Chicago Cubs: Bryant faced big league adversity for the first time
Injuries happen. The Cubs can’t do much more about injuries than any other team. Yes, they can have depth pieces and prepare other guys in a “next man up” mentality, but it’s impossible to replace certain guys in your lineup, no matter how prepared you think you may be.
Such was the case in 2018, as Kris Bryant’s (and Addison Russell‘s to a lesser extent) nagging shoulders, Kyle Schwarber‘s bad back and Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow‘s right arms put the Cubs in a hole for large portions of the season.
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To make matters worse, the Cubs’ young core (ages in parentheses) and grizzled veterans struggled at times, as Willson Contreras (26), Ian Happ (24), Albert Almora (24), Victor Caratini (25), Russell (24), Schwarber (25), Jason Heyward (29), and even Mr. Consistent himself, Anthony Rizzo (29), struggled for stretches of the season.
In fact, the only guys who didn’t seem to struggle at all were Javier Baez (25), on his way to a second place finish in the NL MVP race, and the elder statesman of the group, Ben Zobrist (37). Just as injuries are difficult to deal with, young teams can often be mercurial as well.
The Cubs could literally keep the same exact team around for next year and see a marked turnaround in production due to maturity and progression (And, to be fair, the Cubs did also get really good chunks of the season from Schwarber, Almora, Heyward and Rizzo – just not the whole thing). As fans, we don’t necessarily want to wait around and hope for that, but it’s a valid argument for not blowing up the team and not making a big splash in this winter’s loaded free agent class. Plus, you know, we did win 95 games last year – even slight improvement from a few regulars means we probably win 100 games in 2019.
So, while injuries and performance certainly had an effect on how 2018 turned out, I wouldn’t necessarily place a ton of blame on young hitters who aren’t always given consistent time or at-bats, a team that lost an MVP, a potential top-tier starter and its closer for a good part of the season.