Ryan Says: Struggling Offense, Proper Appreciation, Shopping for Pitchers

First of all, I must apologize for my absence the last two weeks. My coverage of the NLDS and NLCS for FanRag Sports (and some personal matters) got in the way of just about everything else in my life. The good news is that I have three full weeks worth of thoughts to dump out, so let’s jump right in.

• It would be easy if we could blame one or two players for the offensive failure in the postseason this year, but literally everyone is at fault. The Cubs scored 25 runs in 10 games – an easy 2.5 runs per game – and posted a slash line of .168/.240/.289. Take a deep breath on that one, because it’s rough.

As for the unquestioned leaders of the team, Anthony Rizzo was 5-for-37 with a .443 OPS; Kris Bryant was 8-for-40 with a .545 OPS; Javy Baez was 2-for-26 (both home runs) with a .451 OPS; Jason Heyward was 2-for-17 with a .403 OPS; and Kyle Schwarber was 3-for-17 with a .653 OPS. I could go on with Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, and others, but you get the point.

We could rationalize or defend this with the small sample sizes of the postseason or drag out similar poor averages for guys like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, but that doesn’t tell us much about this group. But there is something big to really chew on about these Cubs, who successfully brought home the World Series trophy in 2016 but were eaten alive in the NLCS in 2015 and 2017: Strikeouts.

In 37 postseason games over the last three years, the Cubs have struck out 342 times, by far the most of any team over that stretch. That averages out to 9.2 strikeouts per game. Theo Epstein spoke openly about making changes to the core of position players in his season-ending press conference, and it’s no secret why. It’s extremely difficult to have consistent success in the playoffs without making contact.

• With that unpleasantness out of the way, let’s update the Cubs all-time franchise leaderboard for playoff home runs: Rizzo, Bryant, and Schwarber lead with six, followed by Baez and Dexter Fowler with five, then Russell, Alex Gonzalez, and Aramis Ramirez with four. For fun, Sammy Sosa and Ryne Sandberg combined to hit three playoff home runs for the Cubs, which would tie them with Jorge Soler.

The point is that the Cubs have had a ton of recent playoff success, and it should never be overlooked. Playing 37 postseason games in the span of three years is outstanding for any franchise, much less one that has historically had little playoff success. In the 68 years from 1946-2014, the Cubs played in just 31 total playoff games and made three trips to the NLCS.

What they’ve done the last three years is quite an accomplishment. While it might be disappointing if they never come away with another World Series championship with this group, there is no doubt that we’re seeing the golden age of Cubs baseball.

• It’s no secret that the Cubs will be shopping for pitching this offseason. Without any blue-chip prospects to deal from the farm system, the smart money says that the Cubs will be filling out their starting rotation (and likely the bullpen) through free agency. Realistically, they probably need to add two starters and at least two reliable relievers.

As for starting pitchers, expect to hear the Cubs showing interest in Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, and even guys like Jaime Garcia or Jason Vargas at the right value. Darvish is the cream of the crop and the Cubs would be foolish not to be interested, but beyond that they’ll shop in the tier just below. The Joe Maddon/Jim Hickey/Alex Cobb ties could make the former Rays right-hander the most likely of the group, while a guy like Garcia may come on a one-year “prove-it” deal and fill in nicely as the No. 5 starter.

On the reliever side, the Cubs will be looking to find a few guys who can throw strikes – something their bullpen was painfully unable to do in the second half and the postseason. Bryan Shaw has led the AL in appearances in three of the last four seasons for the Cleveland Indians, posting a 3.08 ERA in 283 1/3 innings with 8.2 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He won’t come with a high price tag, but could be valuable in the middle innings.

The 37-year-old Pat Neshek is also available, and he has a 2.50 ERA with just 1.8 BB/9 over the last five seasons. Neshek had a 1.59 ERA in 62 1/3 innings this season with 10 K/9 to just 0.9 BB/9. Other free-agent bullpen names to watch for the Cubs are Brandon Morrow, Addison Reed, and Tony Watson.

Back to top button