After a run of five postseason appearances in six seasons, including a World Series title in 2016, the Chicago Cubs failed to make the playoffs in 2021, posting a record of 71-91 and finishing in fourth place in the National League Central division. They’ll be looking to bounce back after finishing in the bottom third of the league in both hitting and pitching.
Chicago Cubs Last Season Performance
The Cubs suffered their first losing season since 2014, taking a big step back after winning the Central Division in the abbreviated 2020 season. However, as late as June 24th, they found themselves leading the NL Central before they lost 11 games in a row and quickly fell out of contention for the rest of the season.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Cubs dealt away three of their key players who were instrumental in leading them to the 2016 championship because none of them were expected to extend their contracts at the conclusion of the season. Shortstop Javier Baez, utility player Kris Bryant and First Baseman Anthony Rizzo ended up with new teams and the Cubs faded down the stretch.
At the time that the trio was dealt, they had collectively combined for 54 home runs, 156 RBI and were hitting .254 as a group in just over 90 games played. Baez still ended up second on the team in RBI, just one behind the 66 put up by Outfielder Ian Happ.
As a team, the Cubs were 11th in the National League in both batting average and runs scored despite finishing in home runs with 210. One of the few bright spots for Chicago after they began cleaning house was 29 year old rookie Frank Schwindel, who they claimed off waivers from the Oakland A’s after Rizzo’s departure.
Schwindel was the National League Rookie of the Month for August and ended the season with a batting average of .342, a total of 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 56 games. He will clearly be counted on to continue that level of production for a team that is probably in rebuilding mode for 2022.
Another big issue for the offense was the number of strikeouts, as the Cubs led the National League with almost 10 a game. It was almost feast or famine for Chicago, demonstrating consistent power but unable to hit for average and also finishing at the bottom of the league in doubles.
The pitching staff was anchored by Kyle Hendricks, who went 14-7 with an ERA of 4.77 and struck out 131 hitters in 181 innings pitched. Trevor Williams was traded to the Mets on July 30th after posting a record of 4-2 and Jake Arietta was released on August 12th after going 5-11 and posting an ERA of 6.88 in 20 mostly ineffective starts.
Chicago Cubs Off Season Changes
The biggest move for the Cubs’ organization was the naming of former Cleveland Guardians’ Assistant General Manager Carter Hawkins to fill the General Manager position. It had been vacant since Ned Hoyer replaced Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations following the 2020 season. Hawkins was also joined by Ehsan Bokhari as the new Assistant GM.
The Cubs are looking to move their focus from free agent acquisitions to developing talent through their farm system. While at the small market Cleveland organization, Hawkins and the rest of the front office was forced to develop, as opposed to buy, talent because of financial constraints.
With Hoyer spending more effort on free agents and Hawkins paying more attention to the minor leagues, the pair hope to divide and conquer which can set up the franchise for continued long term success. The Cubs were able to make a couple of big moves prior to the lockout, confusing the fan base a bit on the direction they will take to get back into contention in the NL Central.
They brought in free agent starting pitcher Marcus Stroman from the New York Mets and added catcher Yan Gomes from Oakland. Reserve center fielder Michael Hermosillo was re-signed to a one-year, $600,000 deal after playing in 16 games for the Cubs in 2021. The Cubs also signed former Yankees center fielder Clint Frazier to a one-year contract.
Other changes occurred with the coaching staff as the Cubs fired hitting coach Anthony Iapoce after the season and replaced him with Greg Brown, formerly Tampa Bay’s minor league hitting coordinator. A couple of other assistants, Mike Borzello and Brad Mills were not retained and the club brought in Daniel Moskos as assistant pitching coach and Johnny Washington as assistant hitting coach.
Chicago Cubs Key Additions
Marcus Stroman was tied for the National League lead in games started in 2021 with 33 and compiled a 10-13 record with an ERA of 3.02 for the Mets. He struck out 158 batters and walked just 44 in 179 innings pitched.
The Cubs signed the 30 year old with a lifetime record of 61-60 to a three year deal worth $71 million. Stroman’s best effort in seven years pitching in the major leagues was when he posted a 13-9 record for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 201 innings pitched.
Gomes was signed to a two year, $12 deal with a club option for 2024. The 34 year old is in his 12th season and is coming off a year when he split time between the Washington Nationals and the A’s. In total, he hit .252 with 14 homers and 52 RBI in 103 games played.
The native of Brazil is a career .247 hitter, so his skills haven’t diminished much over time and he should provide the Cubs a reliable backup for 29 year old Wilson Contreras, one of the few holdovers left on the roster from 2016.
Frazier has been a part time player who is known more for his defense than his prowess at the plate. The 27 year old outfielder is coming off the worst year of his five season career, hitting just .186 with five home runs and 15 RBI in 66 games for the Yankees.
