The Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball.
They have not won a world championship since 1908, but there is a pretty good chance that Joe Maddon’s 2016 Cubbies rewrite that script this fall.
They’re living right in the North Side of Chicago, as the Cubs own the best record in all of baseball at 94-55. Kyle Hendricks, their newfound ace, is likely the next National League Cy Young Award winner. And then Kris Bryant, too, who has a pretty good shot to be voted the NL’s Most Valuable Player.
Is this a dream?
The Cubs were baseball’s lovable losers thanks to five consecutive seasons in which they finished last in their NL Central division (2009-’14). A winning season, and reliable management, was hard to come by.
But now, the tables have turned. How?
A staff made up of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester already seems like an automatic lock for postseason play in October. The two of them combined this season are good for a 34-11 record and a sparkling 2.68 ERA.
Throw Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel, and John Lackey into the mix and voila; the game’s best starting staff.
The Cubs lead all of baseball in ERA (3.12), quality starts (93), opponent batting average (.210) and wins (72).
The success of the Cubs goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of Hendricks. The 26-year old has quietly enjoyed the best season of his three-year career. A string of dominant starts in the second half has allowed him to emerge as a contender in the Cy Young race.
Over his last four starts, Hendricks has only given up four runs in 27.0 innings logged. The last time he surrendered more than three runs came in his May 17 start against the Milwaukee Brewers. Opponents have tagged Hendricks with more than three runs this season only twice this season (Cardinals 4/20, Brewers 5/17).
They also boast Aroldis Chapman, and his 105.1 mph fastball, in the closer’s role. Chapman was acquired in a trade with the Yankees that shipped Starlin Castro to New York.
In 23 games this season as a Cub, Chapman has surrendered just three earned runs in 20.1 innings. He has converted all 14 save opportunities with Chicago.
The Cubs’ pitchers torture opposing hitters, while Cubs’ hitters torture opposing pitchers.
Maddon has the luxury of working with a lineup that features superstars like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, along with above-average players like Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.
‘Bryzzo’ combine for 68 home runs, 197 RBI, and a wicked slash line of .292/.388/.556.
Another reason why the Cubs have enjoyed the best season since, well, last year, is the productivity from their everyday shortstop. Before the All-Star game, Addison Russell hit .237 with 11 long balls and 51 runs driven in over 83 games. In the 57 games Russell has played in after the break, his average boosted to .264 and he mashed eight homers, including seven in the month of August.
Russell becomes the first Cubs shortstop to hit more than 20 HR in a season since Alex Gonzalez did it in 2003.
Russell joins the plethora of young studs the Cubs have, including Bryant, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. Contreras and Baez have provided a spark to an already potent lineup with a total of 22 homers and 80 RBI.
Where would the Cubs be without players like Russell, Contreras, and Baez? Certainly not in the position they are currently in, especially since they’ve been without slugger Kyle Schwarber for the entire year. Schwarber tore his ACL in the first week of the season when he collided in the outfield with Dexter Fowler.
Schwarber blasted 16 home runs and drove in 43 as a rookie last season over the span of 63 games. He was a key member of last year’s run to the National League Championship Series.
It feels silly.
The last time the Cubs had back-to-back postseason appearances came in 2007 and 2008. After that, though, they were brutal. They were the laughingstock of baseball and the guaranteed owners of the last place spot in the NL Central.
The club used that to their advantage. It’s reloaded with draft picks, star-studded management and, in turn, lured the game’s best available free agents over the last two winters.