Welcome to The Stew’s annual team elimination posts. Like our video-game posts of last year, these are best done in theme. This time? We’re going with “Game of Thrones.” Each eliminated team will join the “army of the dead.” But we won’t just talk about their demise. We’ll also highlight some positives, pick out a memorable moment, tell you their biggest need and let you know when the club might be good again.
Sorry, Chicago Cubs, but you won’t sit on the Iron Throne this season.
You couldn’t re-capture the magic from an unbelievable 2016, but that’s understandable. You can’t break a 108-year curse every season.
The Cubs were far from perfect in 2017, and the team’s cracks were exposed in a big way against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Maybe that will wind up being a good thing. That should only motivate the front office to aggressively plug those holes and come back even stronger in 2018.
Focusing on the team’s failures in the postseason obscures the fact that it was mostly another strong season on the North Side. The Cubs were reigning champions all year, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
Let’s take a look at the season that was in Chicago:
UNBOWED, UNBENT, UNBROKEN (aka WHAT WENT RIGHT)
There are probably some Cubs fans who would argue little to nothing went right simply because the team didn’t return to the World Series. That serves to highlight everything that’s gone right since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over, and continued to go right in 2017. The Cubs may have fallen short of the ultimate goal, but this season further cemented them as a powerhouse that’s not going away any time soon. Epstein and Hoyer also made some shrewd moves to shore up the roster, acquiring Wade Davis and Jon Jay in the offseason before adding Jose Quintana with an in-season blockbuster. Those moves should give fans confidence they’ll be able to continue plugging holes and keeping the team in a position to win for many years to come. (Mark Townsend)
THE RED WEDDING (aka WHAT WENT WRONG)
Of course, not everything went according to plan. The Cubs bullpen proved to be a weakness despite Davis’ addition, and that played a big part in their season ending early. Though loaded with talent, Chicago’s lineup was also prone to prolonged slumps. The biggest coming when it mattered most during the postseason. In the bigger picture, it’s become painfully clear the Kyle Schwarber won’t fit on an NL roster. He has incredible power, but doesn’t offer much of anything else. He’s especially limited on defense. With guys like Ian Happ and Albert Almora proving their worth, Schwarber’s days in Chicago have to be numbered. (Townsend)
THE NORTH REMEMBERS (aka MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT)
Let’s take it all the way back to the team’s home opener. The Cubs celebrated their first World Series title in 108 years in style. The pregame featured a number of fan-pleasing events, from former legendary players raising the flag, to a totally badass strut on the field while carrying the trophy.
There were strong moments during the season, too, but it’s tough to top the atmosphere from the home opener. It’s a feeling the Cubs will be eager to get back after their premature exit from the postseason. (Chris Cwik)
WORDS ARE WIND (aka MOST IMPORTANT THING TO FIX)
Surprisingly, it’s a couple things. The club will probably scour free agency in search of relievers, and could stand to deal from its positional depth to construct their ideal lineup. But the biggest need will probably be in the rotation, where both John Lackey and Jake Arrieta are likely to depart.
Replacing Lackey shouldn’t be a major concern, as the 38-year-old had a tough season. Replacing Arrieta is much more difficult. Compounding matters is the fact that the Cubs don’t have any obvious in-house replacements in the minors. They’ll have to either take the plunge on the free-agent market, or deal one of Happ, Schwarber or Almora to try and bring in a least one legitimate mid-rotation starter. It won’t be easy, but the Cubs have the resources to get something done. (Cwik)
A DREAM OF SPRING (aka HOPE FOR THE FUTURE)
Despite some of the holes on the roster, the Cubs are going to compete again next season. The club is simply too young and talented to be denied. The strength of the team is still the offense, but there may be too many mouths to feed there. Both Albert Almora and Ian Happ made cases for more playing time, but that could be tough unless the team deals away others. Almora and Happ could be dealt to fix that problem too.
The minor-league system graduated most of its big-time talent in recent years. Most of the team’s top prospects are now in the lower levels of the minors. There’s no Kris Bryant type on the way in 2018. Catcher/first baseman Victor Caratini seems the closest, but he isn’t considered a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America.
That’s OK, because the team’s current core is still strong. The focus will be figuring out which youngsters to keep, and which ones to trade away in order to solidify the parts of the team that were exposed in the postseason. Given the team’s aggressive nature in recent winters, expect them to come back reloaded in 2018. (Cwik)
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES
San Francisco Giants | Philadelphia Phillies | Cincinnati Reds | Chicago White Sox | New York Mets | San Diego Padres | Atlanta Braves | Detroit Tigers | Pittsburgh Pirates | Oakland Athletics | Miami Marlins | Toronto Blue Jays | Baltimore Orioles | Seattle Mariners | Tampa Bay Rays | Texas Rangers | Kansas City Royals | Los Angeles Angels | St. Louis Cardinals | Milwaukee Brewers | Minnesota Twins | Colorado Rockies | Arizona Diamondbacks | Boston Red Sox | Cleveland Indians | Washington Nationals
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