Hot off the Presses: The October issue highlights Kyle Hendricks’ meteoric rise
When I started with Vine Line around Thanksgiving 2011, the last lineup the Cubs had fielded read: Starlin Castro, SS; Blake Dewitt, 2B; Aramis Ramirez, 3B; Jeff Baker, 1B; Reed Johnson, LF; Luis Montanez, RF; Tony Campana, CF; Koyie Hill, C; and Ryan Dempster, P. The team, under manager Mike Quade, had finished 71-91, in fifth place in the NL Central.
That all seems like eons ago now. I expect I no longer have to recount what happened in the intervening years: Theo, draft, trades, Maddon, etc.
In some ways, the 2016 regular season went so smoothly on the North Side of Chicago, it barely felt like baseball. By the time all was said and done, the Cubs had finished 161 of their 162 games with at least a share of the division lead. The last time they trailed—by a whole game!—was April 8 following a walk-off loss to the Diamondbacks. The last time they were even tied for the lead was April 10, the sixth day of the campaign.
By the end of April, they were 3.5 games up on the NL Central; by the end of May, 6.5 games; by the end of June, 11 games; by the end of July, 7.5 games; by the end of August, 15 games; and by the end of September, they were the NL Central champs for the first time since 2008.
Almost immediately after Epstein was hired, pundits pointed to 2016 as the inflection point—the moment the rebuilding Cubs would turn the corner and start competing. As it turns out, that about-face happened a year ahead of schedule. The Cubs not only made the postseason in 2015, they won the NL Wild Card on the road in Pittsburgh and then captured the NLDS over the Cardinals in four games.
This season, the Chicago National League Baseball Club has been a juggernaut, the odds-on favorite to win the World Series and a remarkably fun team to watch.
But even with those high expectations, fans were happy to poke holes in the Cubs balloon whenever they spied an opportunity. After breaking in four rookie regulars last year, several were certain to fall prey to the dreaded sophomore slump, right?
Granted, Kyle Schwarber injured his knee on a freak outfield play in the season’s second game, and Jorge Soler missed two months with a hamstring injury.
But after putting up a 3.0 WAR in 2015, Addison Russell accumulated a 4.0 WAR in 2016. And Kris Bryant upped his WAR from an already MVP-worthy 6.6 in 2015 to an otherworldly 8.4.
In fact, Bryant has a legitimate shot to become the first man ever to win the Golden Spikes Award (given to the best amateur player in the nation), the Minor League Player of the Year Award, the NL Rookie of the Year Award and the NL MVP Award in four consecutive seasons.
If there was a slump somewhere in there, I missed it.
So what about the pitching staff? Was there enough depth?
Well, Jake Arrieta hasn’t been quite as dominant as he was in 2015, but he’s still a likely top five finisher for the Cy Young Award; Jon Lester has looked like the ace the Cubs expected they were getting in the 2015 offseason; Jason Hammel won 15 games; John Lackey has been his usual stalwart self; and Kyle Hendricks—the man many figured would get pushed out of the rotation in the early going—was no less than the best pitcher in baseball.
In the October issue, we examine how the unassuming, Ivy league-educated right-hander has gone from under the radar to the top of the leaderboards. We also break down the new-look bullpen—another area many pointed to as a weakness at midseason—and explain how it could be the key to a deep postseason run this year. Finally, we harken back to the last real Chicago world-beater, the consecutive championship teams of 1907-08.
Ever since the Cubs ran off and hid from the rest of the pack in April, we’ve been waiting for this moment. It’s finally October. It’s time to see if the Cubs can make history. We’ll be there for every moment in print, online and on Twitter at @cubsvineline.