The Cubs just lost, which means the Cardinals will be guaranteed home-field advantage through the National League portion of the playoffs. The good news? The Cubs kept their no-hitter destruction streak alive. They didn’t score in every single game (including the season finale), but at least they didn’t become a part of that trivia question.
Baseball Reference hasn’t updated yet (and won’t until tomorrow), but these 2013 Cubs have made some improvements over the 2012 model. I’m not saying that the progress is obvious or that it’s significant, but it is there. The problem is that it’s not enough, and nobody should be deluded enough to think that a five-win improvement over a 101-loss team is ideal. It’s just another baby step in a long line of baby steps to fix a team that was in terrible shape when the new guys took over.
By my count, the 2013 Cubs scored 602 runs (fewer than the 2012 team!) but gave up only 689. In contrast, the 2012 team scored 613 and gave up 759 for a run differential of -146, much worse than this year’s -87. The run differential was actually quite respectable prior to the fire sale, but as we’ve seen this year, there was no sneaking into the playoffs with a near-.500 record, and so the Cubs went for the future rather than a present mediocrity.
I think the Cubs were very close to staying below 4.00 ERA for the year for their entire pitching staff, and that’s factoring in all the horrible Carlos Marmol appearances, the goofball random relievers, the occasional James Russell and Kevin Gregg meltdowns, etc. That’s half a run better than last year. The bullpen is something that the Cubs seem to be looking at to fill internally rather than spending $30MM on a Rafael Soriano-type. The decent year by All-Star Travis Wood (it won’t always look like this based on his peripherals, but he’s not horrible), a tumultuous but solid year from Jeff Samardzija, and hopefully a bounceback next year from Edwin Jackson should help stabilize next year’s rotation. If the Cubs end up bringing Scott Baker back, that might be good too, and we’ll have to see whether they decide to give Jake Arrieta a shot as a fifth starter or if he’ll be bullpen tested.
As for the offense, the Cubs ended up scoring about 3.71 runs per game this season. It’s not good at all, and has a lot to do with the players not being that good to begin with. The Cubs did get some strong platoon work from the third base position and from the outfield prior to the great fire sale, so there are cheap ways to fill those glaring gaps in offense. Dioner Navarro was a surprising offensive force, the only Cub semi-regular to hit over .300 for the season. As for Anthony Rizzo:
Rizzo has 64 x-tra base hits, most by #Cubs LH hitter since Grace had 65 in 1999. Riz tied for 5th among NL batters
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 29, 2013
We have a theory here at WSD that Rizzo is “missing singles,” as Mr. Rubio likes to say. The extra base hits, including the home runs, are really nice to see, but I believe most defenses shift against Rizzo and he’s been having insanely bad luck on ground balls that find their way into the shift. That should theoretically normalize. Starlin Castro had his first absolutely horrible season in his career but showed signs of recovery towards the end of the season, making hard contact and once again getting to double-digit homers for the season.
There are clamors from the fanbase to bring up guys like Jorge Soler and Javier Baez prematurely, but the front office will wait on that. The next step is determining which free agents they want to target (signs point to “not many”) and whether Dale Sveum will return for his final year under contract as Cubs manager (signs point to “who the hell knows”). We definitely want to see the Cubs make the best decisions they can, and develop their very exciting crop of prospects into impact MLB players.
Now that it’s ended, we have to ask ourselves how we feel. My empty feeling isn’t just because I’m not satisfied. Who can be satisfied with a 66-win season, anyway? No, my empty feeling is in knowing that I will have to wait for spring to watch Cubs baseball again. While most fans had switched to the Bears or the Blackhawks’ preseason, I continued to follow each Cubs game to see if I could dissect some small nugget of information or scouting. Baseball is fun. For the Cubs, baseball is now over. In a month, it’ll all be over and we will have to scour the web for streams of winter league ball. It’s always a rough winter without daily baseball, and it’ll take a while before that emptiness can be filled again. The offseason rumors and news will help a bit, but without the crack of the bat, the pop in the glove and the smell of freshly manicured grass, it’s just not the same. I can’t wait for next year and hopefully more significant progress than what we’ve seen in 2013.
And now, as we count down the minutes to the end of the 2013 MLB regular season and brace ourselves for the playoffs (including a potential do-or-die game between the Rangers and Rays), let us thank you, the Cubs fans, for following us all year long. It hasn’t been an easy year for us or for the organization as they had to battle some goofball players, the goofball rooftop owners, a goofball alderman, etc etc, but we got through it. Now we’ll just sit back and enjoy the playoffs, then wait for the offseason to see what news we can dredge up. We’ll be around. Come hang out sometime.