What A Difference A Year Makes


#TheBIGS takes a look at the differences between the 2016 WS Champ Cubs and the 2017 squad that is looking to capture last year’s magic

The Cubs are looking to recapture the magic that got them over their 108 year Championship slump (John L. Alexander/The Bigs VIsuals)

The quest for back-to-back “ships” is here, however, the road to a second one has been a bit more challenging. After 108 years, the Cubs finally got the job done and the Commissioner’s Trophy was back on the North Side. This year they look to be the first team to win two in a row since the 1998-1999 Yankees. Below we take a look at 3 differences in this 2017 squad versus last year’s Championship team.
The Arms
In 2016, 4 of the 5 pitchers in the Cubs starting rotation made 30 starts. (Lester 32, Arrieta 31, Hendricks 30, Hammel 30, Lackey 29) Baseball purists know that the key to a successful season and a chance at a championship relies heavily on starting pitching and the ability for starters to go deep into games. The starting 5 made 152 starts and combined for 79 wins while all of their ERA’s were below 4.00. It kept the bullpen intact for much of the season and Joe Maddon was able to line up Carl Edwards Jr, Justin Grimm, Trevor Cahill, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery accordingly with flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to close games. Ultimately Chapman wasn’t happy with the way he was used, but the overall goal was accomplished and now he’s back in NY looking for a return trip to the World Series with the Yankees.
In 2017, 3 of the 6 pitchers in the rotation made 30 starts. (Lester 32, Arrieta 30, Lackey 30, Hendricks 24, Quintana 14, Montgomery 14) They combined for 60 wins (almost 20 less than last year’s starting crop) and have been a bit shaky for most of the season until they found a late groove in the last 1/4 of the year. Lester and Lackey ended their regular seasons with ERA’s of 4.33 and 4.59 respectively while the 2016 NL Pitcher Of The Year Hendricks ERA jumped almost 1 run from his previous year.
Even though they finished the year as the 2nd best bullpen in the National League, relief pitching has been the talk most of the season. Last year’s World Series Game 7 standouts Montgomery and Edwards Jr have had their share of troubles late in the season. If the Cubs are to defend the title, these 2 will have to find their groove because Joe Maddon will continue to go down that road. Hector Rondon can’t be counted on. Pedro Strop and Bran Duensing are legitimate when throwing strikes and Wade Davis saved all 3 games of the NLDS so we know his value. Last but definitely not least…John Lackey is not feeling coming out of the bullpen one bit and it was written all over his last appearance as Justin Turner hit a walk off HR to give the LA Dodgers a 4-1 win and 2-0 lead over the Cubs in the NLCS.
Health Is Wealth
Kyle Schwarber was the only Cub who saw serious time on the disabled list in the 2016 campaign with torn ligaments in his left knee. Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Willson Contreras and Koji Uehara have all missed significant time this year.
No Cure For Championship Hangover
The World Series hangover is real…as most teams like to admit years later. The Cubs are no different. They went into the All-Star break 43-45 then turned it around in the 2nd half to go 49-25 and finish 6 games ahead of the 2nd place Milwaukee Brewers. Overcoming adversity is a gene that most championship clubs have. It’s an uphill battle from here and the guys will have to dig deep down inside if they want to do it again. Hitting .172 as a team is not going to get it done!
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