Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs: What Went Wrong/Right In 2020

Written by on October 28, 2020

Depending on your perspective, the Chicago Cubs had a successful or disappointing season under first-year manager David Ross. They won the NL Central but went out meekly in the Wild-Card Round to a Marlins team that wasn’t nearly as good as Chicago.

Chicago Cubs | 2020 MLB Expert Analysis

The Cubs finished the abbreviated 60-Game regular season with a 34-26 record (.567), good for first-place in the N.L. Central Division, 3.0-games ahead of both Cincinnati and St. Louis. It marked Chicago’s first N.L. Central Division title since 2017. The Cubs were in first place all but one day of the regular season (following games of July 25 with a 1-1 record) and had sole possession of first place every day following play on July 26 through season’s end.

Chicago reached the postseason for the fifth time in the past six seasons. Prior to this six-season run that started in 2015, the club had made the postseason just six times in 69 seasons from 1946-2014. Ross became just the seventh person to lead the team to a division crown in his first season as manager of the Cubs. He joined Albert Spalding (1876), Charlie Grimm (took over in middle of 1932), Gabby Hartnett (took over in middle of 1938), Jim Frey (1984), Dusty Baker (2003) and Lou Piniella (2007).

Chicago posted a .986 fielding percentage (30 E/2,144 TC) in 2020, the second-best fielding percentage in the N.L. (Cincinnati) and sixth-best in the majors. Cubs outfielders recorded 11 assists, tied for third-most in the N.L. and trailing only the Mets (14) and Pirates (12). Chicago’s outfielders had a .997 fielding percentage (1 E/347 TC), tops in the N.L. and second in the majors behind Oakland.

Alas, the Cubs scored just one run in the two-game playoff sweep by Miami, dropping Game 1 5-1 and then Game 2 2-0. S: The Cubs were swept in a postseason series (more than one game) for the first time since the 2015 NLCS vs. the Mets. They were shut out in a postseason game for the first time since game four of the 2017 NLDS vs. Washington.

It could be an offseason of major change. Former ace Jon Lester likely will be bought out and hit free agency, although the Cubs could bring him back at a lower salary. Some of the reasoning to bring him back is simply the fact that the team will have money invested in the veteran lefty whether or not he’s back in ’21. The Cubs will have to pay him a $10 million buyout rather than pick up his $25 million option.

The 36-year-old veteran concluded the condensed 2020 campaign with an underwhelming 5.16 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 42/17 K/BB ratio across 61 innings (12 starts).

Chicago heads into this offseason with Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks locked in atop the starting staff. Alec Mills has earned a spot as well, and Adbert Alzolay is poised to grab another job next year. Behind that group is a bunch of uncertainty, especially with Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana set for free agency.

The Cubs also could trade former NL MVP Kris Bryant a year before he hits free agency, although Bryant’s value is really low right now. He hit just 206/.293/.351 with four homers and only 11 RBI in 34 games. Bryant then went 0-for-8 with two strikeouts in the series versus the Marlins. He wasn’t alone, as Anthony Rizzo also didn’t reach base in the series and Kyle Schwarber didn’t get a hit.

Having not quite lived up to lofty expectations in recent years, team boss Theo Epstein has acknowledged some change this offseason “is warranted and necessary.” On the whole, Cubs’ hitters slashed just .220/.318/.387, resulting in a 91 wRC+ that ranked 21st out of the league’s 30 teams. Among everyday players, only Ian Happ and Jason Heyward performed up to or exceeded expectations.

Epstein himself is in the last year of his contract in 2021.  When asked about the prospect of an extension, he noted that changes after a long time spent in one place could be beneficial for both employees and the organization.  It is quite possible that general manager Jed Hoyer moves into the front office’s top job for ’22, and works with Epstein this season on preparing for that kind of transition.

“We have to be honest about our performance,” Epstein said in summing up 2020. “Is it possible to thread the needle and improve in 2021, while also setting ourselves up for the long-term future? I think it is.”

Chicago opens the 2021 regular season on April 1 at home vs. Pittsburgh.

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