Baseball’s Two Historically “Cursed” Teams Are the Two Best in Baseball — Cubs Edition

Posted: 01/30/2016 by levcohen in Baseball

It’s never a good sign when your team is widely known to have a curse. It’s worse when that curse is named. Until 2004, the Boston Red Sox had gone 86 years without a World Series Championship. It had also been 84 years since they disastrously traded Babe Ruth? Coincidence? Maybe not (but really, yes), hence the Curse of the Bambino. Of course, the Sox broke the “curse” in 2004, first roaring back from 3-0 down in their series against the Yankees before cruising to the championship. They’ve won twice more since then, quite a turnaround from the near-century they went without a championship. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs have an even longer drought than the Red Sox, and theirs is still going, as they haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Their curse is called the Curse of the Billy Goat, which was allegedly placed on the Cubs in 1945, when Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis was asked to leave game 4 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers at the Cubs’ home ballpark of Wrigley Field because the odor of his pet goat was bothering other fans. Sianis was understandably angry and declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” So far, Sianis has been correct, as the Cubs haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 1945. They got close last year, making the NLCS before losing to the Mets, but they haven’t gotten back in 70 years, which is kind of ridiculous. Ok, enough of the curse talk. Why am I talking about these two teams? Well, because I think they’re the two best teams in baseball as I type right now, a little more than two months before the start of the season. Let’s start with the Cubs, the team with the longer curse and, I think, clearly the best team in the majors.

Last year was supposed to be the year before the Cubs got good. We could all see the heaps of talent in their system, but it wasn’t supposed to come together until this year. Instead, the Cubs won 97 games last year, the third-most in baseball (unfortunately, also the third most in their own division). Kris Bryant had a great rookie season and Anthony Rizzo had another very good year, but the biggest reason that the Cubs beat expectations was because they got an incredible season out of Jake Arrieta, who posted a 1.77 ERA and won the Cy Young. That won’t happen again, but it won’t matter, because the rest of the team is so good. First of all, Bryant is now 24 and seems poised to take a step forward into the small group of elite third basemen. For a guy with monster power, his 26 homer season last year was actually somewhat disappointing, and I expect at least 30 this year along with the defense, baserunning, and on-base ability that allowed him to post 6.5 Fangraphs WAR last year. Rizzo’s about as sure a bet as you can ask for at first base, so the corner infield positions are set. Meanwhile, catcher Miguel Montero had a nice bounce-back season last year in his first year with the Cubs, and, although he’ll turn 33 this year, he seems like a good bet to provide another above-average offensive season. Shortstop will be manned by Addison Russell, a 22-year old who was already a defensive stud last season and who already has above-average power for a shortstop (his contact and plate discipline will come, and they’ll probably come soon). And the corner outfield positions will be manned by Jorge Soler (will play the season at 24, has 40+ homer power) and Kyle Schwarber (if you don’t remember Schwarber mania from last year, he was 18 for his first 47 with a 213 wRC+ before settling down and ending at 131). That leaves just second base and centerfield, two very important positions which were question marks heading into the offseason. How have the Cubs addressed those positions? Well, they went out and signed Ben Zobrist (four years, $56 million) and Jason Heyward (eight years, $184 million) to man those two positions. Zobrist is a great guy to have, a utility man who has averaged 5.3 WAR over the past seven seasons and can get on base at a great rate while playing good defense. Heyward, meanwhile, is a stud, a rare 26-year old free agent who is getting $184 million but left money on the table and seems like a great bet to outperform his contract. He’s a good offensive player and a great defender, a guy who can win the Cubs four or five more games than they would have without him. Guess what? Zobrist and Heyward seem likely to slot into the first and second slots in the lineup, and with Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber, and Soler hitting between those guys, the team’s going to score a lot of runs.

Meanwhile, Arrieta will return to lead a rotation that is deeper than it was last season. Jon Lester will return as a very good #2, and the Cubs gave John Lackey $16 million a year to be the #3. He might not be the guy who posted a 2.77 ERA last year, but anything in the 3.5-range should be fine. And Kyle Hendricks, Jason Hammel, and Travis Wood are all good options at the back of the rotation. The bullpen doesn’t look like anything special, but it’s also not going to be a major weakness. Just like the rotation, it will be more than good enough to support the great lineup.

The Cubs this year remind me of the Nationals heading into last season. Before last year, the Nats were regarded as the clear team to beat. They were supposed to have a great, four-headed rotation, with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and new addition Max Scherzer. They had Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon in the middle of their stacked lineup. And they went 83-79 and missed the playoffs. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen to these Cubs. I don’t think it will, because this team is so young and because their main strength lies in their hitting, a much more bankable plus than pitching. I really want them to make and win the World Series, because I feel bad for their fan base. And I think that, even if it doesn’t happen this season, it likely will in the next few, because this team has the look of a potential dynasty, with a lot of young talent and, even after the departures of guys like Bryant, a top-10 farm system. Last year’s Nationals have reminded us that nothing is a sure thing, but the Cubs will surely enter the season as the team to beat, even though they haven’t won the World Series since 1908.

Next up: the once cursed Red Sox are the best team in the wide-open AL.

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Comments
  1. quadrangular says:

    Love that “Billy Goat Curse”!

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