After a 109 year championship drought, the Chicago Cubs finally were able to break the curse this past fall to top off a brilliant regular season. With their young talented core headlined by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and their great starting pitching including Jake Arrieta, John Lester, and Kyle Hendricks, many people expected to see the same team as the one who went 103-58 in 2016, and were far and away the best team in baseball.
However, the 2017 Chicago Cubs not only have not lived up to the expectations that were set following an all around brilliant year, but they have far and away been the most disappointing team in baseball to this point, and here’s why:
Last year heading into the MLB All Star Break the Cubs were 53-35, (18 games above .500). This year, with three games to go before the All Star Break, they are posting a mediocre 42-43 record (a .494 win percentage) and are currently 4.5 games out of first place in the Central Division. The Cubs are lucky to only be trailing the Brewers by 4.5 games and because of the overall mediocrity of the Central Division they are sitting in second place presumably with their best baseball still ahead of them.
Thus far whenever the question “what’s wrong with the Cubs?” comes up, the same answer is given every time: “Give it time this team has way to much talent to be this mediocre! They are sure to turn it around.”
However, that probably isn’t the case and many Cubs fans should realize that the problems that have plagued this team might lead to more than a bad couple of months down the road.
1. What has happened to the once dominant Jake Arrieta?
So far into his 2017 season Jake Arrieta, the thought to be ace of the Cubs staff, has been downright bad. Only two years removed from winning the National League Cy Young Award back in 2015, Arrieta is currently posting a 4.33 ERA through 17 starts along with a 8-6 record and a 1.296 WHIP. Far and away the most concerning statistic decline is his velocity which has been down 1-2 mph all year from 2015. This may not seem like a lot but 93 mph looks a lot faster to big league hitters than 91-90 mph. The amount of Home Runs he’s allowed is also up. After giving up only 16 all last season he has already served up 13 long balls this season before the All Star Break.
There really is only one clear answer for the rapid decline of Jake Arrieta and that’s fatigue. Each of the last two seasons Arrieta has carried the rotation of the Cubs eating through close to 500 innings each year. As a result of being a workhorse the past few seasons, Arrieta’s arm has become fatigue and the only way to fix it is to give him some extended time off by placing him on the 15 day DL with some phantom injury. However, with the Cubs being one game under .500 they can’t afford to lose Arrieta for any period of time, especially with the rest of the rotation struggling as well. This leaves Madden with a tough decision: risk losing any chance of Arrieta regaining form or risk falling out of the playoff race entirely.
2. The John Lackey obsession
A common theme of the Cubs struggles is their starting rotation and for good reason they have been extremely underwhelming. In particular John Lackey has been brutal. The 38 year old pitcher is posting a whopping 5.20 ERA and has already giving up 24 Home Runs leading him to a kind 5-9 record.
The fact that Lackey is still making his turn every five days is shocking. He has been a detriment to the team just about every time he takes the mound. The Lackey defenders point out his postseason success and his voice in the locker room however, a pitcher who is set to turn 39 before the end of the year isn’t going to wake up one morning and regain his dominance. Rather, he will continue this steep decline. Theo needs to set his relationship with Lackey (which dates back to the Red Sox) aside and address the problem by hoping to convince some team to give Lackey a shot and try and cash in on him before its to late, even though it already might be.
3. The Championship Hangover is Real
The one thing that everyone seems reluctant to point to as a reason for the struggles of the Cubs is the possibility of a championship hangover. This Cubs team is a perfect example of how a title can change the mentality of a locker room despite the team mostly being the same. Last year the Cubs were a team on a mission, dominating the regular season and eventually breaking the curse. This team doesn’t have that same feeling. They seem content and lack the desire to grind out and win the close games.
That willingness to leave everything on the field every single game is what lead the Cubs to their title. A team with the likes of John Lester and Lackey, both established veteran pitchers who have multiple rings as leaders, shouldn’t fall victim to this, or at least you’d think. But for some reason they have and if the veterans can’t get a hold of this team and start performing to their capabilities soon, it might be too late
The Cubs could very easily turn things around and shape into a true contender. They certainly have the talent. The trade deadline will be a great way for everyone to see what Theo thinks of this team because he could very easily sell off some veteran parts which would’ve sounded crazy at the beginning of the year.