Chicago Cubs fans have gotten too accustomed to the phrase “There’s always next year.” A fanbase that starts each offseason with so much promise and optimism gets sorely disappointed come August.
A couple years ago a Cardinals fan asked me if I knew what Cubs stood for. I politely said a cub is a baby bear. She replies, “Cubs stands for completely useless by September.”
As offended as I was, I couldn’t help but see the truth in that. The Cubs typically aren’t in the discussion come September.
The last time they were was in 2003. We all know how that turned out.
This year’s slogan for the Cubs is “It’s a way of life.” (per Cubs.com)
Growing up in a family full of Cubs fans, though they are mostly from the south side of Chicago, I understand this slogan.
As is typical of this time of year, with the Cubs all but mathematically out of contention, the look ahead to next year begins.
It begins with optimism and hope that maybe next year is the year.
Here are a few reasons the Cubs could be contenders in 2013.
Starlin Castro is one of the best young shortstops in the game. Castro, 22, is on the verge of a 20-20 season in just his third year in the MLB.
Castro has all of the skills necessary to become a big-time star in the MLB. He was named an All-Star in 2012, the second of his career.
The Dominican has hit .300 or above in each of his first two seasons. He has seen a drop in his batting average this year but has increased his power numbers.
Castro’s 11 home runs this season are a career high.
In the field, Castro is having his best year of his career. With less than 50 games left, Castro has a .969 fielding percentage, a career-high.
All the talented pieces are in place for Castro to become a leader and the stand-out go-to guy the Cubs desperately need, if he can concentrate more on the game.
Carlos Marmol has a 4.58 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP in just over 40 appearances. Those numbers aren’t good for any reliever in the MLB, but it's even worse when you consider that he’s a closer.
With that in mind, Marmol lost his job earlier this season but has bounced back well.
Since May 30, Marmol is 12-for-12 in save opportunities with a 1-1 record. He has lowered his ERA from 5.84 to 4.58, giving up just 10 runs in that span.
Marmol’s stuggles these last two seasons have been well documented, but he has proven that he can be a shutdown closer.
In 2010, Marmol had 38 saves and a 2.55 ERA, giving up just one home run.
If Marmol can continue to build on this success he has had in the later months of this season, he could get back to being the shutdown closer the Cubs need.
Bryan LaHair was named an All-Star in his first-extended season in the Big Leagues.
Even with less than stellar numbers, LaHair has proven he can be a strong left-handed bat against right-handed pitchers.
LaHair hits .065 against lefties, but a respectable .296 against righties including a .893 OPS.
He is one of those role guys that every successful team seems to have. Eric Chavez of the New York Yankees and Jason Giambi of the Colorado Rockies are two other players that excel in this role.
Successful teams have those guys. The Cubs have that with LaHair.
A former 39th-round pick, LaHair has some great situational numbers. He hits .363 with no one on and no outs and .333 with the bases loaded.
He struggles against left-handed pitching, however. Those struggles have caused him to be platooned or even benched with lefties on the mound.
Not to be outdone, Anthony Rizzo has stepped into the hearts of Cubs fans, and the hearts of the Cubs front office.
Rizzo hit 20 home runs and well-over .300 at AAA Iowa. He has continued that success in the Bigs.
In 40 MLB games, Rizzo has a .298 batting average with nine home runs and a .853 OPS.
The former sixth-round pick was one of the Cubs’ most heralded prospects this season and he hasn’t disappointed this year.
He has a bright future ahead of him.
The Chicago Cubs are developing a pitching staff full of talented, young arms.
With Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza as the veterans on the Cubs staff, there will be some great competitions for rotation spots next spring training—that’s assuming Garza is healthy, and in a Cubs uniform next season.
The Cubs have acquired Arodys Vizcaino and Kyle Hendricks this season by sending away veterans Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.
The Cubs know they need young pitching and “waves” of it, according to president Theo Epstein.
They are making progress in that aspect.
It appears the Cubs have acknowledged that they are a few years away from making a run, but they are being proactive to solve that issue.
Also in the system are Dillon Maples (2011 14th-round pick) and Tony Zych (2011 fourth-round pick).
If playoff spots were awarded based on a dedicated fan base, the Cubs wouldn’t miss a postseason.
Unfortunately for Cubs fans, your team has to actually win a significant amount of the 162 games played each season.
Cubs fans seemingly always flock to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to watch the baseball gods be unfriendly to their team.
The Cubs have not had an attendance below the National League average since 1997, according to Baseball Almanac.
But it appears Cubs fans are growing restless.
In 2008, the Cubs set attendance records in average game attendance and total attendance. They averaged 40,743 fans per game.
Since then, the numbers have dropped significantly. In 2011, only 37,259 fans went through the gates at Wrigley Field per game.
Though Cubs fans will never abandon their team, it appears they may be sending a subtle message—a message that the Cubs front office should use as motivation.
Cubs fans want something to cheer about.
While they don’t play a direct role in the Cubs chances of being a contender, a little pressure from the fanbase in the form of slumping numbers could be the motivation Epstein and the rest of the front office needs to get the Cubs back from the cellar.
As is the case with all Cubs fans, we remain optimistic that the World Series drought will end in our lifetime.
Maybe, just maybe, these reasons can help the Cubs become contenders in 2013.