The 2016 Season Is Over (Grab Bag of Thoughts)

On the Cubs

  • Congrats, first of all! What a game last night, one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
  • Many Cubs fans are looking forward to the start of a dynasty, and there’s good reason to think that: this team is loaded with young talent, and the lineup in particular is full of guys who haven’t nearly peaked yet. They are going to be a beast in the NL for several more years.
  • I want to temper the idea of a dynasty just a bit with a couple of thoughts. First, the Cubs were extraordinarily healthy this year. The one significant injury they suffered (Kyle Shwarber) ended up being a blessing in disguise. Outside of that injury they were the most healthy team in the postseason, and once Schwarber returned in the World Series there was no better Cubs roster available. The Indians, on the other hand, made their postseason run without Carlos Carrasco (imagine the Giants without Cueto), Michael Brantley (the Giants without Hunter Pence), and with a limited Danny Salazar (Matt Moore only available out of the bullpen…hey, maybe that would have worked). All that to say, it may not be difficult for the Cubs to repeat as champions, but highly unlikely they stay as healthy next year.
  • Second, the sky is the limit for the Cubs lineup. But, keep an eye on the pitching, especially the rotation. I was not a believer in Kyle Hendricks coming into the postseason, and while he won me over, he still seems primed for a regression in 2017. Jon Lester and John Lackey will be a year older. Jason Hammel had a nice season, but is another regression candidate (and a free agent). And then there’s the curious case of Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had as good a season in 2015 as any pitcher, maybe ever, but some of the luster is wearing off. Are teams figuring him out? Did he get tired? Hurt? He’s still very good, but maybe not the Ace we all thought, especially long term. All of this to say, the Cubs may soon find themselves in a position to have to slug it out more often than not, as soon as next year.
  • Third, what about the bullpen? If you are a Cubs fan, do you want Chapman back for many, many millions of dollars? Do you want Carl Edwards Jr to take over as closer? And what about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon? Those guys were Maddon’s 8th and 9th inning guys for a while but he barely used them.
  • All of which to say: the Cubs are going to be very, very good but they have questions just like anyone else.

On the New Golden Age of Baseball

  • MLB has enjoyed a decade of great parity. Different teams have it made it to and won the World Series. There hasn’t been a dominant franchise (sorry Cardinals), and many champions have failed to even make the postseason the year after their big wins (Giants’ fans know all about this). No one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row in 2000. As exciting as the last 10+ years has been for hardcore baseball fans (and as beneficial as it was for the Giants), I think we are entering a new era of baseball excellence. And that is extremely good for baseball. I hated the old Yankees dynasty (and the Braves for that matter, from 1993 on), and I hated the argument that an evil empire was good for the game, but there is a lot of truth to that point. And I think we are going to see that again: the Cubs are going to make everyone better. It’s going to be harder and harder to win with flawed teams. The 2016 Giants are a great example of this. Maybe another year they get through with that bullpen, but not against a deep, talented team like the Cubs. But again, this is good for baseball.
  • In addition to the Cubs burgeoning dynasty, you have the NL West rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers. It felt like this genuinely got nasty this year, and it will get worse I think, moving froward. Good for baseball.
  • The Cardinals are still pretty dang good themselves, don’t forget about them!
  • The NL East is a growing beast. Washington is already good and should continue to be for a while. The Mets are smartly run, have the starting rotation equivalent to the Cubs lineup, and will have more and more financial resources at their disposal. The Phillies and Braves are sleeping powers, probably still a few years away, but the next five years of ball in the NL east is going to be bloody. Good for baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros are the Cubs: young, deep, and extremely talented. And several teams: the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Mariners are a few moves, and better health, away from being pennant winners. The best player in baseball is still on the Angels, too.
  • All of this, good for baseball.

Back to the NLDS

  • Now that the Cubs are officially champions, let’s revisit the NLDS one more time. One storyline that didn’t come up much was Jon Lester’s fateful decision to sign with the Cubs over the Giants. The Giants were all in on Lester, and came in second (after winning the 2014 World Series). He wanted to be closer to family, and relished the idea of winning with the Cubs (call this the anti-Durant decision). How would things have been different? We’ll never know, but I would still take the rotation the Giants have now over Lester and spare parts.
  • IF the Giants get out of Game 4 alive, the popular sentiment seems to be that they would have taken Game 5 as well. Again, we’ll never know, but this Cubs team could have folded many times during the postseason and  never did.
  • I would have loved to have seen it though.

On Bullpens

  • 2016 is being called the year of the bullpen, both for the ways the winning managers used their pens, but also for meltdowns and poor decisions (the Orioles not using Zach Britton, the Giants disaster, the Joe Blanton dumpster fire, Francona as genius and then not-genius, and Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman).
  • This new role of “fireman” or using a top reliever in high leverage situations is not actually new, but the proliferation of these guys and managers eager willingness to use them in such ways is newish. It does make me think back to game 6 of 2002 (will we ever really get over this?). Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out in the 7th inning, needing only 8 outs from his bullpen to win the World Series. To this day any Giants fan will say: “Dusty should have left Russ in.” Russ was good, but he was not prime Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner good. Plus the Giants pen that year was very good…a strenght of that team. (In other words, at the time it made a lot of sense). It’s interesting to contrast that sentiment with what we watched this postseason. In games 5, 6, and 7 of this World Series, no starter went more than Lester’s 6 in game 5. I thought Maddon would live to regret taking Hendricks out in the 5th (up by 4 in Game 7), but in the end it worked out. It’s interesting how much things have changed in the last 15 years.

 

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