Sustained Success

A Cubs 2017 Season Review

By Steven Johnson

  • 2017: Another season, another postseason berth for the Chicago Cubs.
  • 2017: Another season, another NL Central Division title for the Chicago Cubs.
  • 2017: Another season, another 90+ win season for the Chicago Cubs.

It is “sustained success,” indeed.

When Theo Epstein came aboard as the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, building for “sustained success” is what he preached when asking Cubs fans to be patient with the upcoming rebuild.

Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have all delivered, whether that has been in terms of on-field product, the farm system or positioning the Cubs to not just “win now” but also on a yearly basis.

After three rebuilding seasons (2012-14), the sustained success model was initiated. The Cubs hired Joe Maddon in 2014, won 97 games in 2015 and finished 3rd in the NL Central.

After winning the NL Wild Card Game vs the Pittsburgh Pirates, they beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series and advanced to the National League Championship Series. The Cinderella season ended in a 4-0 sweep to the New York Mets.

In 2016, the Cubs went on a tear throughout the entire MLB. Their 103-58 record was the best in all of baseball.

They won the NL Central Division title for the first time since 2008. They made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008 (2007-08). They also got back to the NLCS… and won it.

The Cubs advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1945. After an intense 7-game series with the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs were once again World Series Champions. It was their first World Series Championship in 108 years and the last great story in sports was finally told.

Entering the 2017 season, the Cubs had accomplished everything they set out to do beginning in 2012. An NL Wild Card berth, Two Division titles, a National League Pennant, a World Series Championship… all were now in the possession of the Cubs over a five-year period.

While the rebuild was now an undisputed success, the goal now simply was to do it again.

The Cubs struggled the first half of the season. Entering the All-Star Break, they posted a disappointing 43-45 record. The struggles were so alarming that the team considered entering the trade deadline as sellers.

However, instead of taking that route, Epstein and Co. decided the defending World Series Champions should take another shot at it.

Jose Quintana

In an unexpected move, the Cubs traded for White Sox Ace: Jose Quintana. The deal was unprecedented at the time considering the Cubs and White Sox were thought to never do business together of this magnitude. The Cubs sent back four prospects in the deal, including five-tool prospect Eloy Jimenez.

After deciding to stay the course, the Cubs caught fire during the second half of the season. They returned from the All-Star Break to win six games in a row. They finished the month of July with a 16-8 record. Most importantly, they only lost three games during that stretch entering August.

After going 17-12 in August and 19-10 in September/October, the Cubs wrapped up their second consecutive NL Central Division title. They were now primed for an NLDS match-up with former Manager Dusty Baker and the Washington Nationals.

Even with the early season slump, the Cubs still had enough to finish as one of the best teams in baseball.

The World Series hangover was real, but the team did not let that deter them. Instead, they rallied around each other and charged back to win a division title.

Again, “sustained success” was the model. Even though there were times where the team struggled, they had enough youth, energy, familiarity and experience to rebound and still compete.

Their talent level was also head and shoulders above any team in the division and the first half struggles should be considered an aberration.

Now, the season starts over at 0-0. Can the Cubs repeat the magic once again?

Before the Cubs begin the postseason, it is time to review the 2017 regular season. A lot of success happened on the field as well as several players standing out for the defending World Series Champions.

2017 Most Valuable Player: Kris Bryant

MLB: OCT 04 Cubs at Brewers

You could have easily gone with Anthony Rizzo or Javy Baez or even Wade Davis here. However, the numbers do not lie and when it came to all-around game; there was one choice for this distinction.

Kris Bryant is one of the best players in baseball. The 2016 National League MVP had another “MVP-like” season in 2017.

Bryant hit .295 with 162 Hits, 29 Home Runs, 73 RBI, 95 Walks and .946 OPS. He also led the team in Batting Average (minimum 400 at-bats), On-Base %, Hits, Total Bases, Doubles (38), OPS and Runs scored (141).

Bryant is a generational talent. Possessing all the tools to be a Hall of Famer, he is versatile enough to be great wherever the team needs or puts him. A third baseman by trade, Bryant is capable of also playing first base as well as both corner outfield positions.

He is a mark of consistency and will be the central piece if the Cubs are to repeat as World Series Champions. Bryant, at only 25-years-old, has already had the career most Major League players dream about.

Bryant is only going to get better, which is a scary thought for the future of the league.

2017 Most Improved Player: Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward

After a tough campaign in 2016, Heyward actually bounced back in most offensive statistical categories this season. In fact, the numbers would not pass the eye test at first glance:

Heyward’s 2017 Season

In 126 Games, Heyward hit .259 with 59 Runs, 112 Hits, 15 Doubles, 4 Triples, 11 Home Runs, 59 RBI, 41 Walks and .715 OPS this season.

Heyward’s 2016 Season

In 142 Games, Heyward hit .230 with 61 Runs, 122 Hits, 27 Doubles, 1 Triple, 7 Home Runs, 49 RBI, 54 Walks and .631 OPS.

While Heyward actually did not match certain totals from his 2016 season, he also played in 16 fewer games. Even though he played in fewer games, he increased his Batting Average by 29 points, hit 4 more Home Runs, hit 3 more Triples, drove in 10 more RBI and increased his OPS by 84 points.

