Mazurek: Cubs must win this year
Marek Mazurek | Monday, September 19, 2016
I would now like to call in my one free gloat as a Cubs fan.
So here goes: Cubs baby! All the way! Never a doubt — I told you so!
Ah, that felt good. I’m glad I got that out of my system. So now what?
As you may have heard, the Cubs clinched the National League’s Central division Thursday night, becoming the first team in the majors to do so. Clinching home field advantage will happen in another week. So now, while the rest of the league fights for a playoff spot, the Cubs get to take a step back, rest up and get ready to attack the playoffs.
If you’ve been around any Cubs fans this season, you know how … intense we can be. After all, to be a Cubs fan, it takes something special. We’ve been strong in our support all year, and if that puts you off, I’m not sorry.
In all seriousness, however, it hasn’t been hard to be a Cubs fan this year. Aside from a brief losing streak before the All-Star break, we’ve been on top of the league virtually all season. There haven’t been many moments of doubt, and the Cubs seem to be just killing time until the real test starts. But the real test is about to start, and the pressure is about to be ratcheted up for the team and fans alike.
So listen when I say this: If the Cubs want to win the World Series, they need to do it this year. For all his genius every offseason, Theo Epstein has only given the Cubs one season in which they will be able to seriously compete for the championship. That may sound harsh, but it’s true.
First, consider the Cubs’ rotation. The Cubs currently have three Cy Young-caliber pitches in Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. This trio has proved deadly this season, but next year, the Cubs may be out of luck. Arrieta is only under contract for this season, only signing a one-year, $10.7 million contract after much feet-dragging. Arrieta wanted a long-term deal, but the Cubs simply weren’t able to pay him long-term money. Luckily, Arrieta agreed to a bandage, short-term deal, but next year may be different, and there are plenty of other teams who would overpay to sign the ace. An Arrieta-less Cubs is a real possibility.
And then there’s Hendricks. Hendricks has been playing out of his mind this season, with a 2.03 ERA and 15 wins. If Hendricks continues this level of play for years to come, the Cubs will be in good shape, but there is little to suggest he will. 2016 is only Hendricks’ third major league season, and in his past two seasons, he hasn’t blown the baseball world away. In 2014, he only started 13 games, and last year as a full-time starter, he posted an ERA of almost four. The Cubs need to win this year to capitalize on Hendricks’ breakthrough, because it’s unlikely he will duplicate it.
Beyond pitching, the Cubs have been lucky to avoid the injury bug. A key to a championship team is staying healthy, and 2016 has been good to the Cubs in that regard. The North Siders lost slugger Kyle Schwarber for the season early on, but other than that, center fielder Dexter Fowler’s month-long absence to a hamstring issues is the only real injury the Cubs have had to deal with. Just look at another contender, the Cleveland Indians. In the last two days, Cleveland has lost catcher Yan Gomes and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco. The law of averages being what it is, it is unlikely the Cubs make it through 2017 as healthy as 2016.
Yes, the Cubs offense will be good for the foreseeable future, led by young guns Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, but if Arrieta bolts, Hendricks has a step back and the injury bug hits, the Cubs will be brought down to Earth. And fast. So if you bleed Cubbie blue, you should hang onto this postseason run with all you can. Take in every moment, because it may be the Cubs’ only chance.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.