2017 Chicago Cubs
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2017 Chicago Cubs / Franchise: Chicago Cubs / BR Team Page
Clinched Division: September 27, 2017, At St. Louis Cardinals
Managed by Joe Maddon
History, Comments, Contributions
The 2017 Chicago Cubs started the season with a bit of hangover, having just celebrated their first World Championship in 108 years following their dramatic win in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. There had been a tremendous party in Chicago, IL afterwards, and everyone was feeling good. Most experts gave the team a good shot to, if not repeat as champions, at least return to the postseason. After all, the 2016 was quite a young one, with many of its key players, like MVP Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo just entering their prime, and others like SS Addison Russell, 2B Javier Baez and OF Kyle Schwarber not yet having reached their full potential. The team's minor league system was also stacked. Thus, the loss of three key performers from the championship team - CF Dexter Fowler, closer Aroldis Chapman and back-up C David Ross, the first two through free agency and the third as a result of retirement - was seen as something that could be easily overcome. The Cubs did add former Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis to take over for Chapman, but for the other two, they did not feel the need to add anyone.
However, the first six weeks of the season did not go as smoothly as expected. On May 15th, the Cubs' record stood at 18-19 and they were in 4th place in the NL East, 4 games back of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. Replacing Fowler as the lead-off hitter had proved to be much harder than expected. Schwarber, a low-average slugger who could draw a walk, was given the role, but he was batting only .179 and not acting as a spark-plug. In addition, having him play regularly in left field weakened the outfield defence. 1B Rizzo was also mired in a slump, batting only .213. Russell and C Willson Contreras were struggling with low batting averages too, both at .226, and utility player Ben Zobrist was at .223. Only Bryant was having an above average season with the bat, with an OPS of .949, making him the only starter with an OPS+ above 100.
The starting pitching, another area of strength in 2016, was also underperforming: Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey were pitching decently, but were a combined 6-7, but the other two starting slots, filled by Jake Arrieta and Brett Anderson had been trouble spots, with ERAs of 5.44 and 8.18 respectively (ironically, the two had a combined winning record, at 6-5). In contrast, the bullpen, which had been more of a question mark coming into the season, was performing well, with Davis sporting a virgin ERA with 2 wins and 8 saves in 16 games, with Carl Edwards (1.17), Mike Montgomery (1.08) and Koji Uehara (2.63) all doing an excellent job to set him up. The Cubs finished the month of May with six straight losses, putting them below .500 at 25-27. They were in third place, but because no team had been playing particularly well in the division, were only 2 1/2 games back of first - but also 2 games from last place.
The Cubs ended the first half on a down note as Lester had the worst start of his career against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 9th, giving up 10 runs without getting out of the 1st inning. The Cubs lost 14-3 to the Pirates to enter the All-Star break with a record of 43-45, 5 1/2 games out of first place, occupied by the surprising Milwaukee Brewers. One sign of how frustrating the first half had been is that they had only one player nominated to take part in the 2017 All-Star Game - closer Wade Davis - and he wasn't even part of the World Series-winning team the year before! And when Davis did get to enter the game in the 10th inning, Robinson Cano took his first pitch deep for what proved to be a game-winning home run.
Immediately after the All-Star break, on July 13th, the Cubs made a major trade in a bid to solidify their starting rotation, sending four prospects to the crosstown Chicago White Sox in return for P José Quintana. The move was welcomed by fans and players alike and gave the team a boost of energy as they swept the Baltimore Orioles on the road in their first series after the break. The three wins included a masterful performance by Quintana in his first appearance for his new team as he pitched 7 scoreless innings and struck out 12 while walking none in an 8-0 win on July 16th. His second start on July 23rd, a 5-3 win over the Cardinals, allowed the Cubs to catch the Brewers atop the division, putting them in first place for the first time since June 6th. To do this, the Cubs had gone 8-1 since the break. By scoring a season-high 16 runs in a win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 1st, the Cubs improved their record to 14-3 since the pause. They then went 17-12 in August and seemed on their way to confirming their division title, finishing the month at 73-60 and 3 1/2 games up in the division. But they hit more problems in the first two weeks of September, losing 6 of 8 games starting on September 3rd while the Brewers and Cardinals were both winning, which meant that by September 10th, after having been swept in three games at home by the Brewers by a combined score of 20-3, their lead had shrunk to 2 games over both of their pursuers. However, they gave themselves some breathing room by sweeping the Cardinals at home on September 15-17, increasing their lead to four games over Milwaukee and six over St. Louis. They eventually stretched that winning streak to a season-best 7 games before losing to the Tampa Bay Rays on September 20th.
On September 21st, the Cubs opened a crucial four-game series against the Brewers at Miller Park with a come-from-behind win when they trailed 3-2 going in the 9th inning, tying the game on a two-out single by Javier Baez, escaping a bases loaded jam with one out in the bottom of the 9th and then winning it, 5-3 on a two-run homer by Kris Bryant in the 10th. That win put them 4 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee. They followed that with another extra-innings win on September 22nd, 5-4, thanks to a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella. That win allowed St. Louis to pass Milwaukee as the Cubs' closest chasers. In Game 3, it was the Brewers' turn to win in the 10th, coming back from a one-run deficit on a walk-off two-run homer by Travis Shaw off Wade Davis. But the Cubs bounced right back to win the finale, 5-0, behind a complete game shutout by José Quintana, extending their lead to an almost insurmountable 5 1/2 games with a week left to play.
Awards and Honors
- All-Star: Wade Davis
- NL Gold Glove: Jason Heyward (RF)
- 2017 Topps All-Star Rookie Team: Ian Happ (2B)
- Carrie Muskat: "Cubs relishing role of postseason underdogs: Defending World Series champs feel experience is big advantage", mlb.com, October 4, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "As Cubs defend title, they embrace a new mantra: 'That's Cub'", USA Today Sports, February 14, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Chicago Cubs' first title defense in more than 100 years starts vs. bitter rival", USA Today Sports, April 2, 2017. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Struggling Cubs know the deal: 'We need to clean this up'", USA Today Sports, May 14, 2017. 
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Cubs loaded again — so what could go wrong as they defend World Series title?", USA Today Sports, February 28, 2017. 
- Phil Rogers: "Holy Cow! Cubs should be even better in 2017: Unfortunately for the rest of the NL, the North Siders are still on the rise", mlb.com, March 30, 2017. 
- Phil Rogers: "5 areas Cubs can improve in 2nd half: Club has pieces to address biggest areas of need", mlb.com, July 12, 2017. 
- Kevin Santo: "Cubs, Indians finding out how hard it is to repeat World Series appearances", USA Today Sports, July 6, 2017. 
- Washington Post: "Cubs clinch NL Central title", Historicnewspapers.com, September 28, 2017