A powerful regular season is perhaps all the Chicago Cubs will have to reflect on once 2016 concludes.Steve Bartman, “The Curse Of The Billy Goat,” the lovable losers. All of these phrases reside in the minds of Chicago Cubs fans far too often. Fans so loyal and devoted that they have stuck with a team that has not reached baseball’s peak since 1908, and has not neared that peak since 1945.
The pain, the anguish, the frustration. Symptoms their fans have been attempting to shake off but just cannot seem to escape.
2016 can provide that answer, the elimination of nightmares, and the ultimate triumph of the baseball world. The correct mix of young, exciting talent and seasoned, experienced veterans combined with a manager who has maximized his roster everywhere he has been tasked with doing so.
The pieces are in place, and the Chicago Cubs have thrived. Theo Epstein can be transformed from an underappreciated genius to a front office Hall of Fame icon. Fans can remove the losing mystique from one of major league baseball’s most magnificent venues that is Wrigley Field.
Possessing the best record in the game (76-43), Joe Maddon’s squad projects a 103-win output which would blow away National League competition.
Sure, they would enter as favorites. Yes, they would be the “glamorous” and “desired” pick to win it all.
However, there are major obstacles to be overcome, adversity to be faced, and meaningful games to be squandered. The Cubs simply picked the wrong year to be a regular season powerhouse, one that will not stack up when push comes to shove.
A prestigious National League littered with teams capable of lifting a pennant can serve as Chicago’s worst enemy.
Steamrolling through the playoffs are a pipe dream. Managing to squeak by is an immense challenge.
When you have the Nationals throwing Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer sequentially, you are essentially buried in Games 1, 2, and potentially 4 and 5 in a division series. Let alone a championship series, in which four games would be a constant uphill climb.
The Cubs do, in fact, have a formidable staff of their own. However, they do not stand a chance when put up against the aforementioned commodities. Jake Arrieta will have to return to his video-game-like nature of 2015 to merely get a few victories on the board.
The 2015 staff that was utterly exposed in an embarrassing four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets is essentially the same returning group, with one additional yet questionable piece.
Furthermore, speaking of a regular season powerhouse, Chicago defines a first or second round exit. The unleashing aspect of the offense and the reliance on the long ball do not play well against teams accustomed to manufacturing runs, surmounting unthinkable deficits, and finding crafty ways to dethrone the best of the best.
Any other year, the Cubs could likely ride a regular season formula into the postseason. Not this year, certainly if a switch in mentality is not performed.
The Nationals are simply too sound, the Giants are far too experienced, and the likes of the Dodgers, Pirates, Cardinals, and Mets are too pesky to be overlooked.
Perhaps it will be another year of painstaking paranoia, searching for another scapegoat to unwillingly take the blame. Another year of cautious optimism and eventual burial will persist.
After all, flawed pitching and a power-happy lineup may get a club through a confusing American League. With a fortified National League, no team will slip through the cracks.
It will be the team on a surge but, most importantly, the team most capable from top to bottom.
Unfortunately, there are teams that are further along, more fundamentally capable, and more October-driven than the Cubs.
Make it 109 years, nearly 11 decades too long.