Let the post-mortem commence.
While there has been talk about the Cubs being “ahead of schedule” and that “they weren’t even supposed to be here yet!” The problem is, they WERE here, and this just hurts.
The Chicago Cubs were stymied in the NLCS by the New York Mets, and it wasn’t pretty. The Mets consistently attacked from the first pitch and never trailed even once in any of the games. The vaunted duo of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were no match for the solid four of the Mets (Harvey, Syndergaard, DeGrom, and Matz). For every Kyle Schwarber moon shot home run, David Murphy came back with one of his own. For most of the 2015 season, the Cubs were one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. For about a week in mid-October, the New York Mets were. It is that simple. The Cubs were outhit. Out-pitched. Out-fielded. Just outplayed.
Lest Cubs’ fans get too despondent, this was not a “one and done” for their favorite team. This is a young and hungry team. This is a team built for the long haul.
This lineup is young and dumb. The core of this team (Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant) are young and under team control for a few years. Add to them Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber and you see a lineup which will be quite scary for a while. On the mound, Jake Arrieta had the best season of his career, and is still, at the age of 30 (by Opening Day 2016) looking at quite a few productive years. Kyle Hendricks quietly had a solid season, and can only get better (age 26 in December). The bullpen has young power arms such as Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Justin Grimm. The majority of contributing players on this roster will remain, and grow, together for at least another 3-4 years.
The New York Mets exposed a lot of the flaws on this Cubs team. For one, they are a free-swinging bunch. All post-season, the Cubs relied a bit too much on the long ball. While long home runs are pretty, it is also nice if a team can manufacture runs.
Second, especially with Addison Russell out nursing a hamstring injury, the defense is just not very good. This was particularly evident in the outfield, as Scharwber and Soler continually misplayed balls into doubles and triples. There is also a problem behind the plate, as Miguel Montero did contribute with his vaunted pitch framing, he was, at times, awful at throwing out base stealers and looked like a deer in the headlights against the Mets, particularly in Game 3.
Third, their youth may have worked against them. Some of these kids really seemed to be pressing under the pressure of the NLCS. Rizzo and Bryant, in particular, were practically non-existent. Bryant salvaged a bit of respect with his late home run in Game 4 to end up at .214 in the series.
There just was nothing for the Cubs after the first two spots in the pitching rotation. Jon Lester had a pedestrian win-loss record, but was otherwise quite effective. He had the misfortune of poor run support all season. Behind him (although ahead, as the second half moved on), Arrieta was phenomenal. He gave up few base runners and even fewer runs while producing a masterful 22-6 record with 1.77 ERA. This most likely will garner him the National League Cy Young Award next month, small solace for a disappointing playoff run. After that, it was quite murky. Jason Hammel was quite good early on, but suffered a hamstring injury just before the All Star break and was just never the same thereafter. He didn’t even make it out of the second inning in Game 4 against the Mets (and it was a surprise to this writer that he even started that second inning). Hendricks was OK. Not good. Not bad. Just OK. As for the fifth spot in the rotation, that was mostly just a spot to hope to get through with the promise that Lester and Arrieta were up next.
It has long been posited that baseball games are won “up the middle”. While center field (Dexter Fowler) and the infield (Russell, Baez, and Castro) were good, behind the plate (Montero and David Ross) they were, well, not. Montero was moderately productive offensively (.248, 15 HR, 53 rbi), he struggled defensively (career low 20% CS percentage and 12 errors). His shortcomings were even more evident in the series against the Mets, as he mustered only a single and 4 strikeouts in 8 at bats. His backup David Ross (.176, 1 HR, 9 rbi) was better at throwing out runners (26%), but was pretty much a non-factor as Lester’s personal caddy. Ross has value to a team as a defensive backup and veteran leader, but his days as a productive Major League player are well behind him.
The Autopsy Results
Cause of death for the 2015 Chicago Cubs: exhaustion. This group expended a lot of energy to just make it to the post season in a year in which pundits expected them to be better, but not necessarily that good. They were able to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card Game because they had a pitcher who still had a bit left in the tank (Arrieta) and an offense up to the task. The Cardinals went down, I believe, because of the adrenaline rush. What Cub or Cubs’ fan didn’t revel in the excitement of taking down their chief rivals in the first-ever post-season meeting between the two? The Cardinals and their bows and arrows came up against the Cubs and their nuclear arsenal. They never had a chance. This Cardinals team could have come in to the Series with a 162-0 regular season mark and would have lost. Every last bit of energy this team had was used to defeat the Cardinals. And that is was did them in against the Mets. There was just nothing left to give.
On second glance, they are only mostly dead. The 2015 NLCS was one hell of a learning experience for these guys. While there has been a lot of “well, they weren’t even supposed to be here…” talk, there is a problem with that. Yes, they were not expected to do this well in 2015, but they DID do that well. Losing in the NLCS is no small consolation. This is a team which will be back and ready in 2016 and beyond.