Commentary: Ten years ago we saw a similar Cubs story


by - Staff Writer -
Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports
Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports

After going through the most recent rebuild, many fans, players, and experts alike believed the Cubs were on the verge of something special, maybe even dynasty status. After making it to three straight NLCS and one world Series title from 2015-17, the results started to back that talk up, and it was looking like the Cubs very much so had the potential to reach a dynasty status.

Then the last two years happened where the Cubs underachieved and were not able to successfully continue their run of strong play. A 95-win wild card appearance in 2018 was followed by an 84 win and post season less campaign last year, leaving the Cubs in a weird situation going forward to 2020. Although the team doesn’t want to say they are rebuilding again, most fans are starting to get the sense that this indeed could be the beginning of a rebuild once again, just shorter in length.

The more I investigate what has happened with this team, the past two now going on three seasons, the more I thought about where/when have I seen this before. The answer stuck out like a sore thumb as the Cubs are going down a similar trend from 10 seasons ago as they were the Kings of the NL back in 2008 before the bottom fell out. Although I don’t know if the same situation will follow this time, the pattern is eerily similar and makes me wonder is this the beginning of yet another rebuild.

Ten years ago, the Cubs were coming off a 97-65 season under Lou Pinella and clinched the NL Central for a second straight season. Not to mention having the best record in the NL, and things were looking bright for postseason play that year as the Cubs were looking to end a 100-year title drought. With 18 game-winner Ryan Dempster anchoring the staff, followed by Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano, and Ted Lilly, The Cubs had four starters who accumulated at least 14 wins that season. At the same time, only Harden was viewed as a legitimate ace that year.

That seems much like the Cubs 2016 world series run when all five of their starters won at least 11 games with no one of them posting an ERA over 3.5 that season. Offensively in 08, the Cubs had their fair share of firepower at every position much as they have now. They had a rookie of the year, Geovany Soto, behind home, Derrek Lee at first, Mark DeRosa at second, Aramis Ramirez at third, Alfonso Soriano in left, Jim Edmonds in center, Kosuke Fukudome in right and Ryan Theriot at short. Yes, some of those names were not stars, but together they made up a solid team that was impressive all year.

Expecting to make the world series that year, the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers, which we as fans have become very familiar with in the playoffs recently. That seemed to be the beginning of the end for Pinella and his reign as, despite the great year and all that talent, they were never able to live up to those expectations ever again.

Following the 2008 season, the Cubs were expected to contend again in 2009 and play with was said to be a chip on their shoulder. Well, that chip never rose to the surface, and despite posting a third straight winning season at 83-79, the Cubs missed out on the postseason, causing fans to be visibly upset. The worst was yet to come in 2010 when Pinella was unable to make it through the season, as the Cubs limped to the finish line 78-84. That record is better than what it could have been, as interim manager Mike Quade let the team to a 21-10 finish over the final month-plus of the year.

We all know what happened next as 2010 seemed to be the beginning of the end, setting the stage for the most recent rebuild in 2012. Not overthinking into the past, I am getting a bad feeling that this year’s team could become what 2010 was for this organization as it signaled the start of a rebuild. Are we on the verge of that once again?

Ever since Theo, Jed, and the Ricketts arrived in 2012, they made promises to this organization that, for the most part, have come true. From shedding big contracts to clear payroll to drafting topflight prospects, to eventually becoming big spenders once again, all was part of a process that was going according to plan from 2012-17 when they went from the worst team in the league to World Series champs.

Once they reached the ultimate goal and pinnacle, the Cubs have seemed to become a little bit more complacent in recent seasons and be ok with what they have on their team instead of getting better. Yes, I get the current payroll situation is tough to maneuver, but the Cubs haven’t done much to help this team long term at this point once some of these younger players hit the free-agent market should they leave for different franchises.

The last two seasons are a prime example of that and exactly why the Cubs are where they are as a team. 2018 reminded me of 2008 and followed a similar pattern until the end. Both of these seasons had the Cubs with the best record in the National League much of the year with the only difference being the Cubs were beaten out by Milwaukee the final day of the regular season to earn a wild card in 18 over the division in 08. Despite the one-game playoff loss to Colorado in 18, the results were the same as 08 as the Cubs were swept out of the playoffs ending any hope of greater things.

Move to 2019, where the team was to play with more urgency, and you saw a similar squad to what we saw back in 2009. In 2009, the Cubs were simply unable to finish the season at the same pace they had in the first half and missed the postseason with an 83-79 mark. Last season was a season filled with inconsistencies, as the Cubs couldn’t win on the road.

Despite that, Chicago found themselves 15 games over .500 in August and was in contention for another division crown. That was until the bottom fell off in September once again as the Cubs were hit with a nine-game losing streak in late September settling for an 84-78 record and missing the playoffs by five games. See a familiar trend so far?

2010 is when everything went rock bottom for the Cubs as Pinella was let go with five weeks left in the season, and the Cubs finished 78-84, which was the last time they finished above fourth place for the next four seasons. We can safely say that was the beginning of the rebuild for the Cubs as all that talent couldn’t get the job done lone term.

Even though 2020 has yet to start, the pattern that this team has followed the past two seasons has me extremely worried that this is the same pattern we saw ten years ago. The most significant difference was back; then, the team was comprised of free agents and trade chips with only Soto and Theriot as our own prospects. Although this team has tons of money tied into free agents, we still have a large chunk of this roster from the minor league system, which makes this group of guys so frustrating to watch at times.

The talent is there, the coaching was there, and the front office seemed to be willing to do whatever it took to mold a winner. The only problem was the entire team forgot how to win consistently and has lost that fire they had from 15-17. Whether bringing in David Ross to bring back that fire remains to be seen, but given what we have seen from the Cubs this free agency, it is hard to see this team finish higher than third in the division.

I would even say they are the fourth-best team in the division right now as both the Reds and Brewers continue to make free-agent acquisitions. At the same time, the Cardinals are primed for another good season, given the amount of cheap and young talent they have on their roster. No one would be surprised to see the Cubs miss the post season this year or worse finish with a losing record.

Should that happen, what would be the next steps for this organization? Would they admit that they failed the fans and blow the whole thing up and start from scratch yet again with Ross as their man? Or, would they use this season to take their bumps and bruises to get back under the luxury tax tier so they can go out and spend money next season? I don’t know at this point, but I do see the pattern that we have seen recently is something I thought we wouldn’t see for a while.

While I don’t expect them to go full rebuild as they did in 2011, this certainly is sort of a retooling season because we don’t know what we will get from Ross as a manager. With zero managerial experience and a team in a crossroads as to what they want to be, Chicago and Ross will have their fair share of struggles during the season as they look to avoid another lengthy rebuild.

The best way to do that is to surprise people and get the most out of your players. That is something Ross should have no trouble doing. Let’s see if the Cubs respond to the new change at manager as positive or negative as the results of this season will tell us a lot about the future of this team. The way I see it if they continue to win or battle for a playoff spot no harm was done, but if the recent two year stretch of inconsistency continues, get ready for a rebuild on the North Side in 2021.

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