So, the Cubs are on the golf course and the 2019 postseason has been cancelled, which is just as well because I don’t think I could stand the collective mediagasm every time Yadi Molina actually, you know, does his job to a replacement level. Time to start looking to the future, then: what can we expect from the 2020 Cubs?
Well, first up is, of course, a new manager. As I write, noted hard-arse Joe Girardi is being interviewed. I understand why, of course – he’s a local boy, he’s a Cub, he’s a hard-arse and the perception of the Cubs last year was that many of them were coasting. Who better to whip those lazy bastards into shape than somebody with a proper haircut and a nice clean shave, right? I have to admit, there’s part of me that gets this, part of me that wants to see the lily-livered, faint-hearted, bullshit-tolerating 2019 Cubs disciplined into excellence by a man’s man who doesn’t want to hear any of their excuses, thank you very much. Rub some dirt on it, Javy, and get out there and play through it like Rizzo* (does anybody know if Ron Stilanovich is available, by the way?)
But (and it’s a big but), that’s not how the 2015 and 2016 Cubs got to be good. Now, I don’t know if you remember 2015 and 2016 but the Cubs had a couple of decent years there, and it wasn’t because somebody was standing behind them with a big stick, it was because they were having fun and playing loose, smart baseball. Jesus, those teams were great to watch, weren’t they? I mean, sure, they won a shitload of games which is always entertaining, but it wasn’t just about that. They were quite often enjoyable even when they lost. The first half of the 2015 season wasn’t great, results-wise. At the end of June they lost five in a row including getting swept in St. L*uis, and were at just five games over .500 – the same mark as a full month later when Cole Hamels no-hit them. But I was at Wrigley for a couple of games in early August that year, first seeing Hendricks beat the Giants and then Miggy’s walk-off against the Brewers** a couple of days later and Wrigley was absolutely ROCKING in a way that I didn’t see at any point in 2019. The Cubs were having fun; the fans were having fun; the city was having fun. The only person who wasn’t having fun was Matt Cain, who lost twice to the Cubs during that run as the Giants inevitably coughed up their hopes of the Wild Card. You hate to see it.
So, somehow, the Cubs need to get back to playing baseball like I play golf: with their balls hanging out***. Look, I’m not a complete meatball. I know that the reason the Cubs struggled this year was that the Ricketts’ decided that Daniel Descalso was as far as the budget stretched; that Jon Lester really is past his best now and this was always, right from the start, going to be an issue for the 2019 and 2020 Cubs and it was nonetheless a price worth paying; that whatever the hell that collection of gimps and misfits that headed East from Mesa was, it wasn’t a functioning major league bullpen; and that despite pretty much every first-choice position player (and even some of the bench) having really pretty good years stats-wise, the Cubs as a team were “flat-track bullies” who beat up on the Pirates and rolled over to have their tummies tickled by pretty much everybody else.
But the 2015 Cubs had 150 games each of Starlin Castro and Addison Russell, 100 games of Chris Denorfia (hands up, who remembers what Denorfia even looks like?), and a bullpen which included James Russell, Zac Rosscup and Tommy Hunter, fer chrissakes. No Javy. No Willy. No Schwarber. No Yu.
The 2019 Cubs could and should have been better than the 2015 team – in fact, for the last four months, Darvish has been trying to take care of that all by himself. They need a couple of extra pieces, but not a complete overhaul. Who would you change? Contreras, Rizzo, Baez, Bryant, Schwarber, Heyward, Happ, Bote, Caratini, Hendricks, Darvish, Lester, Chatwood, Ryan, Wick, Norwood and Phelps can all stay exactly where they are. Darvish might exercise his option, I suppose, but all signs point to no. I quite fancy Alec Mills for the rotation – the kid’s got really nice stuff – and if you can move Q for prospects in July next year, maybe you do that. You re-sign Castellanos – he clearly wants to stay and although he’s not going to perform like he did down the stretch, you’re not going to have to pay him as though he did, either. You give Hoerner a good long run at 2B. Alzolay, Underwood and Maples should make two decent ML relievers between them, even if one of them can’t make the rotation. You bid a fond farewell to Pedro and you hope that with a Spring Training behind him, Kimbrel turns out not to be broken after all.
And you need, as previously discussed, a new manager.
No doubt Girardi would get more out of the Cubs in 2020 than Maddon did this year, but then, pretty much anybody except Clint Hurdle would do that, simply by dint of being new. I have a feeling that Girardi’s schtick would get old fast, though, and that heading into 2022 we’d all be wishing he’d never been hired. His last five years at the Yankees were absolutely nothing to write home about, let’s face it – an average of 86 wins and one ALCS appearance. Woof. Is he the guy? Who knows? Probably not. I think you just need a guy who’ll stop the Cubs stepping on their own dicks and help them to relax and get back to enjoying themselves and playing the baseball we all know they’re capable of. Ross? Loretta? Sure, I guess, why not? Venable? Okay, no. Even his Mum doesn’t think he’ll get the job.
I hear Joe Maddon’s available, though. Sounds like just the guy for the job.
* The 2019 Cubs were also stupid. The sight of Tony Ballgame hobbling around doing himself and the team more harm than good when there was precious little left to gain was FUCKING EMBARRASSING. Just put Vic the Stick in there for ten games and let him play.
** I picked up four seats right at the front of aisle 116 for $60 for this game. Not $60 each, $60 all in. I remain convinced that somebody made a typo.
*** Fail to drive past the ladies’ tee? Giblets out for the rest of the hole, sunshine.