Heyward’s most valuable asset is his defensive ability in right field; however, he proved that he is capable strong showings at the plate. Coupled with his defensive ability, Heyward has the ability to be a game changer if he can find consistency as a hitter.

Hopefully, Heyward can stay healthy and continue to improve and perform each season. He will be a critical component to another deep Cubs playoff run.

Pitcher of the Year: Wade Davis

Wade Davis

This was an easy one. Davis, whom the Cubs acquired in a trade for Jorge Soler, was lights out for the team this season.

In 59 Games, the All-Star closer threw 58.2 Innings, allowed 39 Hits, finished with a 4-2 Record and recorded 32 Saves in 33 Save Opportunities. Davis totaled an ERA of 2.30 to go along with 79 Strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP.

In addition to the sparkling numbers, Davis was selected as the lone Cubs representative for the 2017 All-Star Game. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of his 2017 season: Davis set the Cubs franchise record with his 27th consecutive save on August 29th.

Davis will be critical to another long playoff run for the Cubs. With the way Maddon used closer Aroldis Chapman last season in the playoffs, do not be surprised to see Davis on the mound in the 8th… or even 7th Innings.

It is all hands on deck in the quest to repeat as World Series Champions and Davis is as good as it gets when it comes to holding a lead.

What to Watch For:  How will the Cubs look next season?

While the Cubs gear up for another run at a World Series title, there are several questions that will be answered come the offseason.

Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber is an interesting case study. When it comes to talent as a hitter, Schwarber has it. When it comes to being able to play multiple positions (LF, 1B and yes, Catcher), Schwarber is capable. When it comes to clutch plays, Schwarber comes through.

In his first full season, Schwarber hit .211 with 30 Home Runs, 59 RBI and .782 OPS. The power hitter also struck out 150 times. Adversity followed for the Cubs World Series hero as he was demoted to Triple-A Iowa.

For the first half of the season, Schwarber hit only .178 with 13 Home Runs, 29 RBI, 78 Strikeouts and .694 OPS. However, after the demotion, the pure hitter in Schwarber awakened. He went on to hit .253 with 17 Home Runs, 30 RBI and .894 OPS.

Even though Schwarber has the potential to play multiple positions and is a guaranteed potential 30-35+ Home Runs in your lineup, the general consensus is he is more valuable as a designated hitter.

American League teams know that too, so the Cubs could be enticed to trade the young slugger for a cost-controlled young pitcher or another young piece with star potential. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays can interest the Cubs by offering Chris Archer in a deal packaged around or including Schwarber.

Schwarber’s situation is an interesting one to watch during the offseason. Expect the trade rumors and uncertainty around the Cubs slugger to continue.

  • Two spots open in the rotation?

Jake Arrieta

When the Cubs enter the off-season, two of their starting pitchers will be on the market. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be unrestricted free agents.

Arrieta, a former NL Cy Young Award winner and All-Star, led the MLB in Wins in 2015. He also has pitched two no-hitters for the Cubs.

Arrieta is also noted for his “big game” ability with the Cubs. “Jake the Snake” notched two of the Cubs wins in the 2016 World Series.

In five seasons with the Cubs, Arrieta is 68-31 (a .687 Win %). He has an ERA of 2.73 over 128 starts with Chicago. Arrieta has thrown 6 complete games and 5 shutouts (including 2 no-hitters), in 803.0 Innings. He also has 793 Strikeouts to his credit along with a 1.03 WHIP.

When Arrieta is on, he is damn-near unhittable. This was showcased over the course of the 2015 season, where Arrieta’s performance was frequently compared to legend Bob Gibson.

Arrieta has been everything the Cubs envisioned when they traded for him and Pedro Strop in 2013. However, with all of his accomplishments and age (31) considered, will Arrieta price himself out of the Cubs range?

Reportedly, Arrieta is seeking a new deal in the $200+ million range. Arrieta’s body of work is certainly worth the price tag.  However; the Cubs, with several assets to trade for a replacement or simply just sign a replacement at a cheaper rate, might not want to throw that much coin at Arrieta who is on the wrong side of 30.

Lackey is a different story. After signing in a two-year deal with the Cubs, Lackey came here and got his jewelry. The soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher is likely not in the Cubs plans for next season, especially considering in-house candidates like Mike Montgomery are more than capable of filling his role as the 5th starter.

Overall Grade: A

Even though there were some early struggles for the Cubs, they still managed to win 92 games and win the NL Central Division for the second consecutive season.

The Cubs last three seasons are any teams’, organizations’ and fan’s dream. 292 wins over the last three seasons. Three consecutive postseason berths, two Division titles and a Wild Card win. An NL Pennant and World Series Championship are also a part of the trophy case.

Simply put, the Cubs are in a great position not only for now, but also for the future. Most of the Cubs veterans are still young and are only going to get better. There is also that rumor that another one of the best players in baseball can join Bryant, Rizzo and the Cubs in the not so distant future.

Right now, it is the ‘in’ thing to be a Cubs fan and the team, organization and fan base deserves it all.

Follow Me on Twitter: @lAmStevenJohnson

Published by

Steven Johnson

Creator of http://IAmStevenJohnson.com . Host of "The All Day SJ Show." @Cubs, @ChicagoBulls & @ChicagoBears fan. Let the Good Times Roll. #StayMe7o.

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