When it comes to trying to understand the 2021 Chicago Cubs, it is not an easy task. Chicago has all the pieces in place to be a dominant force in the National League Central. Yet, they have been unable to capture the magic of the 2016 campaign. So in this article, we will examine and try to decipher the 2021 Chicago Cubs.
What’s the Problem Here?
At the time of this writing, the Cubs have a 7-9 record and have gone 4-6 over their last ten games. But what’s more alarming is the fact the Cubbies are -21 in run differential. In our article this week, 3 Up & 3 Down, we discussed these same Cubs among the downcast facing teams. In 3 Up & 3 Down, we look at run differential as part of our methodology in deciding which teams are playing well or struggling.
To understand the Cubs problem, we must look at how this team is built. Through Theo Epstein’s tenure at the helm of the Cubs, he rebuilt this team by drafting quality position players and supplementing them with quality veteran pitching. And this strategy worked out in 2016 when the Cubs broke their 108 drought and won the World Series. However, following that victory, Chicago has struggled to regain that composure or level of success. The Cubs would find themselves losing in the NLCS in 2017 and losing in the NL Wildcard game in both2018 and 2020, with a third-place NL Central finish sandwiched in between. Chicago on paper should be a much stronger team and a dynasty, but the game isn’t played on paper.
2021 a Year of Transition
Going into the 2021 campaign, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in the midst of a transition. The three most notable Cubs, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, will find themselves on the free-agent market following the season. For the Cubs, 2021 is the final hope for this group to reclaim the World Series crown because even the most optimistic Cubs fans can not believe that all three men will return in 2022.
Thus in 2021, the Cubs’ management but lay out a game-plan for their future. A future without the three biggest names of their current team. Meaning that in 2021, Chicago will give opportunities to many players in almost an examinational sense to discover what they have in the system.
Most Likely Cub?
There will be a season-long discussion in the Cubbies front office about which member of the trio they should pursue a long-term deal. Reports have stated that Anthony Rizzo was already offered a 5-year $70 million extension that he turned down. Rizzo reportedly sees his value much higher than the $70 million that was offered. (Whether or not that is an honest assessment on Rizzo’s part is another story for another time.)
So it begs the question which member of the trio is most likely to stay in a Cubs uniform beyond 2021? And if a guess had to be venture, Javier Baez is the most likely candidate. Baez is a dynamic, fun-loving, phenomenally talented player with a flair for the dramatic. He also plays the premium defensive position shortstop extremely well. And while Bryant is a solid defender and Rizzo is a gold glove (at first base), Baez is far and away the best defender of the three. And yea, offensively, they are all relatively the same amount of streaky, Baez’s swings are particularly puzzle-some, but when the strides are right, Javy can carry the Cubs.
How to Correct the Problems?
There’s no easy solution, no magic wand that can be waved to make everything better overnight. However, correcting the issue for the Cubs comes down to time. As underwhelming as that answer may seem, the talent in the Cubs roster is too dynamic not to snap out of it. Now that’s not to say this team is without weakness. The pitching staff outside of Kyle Hendricks, who’s very consistent despite the rocky start, and a revitalized Craig Kimbrel, there are serious questions about the pitching in the Northside of Chicago.
Time is also what’s going to mend the offensive woes that have caused the Cubbies to stumble. And that offensive power goes beyond the trio. Joc Pederson is finally getting his opportunity to be an everyday guy. Ian Happ and David Bote are another pair of underrated and undervalued assets. Then you factor in the big three. And this team has what it needs to be poised to make another postseason. But it’s going to come down to getting the pitching right.