked 160 hits and 101 RBI in addition to a .283 batting average, right on par with his career stats. He notched 25 home runs, his worst total since 2013. Bryant tallied 106 hits and 52 RBI while missing 60 games due to injury. He added 13 home runs and a .272 batting average, both far below his totals from the previous two seasons. Zobrist, who is less of a power hitter, went for 139 hits, 58 RBI, nine home runs and a .305 batting average. Finally, Schwarber, he of the 470-foot home run, bashed 26 this season, his fourth in the league, as well as 102 hits and 61 RBI for a .238 batting average.

The Chicago Cubs’ 2018 season can be considered a success due to the team continuing its growth from previous seasons by once again making the playoffs and seeing three players (Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Jon Lester) named to the All-Star game. Hopefully, manager Joe Maddon returns for a fifth season and once again weeds the most production he possibly can out of his players.