The last three weeks were a collapse reminiscent of 2004. On September the 6th the Cubs had a 92% chance of going to the playoffs for the first time in three years according to Fan Graphs. They would go 6-14 over the following 20 games with a Run Differential of -5. The Cubs were 30-41 this season in games when they scored two or fewer runs. This was a result of the outrageous offensive swings that were being caused by David Ross’ bad line up construction. The collapse was not helped by the beleaguered bullpen which saw Adbert Alzolay miss most of September with a forearm injury and many other relievers also spent time on the Injured list or were designated for assignment the last six weeks for similar reasons.
However, there was still some unexpected improvement we saw this year. For me the improvement was reminiscent of 2015. When this seasons started many reporters and analysts were expecting the Cubs to win 72 to 78 games. They finished the season 84-78, winning nine more games than 2022. So, let’s take a look at the improvement I am talking about.
It’s hard not to start with Justin Steele. He started a total of 30 games for the first time in his short career. That’s six more games than last year. Granted last year he did not play all of September. He looked like the second coming of Jake Arrieta this season especially on his good days. He finished the season 16-4 and yes he struggled his last few outings but let’s be realistic it was only his second season pitching every time out as a starter and 60% of the opening day starting rotation was in the bullpen the last month of the season because of the aforementioned beleaguered bullpen. Don’t forget that his stats had him in the running for the Cy Young award until his struggles over his last three starts. So, credit is due to him for stepping up and carrying the pitching staff as best he could until the collapse was completed following the Seiya Suzuki error and blown save by the beleaguered bullpen in Atlanta last week.
Next, let’s look at the improvements made by Nick Madrigal who the Cubs brought to Wrigley at the 2021 trade deadline from, their cross town foes, the White Sox. He had been coming off an injury last season and did not play all that well. It looked like the trade would be a bust. However, this year he showed many improvements on defense at second in the little bit of time he got there while Nico Hoerner and/or Dansby Swanson were getting time off for various reasons and he was not injured or down in Iowa. He also showed improvements with the bat but has more work to do there to get back to his rookie season statistics.
Finally, Nico. He played in all but twelve games with a .283 batting average and a .346 on base percentage. He was not expected to be a power hitter so that is why I am not discussing his on base plus slugging percentage. He was moved to second after the Swanson signing last winter and there was some concern by analysts that he would struggle with the bat while getting acclimated on defense having to start at second base more often. He was able to get his on base percentage to be his second highest since being called up from Iowa in 2019. Good for him! Hopefully, he can continue to keep it between that has his highest .382 or higher.
With that… the offseason is here Cubs fans.
If you cannot play with them, root for them!