The Chicago Cubs have so far certainly lived up to the lofty expectations most baseball pundits had predicted before a single pitch had even be thrown. The traditionally lovable losers have more wins, scored more runs, and allowed fewer than any other team in the Major Leagues.
This past weekend the Cubs even swept the second best team in the National League, the Washington Nationals, in a four game series at Wrigley Field. Obviously the fans from the North side of the Windy City were ecstatic after soundly defeating a likely playoff foe, but that series did indicate a few concerns about the team that is on pace to set a record for most wins in a season.
In the finale, which required thirteen innings before a Javier sweep home chicago Baez home run ended it, Chicago ace Jake Arrieta suffered through his worst outing of the year. The performance from last year’s Cy Young Award winner served as a painful reminder of how Arrieta pitched in the 2015 N.L.C.S. against the Mets.
The New York lineup, which ranked in the bottom half in offensive production, obliterated Arrieta on their way to a sweep to capture the pennant. Arrieta, who is usually the epitome of confidence and aplomb, looked as shaken Sunday against the Nationals as he did against New York back in October.
Part of Arrieta’s problem was that he showed an incomprehensible fear of Washington outfielder Bryce Harper. Granted, Harper was selected as the N.L.’s Most Valuable Player last year, but Arrieta should have challenged him at least once.
Instead, Arrieta walked him twice and hit him with a pitch, thereby deferring the long anticipated battle between last year’s M.V.P. versus last year’s Cy Young Award winner. Even after Arrieta left the game, the Cubs still shied away from Harper. He ended up tying a record by getting six bases on balls, in addition to the hit by pitch.
Backing down to Harper may have paid off for the Cubs and manager Joe Madden on Sunday, but it exposed a weakness in the N.L.’s front runners. They can not win a World Series if their strategy against tough hitters is to simply give them a pass.
There are other reasons the Cubs are not likely to end their drought of World Series championships, a dubious streak that has surpassed a hundred years. Here are five concerns that may keep Chicago from winning it all this year, and not one of them has anything to do with a goat or a guy named Bartman.
First of all, the team with the best overall record seldom wins the World Series. Just last year the Cardinals were the only team to win a hundred games, yet St. Louis was eliminated by the third place Cubs in the opening round of the playoffs. The 98-win Los Angeles Angels in 2014 failed to win the pennant that year, when the 88 win Giants took the World Series. Even the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won a whopping 116 games, failed to reach the World Series.
Another sign that Chicago will not win it all can be found on the backs of their baseball cards. The stats printed thereon do not lie, as players inevitably end up with similar numbers every year. For the Cubs, that means they will get a. 260 batting average from leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, not his current.340 pace. Infielder Javier Baez, presently hitting.306, is a. 216 lifetime batter. Tommy Lastella, Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero are also hitting much higher than their career averages, so most of them will likely see a sharp decline at some point this season.
Chicago had too much hype before the season, attention which has traditionally doomed a favored club. The Washington Nationals experienced that plight last year, failing to reach the playoffs after preseason projections as likely World Series champions.
Signing the big name free agents, which Chicago did on the winter, is usually a kiss of death for a club. The Cubs inked both John Lackey and Jason Hayward, the two biggest names on the market. Coming into 2015, the Red Sox signed the two biggest free agents, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, to huge contracts. Boston then failed to reach the playoffs, finishing in last place in the American League East.
Finally, teams that win the World Series usually have a majority of home grown players in their lineup. The Kansas City Royals are a perfect example of this, the 2015 champions having developed six of its nine starters in its own system. The Cubs, on the other hand, can claim only third baseman Kris Bryant as a home grown player among its starting lineup.