By Lauren Grimaldi
What a difference a year makes on the North Side. After going 73-89 in the 2014 campaign, Chicago’s lovable losers will finish 2015 with over 90 wins and play in the postseason.
At the end of last season, the idea that the Cubs could have done this well the following year was not viewed as a likely possibility. But when President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer were able to sign manager Joe Maddon to a five-year contract as well as All-Star pitcher Jon Lester, expectations started to increase.
Reasons for the team’s resurgence in the NL vary, but start with slugger Anthony Rizzo. Through 155 games, Rizzo hit 30 home runs and is arguably the most valuable player in the organization. Kris Bryant arrived to Wrigley Field to much fanfare and has met all expectations placed upon him, so far.
Starting pitching has been a bright spot in the season as well. The biggest story of all is the emergence of Jake Arrieta. He threw his first career no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers and has a 1.82 ERA through 32 games. He owns a 21-6 record that leads the entire MLB. A likely nominee for the NL Cy Young Award, Arrieta is a huge reason the Cubs were able to secure a spot in the playoffs.
Arrieta is all but guaranteed to be the starting pitcher for the NL Wild Card game. If he continues to pitch as he has for this season, it will give the Cubs a great shot at surpassing the Pittsburgh Pirates and their starter who will reportedly be Gerrit Cole. The Cubs won the season series against the Pirates and have proven they can play with the cream of the crop in the league by winning their last two series against the St. Louis Cardinals. So, what happens over the course of the next month remains unknown. The Cubs could very well be out of the playoffs after the single game they are guaranteed against the Pirates, or they could make a push and do something really special.
Nevertheless, the feeling of excitement amongst the long-suffering fan base is palpable. For the first time, in a long time it’s looking like that 107-year long drought without a World Series Championship could soon come to a close. Regardless of how the postseason plays out, it’s been made clear that “The Plan” Theo Epstein has preached over his tenure with the team has the necessary components to succeed. Now it’s just the matter of seeing it through to the end.