Chicago Cubs Key Subtractions
Most of the subtractions from the Cubs’ lineup came just prior to the trade deadline in 2021. In addition to the players mentioned previously, the Cubs also traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the cross town White Sox for second baseman Nick Madrigal and relief pitcher Cody Heuer. Madrigal didn’t play for the Cubs in 2021, but Heuer appeared in 25 games down the stretch with a record of 3-3 with a pair of saves and an ERA of 3.14.
The highest profile player to declare free agency is starting pitcher Zach Davies, who despite the worst season of his career, going 6-12 with an ERA of 5.78, probably still has the potential to help another team. His biggest issue was giving up 75 walks in 148 innings pitched, which led the major leagues in a stat a pitcher doesn’t want to be on top of.
Third baseman Matt Duffy played in 97 games for the Cubs in 2021 and hit .287 for a team greatly in need of offense. He is still a free agent as Duffy wasn’t able to close a deal prior to the beginning of the lockout.
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Chicago Cubs Head Coach Analysis
Manager David Ross is beginning his third season as the skipper of the Chicago Cubs, taking over from Joe Madden for the abbreviated 2020 season. Ross played 15 major league seasons for seven teams, including the Cubs where he ended his career after helping the team win the 2016 World Series.
The former catcher spent some time as a special assistant for the Cubs as well as a color analyst for ESPN on their coverage of major league baseball. He was announced as the manager of the Cubs on October 24, 2019 but didn’t lead his first game until July 24, 2020 with a 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ross got the team into the playoffs in his first season, winning the NL Central with a record of 34-36, As the third seed in the NL postseason, the Cubs were swept by the Miami Marlins in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Depending how the Cubs choose to proceed following the lockout, it could be a challenging season for Ross, especially if they don’t add some offensive weapons. When an organization decides to clean house and all but start over, it’s difficult to hold the manager totally accountable for the team’s success or lack thereof.
He’ll have some help with the hitters, especially some of the younger players getting called up from the minor leagues, by having Greg Brown on his staff. Brown’s presence fits with the Cubs’ strategy of mixing in some home grown talent with veterans acquired through the free agent market.
Chicago Cubs Injured Players at the beginning of the season
There are several players on the injury list for the Cubs, but just one is expected to impact the opening day starting lineup. Second baseman David Bote underwent shoulder surgery in November and is expected to take at least six months to recover, keeping him out of the lineup at least through the month of April and possibly longer.
The 28 year old played in 97 games in 2021 and hit a disappointing .199 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. Nick Hoerner, another second baseman on the roster, is recovering from an oblique injury but is expected to be ready for opening day of the 2022 season.
Third baseman Patrick Wisdom is battling an offseason wrist injury, but he appears to be on track to play in the season opener after leading the Cubs in home runs in 2021 with 28. Wilson Contreras is expected to be fully healed from a hip issue for the starting catcher while part-time starting pitcher Keegan Thompson should be over a shoulder injury in time to begin the 2022 campaign.
Nick Madrigal didn’t play for the Cubs after his acquisition due to a hamstring problem, but apparently he is well on his way to a full recovery and should be able to make a contribution at the beginning of the season.
Chicago Cubs Prediction for 2022 Season
Based on the way the Cubs completed the 2021 season, the outlook for significant improvement without an influx of new faces is a bit bleak. The balancing act that the front office is trying to pull off in sprinkling in free agents with minor leaguers is fraught with risk, especially in the short term.
As long as the entire organization is on the same page, including Ross, hitting the reset button and accepting another finish near the bottom of the standings may be worth the long term benefits. The Cubs have enough talent on the roster, including Contreras, Wisdom and Happ, to win games, but that trio combined to strikeout 447 times in just under 1700 official at bats for a rate of 26%.
Pitcher Kyle Hendricks will be relied upon once again to provide stability to the pitching staff that lost a lot of depth with all of the player moves made last season, but the addition of Stroman is clearly an upgrade. Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay will be two other regular starters for the club but most of the pitchers that led the team in ERA are no longer with the Cubs.
Overall, a team that was 13th in ERA and 11th in batting average for 2021 has a lot of work to do, with virtually no real strength to point to and to build on. Hoyer and Hawkins really have their work cut out for them to try and satisfy a patient but vocal fan base, especially with the success the franchise has enjoyed since 2015. Check out their MLB odds for the season.
Picking up an offensive weapon to bring the same kind of experience that Stroman provides to the pitching staff would give Ross a lot more to work with, especially if it’s a player that can put the ball in play. The Cubs very much need another hitter like Schwindel who can add a different dimension to their offense to keep opposing pitchers off balance and manufacture runs.
As it stands heading into what will probably be a shortened offseason, there is a chance the Cubs can find a way to climb into third place in the NL Central, but it will take another key signing or two for that to be realistic. Look for them to get some experience for young players and perhaps use the 2022 trade deadline to grab more talent as opposed to shedding it like they did in 2021. Check out their MLB lines for the season.
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