October 2011. The Chicago Cubs have just finished their season with a 71-91 record, missing the postseason by a country mile. Nothing new on the North Side as the “Lovable Losers” once again…lost. There was hope for Cubs fans, though, when they announced that Theo Epstein, the man who broke the Curse of the Bambino in Boston, was hired to be Chicago’s new President of Baseball Operations. There was a long road ahead.
October 2021. Ten years later. The Cubs will finish with a very similar record as they did in 2011, again missing out on the postseason by a wide margin. What was supposed to be a prime window of contention slammed shut and the old core was sent packing in exchange for a collection of raw, young talent. There is cautious optimism that Epstein’s longtime right-hand man Jed Hoyer can make things right again. The road ahead is somewhat unclear.
This decade is off to an eerily similar start to the last if you’re a Cubs fan. Had you gone back to 2011 and said to a fan that the Cubs would flirt with just 70 wins in 2021…it would feel normal. No surprise there. Then mention that the team from 2015-2020 would win a World Series, make three NLCS appearances and five postseason trips in between. For Cubs fans, it has all come full circle.
Chicago Cubs: 2021 felt very much like a “Classic Cubs” season
The taste of winning had become so sweet to long-suffering Cubs fans that the idea of going back to the way things once were feels almost unbearable. We were supposed to be past that, yet here we are again. It felt like winning the lottery, enjoying the spoils, then the money is all gone and it’s back to where you were before. Rags to riches…then back to rags.
Pre-2015, the 2021 season would feel like any old year. The Cubs from 1945 through 2014 had made the postseason a grand total of six times, while the Cubs nearly doubled that from 2015-2020. When the Cubs lost the 2018 Wild Card game in front of the Wrigley Field faithful, fans did not want to hear about how they won 95 games because, at the end of the day, that wasn’t the goal anymore. It was a testament to where fans’ expectations were following the 2016 World Series win. Had that season happened prior to 2015, a 95-win campaign would have come with commemorative memorabilia and endless stories told at bars for years to come.
2021 felt like a classic Cubs season in so many ways. Losing obviously is the biggest element. Add in watching the rival St. Louis Cardinals going on another magical run to the postseason, the feeling of apathy in September with postseason chances at zero, watching other teams clinch playoff berths against you, watching former Cubs thrive on new teams, call-ups from the minors that make fans say, “Who?” and of course being the butts of jokes.
Back to the Cardinals’ remarkable run for a second. Of course, St. Louis swept the Cubs in a four-game set at Wrigley last weekend. Like many Cubs-Cards September games in the old days, the Redbirds were the only team on the field that had something to play for, and thousands of their supporters came to Wrigley to watch. You can tell when the Cubs are bad when nearly half of Wrigley Field is red.
At least the multiple double-digit losing streaks were unique this year…hopefully never again.
Sure there was the great month of May and the fact they had a big fire sale of guys who had helped the team win it all a few years ago, but on the surface, it felt like the Cubs of old.
Chicago Cubs: Getting out of this so we can once again enjoy winning
It is safe to say fans will not be as accepting of this as we move forward. For a short while? Sure. Cubs fans have that knack for being loyal (sometimes to a fault) but if mediocrity once again becomes a norm, do not count on fans going along for the ride. Hoyer and ownership need to make certain the on-field product next season shows marked improvement and is clearly back on the path to contention.
While doubtful the Cubs will be legitimate contenders for some time, at the very least, the product needs to be better than the bottom of the barrel. Fans had put up with that for too long to watch this for more than a season.
What is nice about this time around is that Cubs fans know what winning tastes like, and the process and patience it takes to get to the top. Following the prospects in the farm is easier than ever with all of the games, stats and data available to the public. One thing we can at least say is that there is reason to believe there are pieces in the farm system that can help build a better tomorrow.
It currently feels like we are at the lowest point, where it has truly come full circle. There should be nowhere to go but up. With the offseason coming and another year (or in some cases their first full year) under the belt of notable prospects, the road has to go up from here. It is on Cubs brass to make sure that happens.
Right now, watching the Cubs stay at home in October while other rival teams and annual powerhouses make a World Series push is as bad as it gets. Let’s hope it does not become the new normal again. Just wait until next year, right?