By Colin Bock
Since the fateful day of April 17, 2015, Kris Bryant has provided a much needed spark for an already elite Chicago Cubs organization.
The ‘15 Cubs went 97-65, squeezing into the final National League (NL) Wild Card spot. Despite being a #5 seed and wild card team, the Cubs made a promising playoff run, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, then beating NL top-seed and division rival St. Louis 3-1 in a best of 5 series. The Cubs would proceed to the NL title game, but would not win the pennant, getting swept 4-0 by the New York Mets.
Over the offseason, the Cubs have made a plethora of excellent acquisitions, including right-hand-pitcher John Lackey, second baseman Ben Zobrist, and outfielder (OF) Jason Heyward. Before the start of the season, the Cubs also added OF Dexter Fowler, adding more outfield depth to an already outstanding defense. On opening day, the Cubs planned to start Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Miguel Montero and Addison Russell with Jake Arrieta starting at pitcher. By the first 30 games of the season, the Cubs had recorded their best 30-game start since 1907 going 24-6. They became the only team since the 1984 Detroit Tigers to start by winning 24 games out of 30.
Despite their phenomenal start, the Cubs limped into the all-star break, losing 16 out of their next 21 games while retaining a 7 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The all-star weekend was outstanding for Chicago, featuring all-star selections of the entire infield (Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist, Russell), OF Dexter Fowler and starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. The only glaring weakness on the Cubs’ roster at this point was their lack of closers, allowing them to gain multi-run leads, but they just couldn’t finish all their games. Then comes a monumental trade with the Yankees.
To shore up their bullpen, the Cubs acquired closing pitcher Aroldis Chapman to come in for relief. Chapman proved to be dominant for the Cubs, throwing a perfect 9th inning to beat the Reds. The Cubs, needless to say, were back to their winning ways, finishing the season 103-58-1, locking up the #1 seed in the National League.
The depth this team possesses is phenomenal, and it may be the greatest Cubs team that has ever been created. Both the infield and outfield are flawless. They still might not have the best catcher, but their bullpen is fantastic, making up for the lack of a good catcher and then some. Kris Bryant finished the year with a batting average of .292 in 603 at bats, totalling 39 home runs (HRs) and 102 runs batted in (RBIs). Anthony Rizzo finished with an average of .292 in 583 at bats, totalling 32 HRs and 109 RBIs. The solid hitting that this team has even by way of pitcher with Arrieta, batting .262, suggests their fantastic scoring potential and that their solid bullpen can hold the lead.
With this outstanding depth and momentum heading into the season, there is no other team to consider a ‘favorite’ to win the world series. I lock it in. The Chicago Cubs, my favorite team, after years of misery and poor performances, are going to win not only the NL pennant, but the World Series.