“Summer came and passed away. Hardly seemed to last a day, but it’s over and what can I do?” – ELO, It’s Over
It’s tough for me to say that 2023 was a successful year because the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention in Game 161. Chicago’s North Side baseballers won 83 games, finishing nine behind the Brewers in the NL Central. Justin Steele also developed into the ace we’d all hoped he could be, and the Cubs have a bona fide closer in Adbert Alzolay. All positives, yes?
Chicago’s season should be divided into three segments because each iteration differs from the others. The Cubs were 24-30 through 54 games, relying on and hoping for comeback seasons by the likes of Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini. The team showed flashes of its potential but didn’t generate much excitement until Christopher Morel was promoted. The Cubs waited 35 games to promote Morel, then he hit home runs in nine of his first 12 starts.
Morel’s spark helped the Cubs go 31-23 over the next third of the season, erasing an ugly trend of losing too many one-run games. Chicago could drop a dozen runs on an opponent any given day, and then lose a 2-1 affair because they struggled to hit with runners in scoring position. Steele established himself as an ace after returning from an injury, and Marcus Stroman was dealing. Kyle Hendricks made his second start of the year in the team’s 54th game and was a pleasant surprise for the rest of the season.
Speaking of Stroman, his injury spelled the beginning of the end for Chicago. It wasn’t his initial hip issue, but a subsequent rib injury that seemed to take the sails out of the season. The Cubs were okay at first but finished the final third of the season with a 28-26 record in large part due to a gassed rotation and a bullpen running on fumes. Their position players looked overworked, too, particularly Dansby Swanson, and the Cubs limped to a 7-15 finish that knocked them out of playoff contention.
Here's a stat that has haunted the Cubs in big moments lately and even going back a lot of the year. As designated by MLB stats, in games deemed late/close Cody Bellinger is hitting .209 and Dansby Swanson just .170. Popped up again in this series.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) September 29, 2023
That’s a very high-level look at the season, but we covered the nuances and subtleties here at Cubs Insider all year long. In order to make good on their promising future, the Cubs will need some veteran reinforcements to complement the upcoming youth movement. Stroman reportedly intends to stick around, which cost the Cubs Hendricks. Cody Bellinger might find more money elsewhere, so the Cubs will need to find a couple of corner infielders.
Jed Hoyer also needs to rebuild his bullpen. It seems to me that his reclamation projects tend to struggle the following year, which doesn’t bode well for Michael Fulmer and Julian Merryweather. Mark Leiter Jr. is an outlier, but he also struggled in September. You can go back to Steve Cishek to see the repetition of that cycle.
Even though 2023 was exciting, it was nothing more than another “wait ’til next year” season in the end. At least Hoyer and David Ross have a foundation to build on this winter.
Cubs News & Notes
- Chicago’s September swoon was a teamwide effort.
- Tom Ricketts hinted that Hendricks might return and stated that Ross is “our guy.”
- Hoyer is backing Ross, too, so don’t expect any changes this year.
- Ricketts said 2023 is not a failure, but that a successful season is predicated on reaching the playoffs.
- Jameson Taillon said he’s proud of his teammates and thankful for the fans.
- Bellinger’s possible return will probably be the hottest topic of the winter. I’d say the odds are 80/20 he won’t be back.
- David Kaplan said during his ReKap of Friday’s loss that he believes the Cubs are not interested in bringing Bellinger back. “I keep hearing and I heard from someone tonight, they’re probably not going to get Bellinger re-signed,” Kaplan said. “The person I talked to tonight said, ‘We’ve already got a center fielder: Pete Crow-Armstrong.’ He still hasn’t gotten his first career hit, but I like him. He’s a good prospect. I said, ‘Who’s your first baseman?’ ‘It’s a first baseman, it doesn’t matter.”
- Some fruits of Chicago’s rebuild are starting to arrive in the forms of Crow-Armstrong and Alexander Canario, but Chicago’s prospect bounty doesn’t project to match up with the Reds’ or perhaps even the Pirates’ within the division, raising the specter of a team that missed its best shot.
- Cade Horton was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year, and Moises Ballesteros is the recipient of the Minor League Player of the Year award.
Odds & Sods
In other words, beating the snot out of the Pirates and A’s did nothing to boost the Cubs’ playoff chances. The Marlins have always been evil by the way.
Once that 1-0 game is officially on the books for the Mets, and the Marlins add one more run allowed here, the Marlins will have given up exactly the same number of runs as the Cubs.
819 runs scored minus 666 is… 153 runs. That's 153 runs scored that simply didn't count. pic.twitter.com/QhVVIH7oDQ
— Tangotiger 🍁 (@tangotiger) October 2, 2023
- Milwaukee (92-70): The Brewers are the choice to win it all by USA Today scribe Bob Nightengale. You may say he just cursed Milwaukee, but a pitching staff that has Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta, plus a deep bullpen, is set up for a deep postseason run.
