Have you heard yet that 2015 was a fun year for the Cubs? I know it’s a pretty novel concept, so bear with me here. From the start of the Joe Maddon Era in Chicago, it was obvious that something was different on the North Side. It was also obvious that the players felt like we did as fans. Or was it the other way around? Either way, the vibe around this Cubs team was decidedly different from that most people remember feeling around even other successful campaigns they’ve witnessed.
A lot of the joy was derived from the youthful exuberance constantly on display from various members of the organization. Even the Cubs Twitter account served to connect fans to the team and further the good feelings through GIFs, videos, and humorous replies. Those were all things we could see, but there was a considerable degree of the intangible underpinning and enhancing our consumption of the team.
It’s become more clear now that I’ve had teh chance to stand back and survey everything, though I suppose it should have been obvious from the start. There was a palpable shift after Cardinals series from a team everyone hoped could win to one most expected to win. No one in the front office or the roster will ever admit it, but there was satisfaction in vanquishing both division rivals. And yeah, of course you’re going to feel good about winning in the playoffs, but I’m talking about being so full from the meal that you’re not interested in taking a look a the dessert menu.
The Cubs had already achieved more than we thought they could or would. Is it possible the bubble simply burst? I think that’s certainly part of it. Whether it was a feeling as though they’d already achieved enough or of the team hitting a collective wall, it was obvious that the spark we’d witnessed fro 167 games was absent when the Cubs traveled to New York to face the Mets. To take nothing away from New York, the 97-win Cubs just didn’t look like they were ready or willing to put up a fight.
I’m not trying to place blame or to explain why the front office did or didn’t make certain moves, just doing a quick post-mortem and trying to explain what we saw out there. While the final 4 games will stand as a source of extreme disappointment, I believe they will spur the team to be better moving forward. If last offseason was a sign that the Cubs were ready to compete again, this winter should tell us they’re ready to win.
We had hoped they’d get Jon Lester prior to this season, but we expect David Price or Jordan Zimmermann or Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto. We expect Jason Heyward or Jason Kipnis or Alex Gordon. It’s not so much about needing to see specific players, but more about knowing the Cubs can and will pursue them. Likewise, it’s about knowing elite players will want to come to Chicago. Beyond the individuals, the expectations for the team have shifted too.
Heading into 2015, we had hoped for a .500 record and maybe a shot at the playoffs. You think anyone’s going to be satisfied with that in 2016? It’s easy to have fun when you’re outplaying hope, but another matter entirely to live up to hype and expectation. The Cubs know that, but my hope is that fans do as well. I hope we can all manage to find at least a measure of that fun even in the face of heightened expectations, not to mention payroll.