The Cubs Came Up Short, But Opened a New Window to Contend

While the Chicago Cubs narrowly missed the playoffs this year, they at least put themselves in a better position to contend in the future.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 03: (L-R) Nick Madrigal #1, Jeimer Candelario #9, Cody Bellinger #24, Mike Tauchman #40 and Dansby Swanson #7 of the Chicago Cubs celebrate after the win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field on August 03, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 5-3. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

“You can’t define something as a success when you fall short of your goals,” Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said when reflecting on the season. 

No one would call not making the playoffs and getting second in your division a success, which is what the 2023 Cubs did this season. Especially since they have not put themselves in position to achieve their postseason “goals” in the past three years.

Since the historic 2016 season, where they won the World Series for the first time in 108-years, the Cubs have made the playoffs three times. In their most recent trip to the postseason in 2020 they lost to the Miami Marlins in the National League Wild Card Series.

Despite the Cubs ending the season shorter than they would have hoped, there is a different feel this time around on the northside of Chicago. 

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The Cubs did not come out of the gates strong as they sat 21st in the MLB with a record of 42-47 at the All-Star break. Chicago also sat third in NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers ranking ahead of them, respectively. 

The woes that struck the Cubs to begin the season, combined with the Reds looking to be world-beaters, made it seem like they would have a long season ahead of them. 

Along with being sellers at the deadline.

The Cubs contemplated if selling was the best option as they stared at a 24.5% chance of making the playoffs. Chicago played 17 games between the start of the second half of the season and the trade deadline. In those games, they went 11-6 and decided to be some sort of buyers. 

At the deadline, the Cubs made three trades to acquire an infielder and two right-handed pitchers. Chicago made moves to acquire Jeimer Candelario from Washington, Jose Cuas from Kansas City and Josh Roberson from Tampa Bay, along with future and cash considerations. 

The newcomers were positive additions, however, they were not the reason Chicago turned around their season. The Cubs went from bottom-10 in the MLB to finishing the second half with the 10th best record at 41-32. 

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The resurgence was mainly from the players that were already in the clubhouse. The investment by the front office to compliment what they already had was enough of a confidence boost. 

The Cubs put together a stellar second half that saw them in the playoff conversation until the second to last day of the season. On Saturday, September 30th, the Marlins defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, sinking all of the hopes on the north side of Chicago to see baseball in October. 

Chicago finished the season with an overall record of 83-79, second in the NL central. 

Telling the story of the 2023 Cubs can not be told without the contributions from Cody Bellinger and Seyia Suzuki. Bellinger showed glimpses of his 2019 MVP season by resurrecting his dominance at the plate.

The former Dodger finished the season slashing .307/.356/.881. His batting average ranked sixth among all MLB players in the regular season. Bellinger also finished the season hitting his third-highest career total in home runs with 26 and tying his career-high in RBI with 97.

Suzuki back-loaded his season as he was spectacular for the Cubs when they really needed it. A .370/.434/1.119 slash in the month of September capped off a scorching hot end to his second year in Chicago. Suzuki surpassed the 20 home run mark for the first time in his career, and finished the year with the MLB’s 14th-best batting average for the regular season in .285. 

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Another contributor that needs to be mentioned is Nico Hoerner. Hoerner has been with the Cubs since 2019 and has improved every year. The second baseman built upon an already impressive 2022, slashing .283/.346/.729 in 2023. He posted a 4.7 fWAR for the year, which was the second-best mark on the team.

The Cubs also saw key efforts from Dansby Swanson and Christopher Morel. Swanson picked up his second All-Star title as he hit .244 on the season, while being a leader on the team with his 4.9 fWAR.

Morel exploded from the plate this season as he finished tied for first in home runs with 26. He finished the season .247/.313/.508, with a 119 wRC+ and showed a lot of promise as a 24-year-old. 

In 2023, Yan Gomes was nothing to write home about, nonetheless he was consistent. Gomes is 36-years-old and has a young promising catcher behind him in Miguel Amaya, who should take over the position as early as next season.

Gomes and his veteran demeanor finished the season with a 1.7 WAR. 

After taking a look at the performances from the plate, the Cubs had some All-Star performances from the mound as well in Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman. Steele ended the season with the most strikeouts on the team with 176 and the most wins with a record of 16-5.

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The southpaw also finished with the sixth-best ERA in the MLB tossing a 3.06 in 173.1 innings.  Stroman kicked off the year blisteringly hot, which gave him the All-Star nod. Stroman battled the rest of the year with some injuries, but he will look to replicate his first half efforts in 2024. 

Kyle Hendricks had yet another successful year as a Cub in his 24 starts. The professor finished the year with a 3.74 ERA and allowed only four home runs. Luke Little and Adbert Alozolay also provided important efforts at the bump. 

Little only pitched in seven games and 6.2 innings but ended the season with 12 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.00. Little will look to build on this in 2024, just with a higher number of appearances. Alzolay also was a great bullpen arm for the Cubs. He really found his strides as a closer with a team-high 22 saves on the year. Look for him to build that number in 2024 as he kicks off the season in that role.  

The Cubs saw two top tier prospects get called up to the bigs in 2023 in Pete Crow-Armstrong and Jordan Wicks. PCA is the No.1 prospect in their system, and played in 13 games. He is still finding his rhythm at the plate, which is expected as he played the majority of his season in Double-A with the Tennessee Smokies.

PCA did, however, showcase his defensive skills, mainly his speed. No. 10 prospect Wicks was a similar story as he also started the season in Double-A with the Smokies. The lefty did find his footing a bit faster as he finished the season with a 4.41 ERA and an overall record of 4-1. 

Speaking of the Smokies, Tennessee was crowned the Double-A Southern League Champions. The Smokies defeated the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Double-A Miami Marlins) in the championship. Tennessee went a perfect 4-0 in their four playoff games. 

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Despite not making the playoffs, the Cubs do have a lot to have hope for in the future.

They have a big decision to make on impending free agents, like Bellinger and Stroman (assuming he exercises the opt-out in his contract), while also trying to determine how much they can count on their farm system to supplement their roster.

But when the 2024 season rolls around, the northsiders know that they have a team that can contend. It is just a matter of getting hot and staying hot at the right time for this young team.