- Cincinnati (82-80): Joey Votto was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in what might have been his last game with the Reds.
- Pittsburgh (76-86): The Pirates have a lot of good, young players and could sneak up on their division brethren in 2024 the way the Reds did this year.
- St. Louis (71-91): Manager Oliver Marmol is on a mission to avoid a 2024 repeat of this season.
Climbing the Ladder
“Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?” – Bob Dylan, Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts
The Cubs have a 0.5% chance of earning a top-five pick in the 2024 draft lottery. The 17th overall pick is the team’s likeliest outcome.
Chicago finished 21-24 in one-run games and 3-6 in extra innings. That’s the difference between extending the season or going home. The Cubs were 18-9 in August, their best month. They were 10-18 in May and didn’t start winning regularly until Hosmer and Mancini were cut. Mike Tauchman was the team’s unsung hero and Bellinger was its MVP. Seiya Suzuki looks primed for a big 2024 and Nico Hoerner continues to improve every year.
The team’s Pythagorean record was 90-72, the result of a lot of blowout wins and too many close defeats. Their record against NL playoff teams was 15-30, proof that the Cubs are still a few players away from being a serious threat.
The Cubs start their 2024 championship campaign on March 28. Pitchers and catchers report in 134 days.
- Games Played: 162
- Record: 83-79 (.512)
- Total Plate Appearances: 6,220
- Total Strikeouts: 1,391
- Strikeout Rate: 22.36%
- Team Batting Average: .254
- Runs Scored: 819
- Runs Allowed: 723
- Chances of Making the Playoffs: 0.0%, 0.0% to win the World Series
How About That!
MLB announced its television schedule for the Wild Card round.
The Braves are a heavy favorite to win this year’s World Series.
The Giants are also looking for a manager after dismissing Gabe Kapler last week. Terry Francona is retiring, so the Guardians need a manager, and Craig Counsell of the Brewers is also leaning toward retirement.
I don’t believe Babe Ruth called his shot in 1932, but I do like to think he did.
Rare film footage of Babe Ruth's "Called Shot" – World Series Game 3 at Wrigley Field – New York #Yankees vs. Chicago #Cubs (October 1, 1932)
~ So did "The Babe" call it or not? #MLB #Legend #Baseball #History pic.twitter.com/XVSBwZ2vgV
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) October 1, 2023
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- The Bears blew a 28-7 lead and lost 31-28 to the Broncos on Sunday, and fans are very unhappy with Matt Eberflus for some questionable late-game decisions. Eberflus is now 3-18 since becoming head coach. Justin Fields did enjoy the best game of his career, statistically speaking.
- Taylor Swift was at MetLife Stadium last night to watch her beau Travis Kelce play for the Chiefs against the Jets, towing along an A-list entourage that included Sophie Turner, Blake Lively, and Ryan Reynolds. The NFL and its partners are trying to squeeze as much juice as possible out of football’s most famous fan.
- The NFL aired yesterday’s Falcons-Jaguars game using “Toy Story” animation, and though it’s pretty cool, the novelty wears off quickly.
- The Powerball jackpot has risen to more than $1 billion ahead of tonight’s drawing.
- Scientists are releasing an army of crabs to save Florida’s dying coral reef. Not all heroes wear capes.
- It’s October, so it’s time to create our personal Halloween movie playlists. There is no scarier movie than The Exorcist, at least in my opinion, though I can never sleep after watching The Omen. My desert island horror flick is The Shining, and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness always gives me the creeps. The last three weeks of the Cubs’ season certainly qualify for the horror genre.
They Said It
- “There’s no prediction of the future in anything. I really just enjoyed my time with this group of guys, with this coaching staff. Playing for the Cubs organization and Wrigley Field was really special.” – Bellinger
- “We’d love to have [Bellinger] back. We extended Ian [Happ] and we extended Nico [Hoerner] this year. We’ve got six more years of Dansby [Swanson]. We’ve got a good core that we’re definitely holding onto. It would be nice. It’s a Jed decision. It will be up to Jed, Cody, and the free-agent market.” – Ricketts
- “Obviously, in the free-agent market, the dollars that you spend per year is one thing, but you’ve seen contracts go nine, 10, 11 years and you just have to be very careful when that’s the market standard because players typically decline over those years pretty substantially. Other teams pay the price for some of those contracts. I think Jed’s done a very good job of making sure our contracts are rational and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing this offseason.” – Ricketts
Monday Walk-Up Song
I’m excited to see what Hoyer does this winter, but first and foremost he needs to add some firepower to his bullpen. The Cubs had too many one-run losses this season.