The Cubs Aren’t a Dynasty and That’s Okay

The Chicago Cubs are a very good team, one that employs a good manager and features a good front office. They’ve won a bunch of games over the past four seasons and, notably, claimed a World Series to end a century-long drought. The Cubs will have a good team next season, as well, and probably the one after that. The franchise has young stars around which to build, a front office that understands the importance of developing talent, and an endless supply of cash to ensure the team will contend for years to come. Things are looking good in Chicago.

And yet, following a Wild Card loss to the Rockies, one could be excused for regarding the Cubs as a bit of a disappointment. After that World Series title in 2016, a dynasty seemed inevitable to some. Chicago fans were thinking about the ’90s Bulls. Perhaps expectations were too high, though. Maybe the ’85 Bears were the better comparison.

If the Cubs had won this season, that would have given them three consecutive playoff appearances and two world championships in three years. In the last 40 years, only two franchises have pulled that off: the Blue Jays of the early 90s and Yankees of the late 90s. The Giants accomplished something either more or less impressive, depending on one’s criteria. On the one hand, they won three titles between 2010 and -14. On the other, they also missed the playoffs in the intervening seasons. The Red Sox won two World Series in the span of four years but also failed to reach the postseason in 2006.

Do any of those represent examples of a dynasty? Just the Yankees, probably. While there is no widely accepted definition of what constitutes a dynasty, it might be a case where it’s best to adopt Justice Potter Stewart’s view on such matters and say, “I know it when I see it.”

Let’s review the most recent contenders for the honor before returning to the Cubs.

The Yankees clubs of the late 90s and aughts were built around a core of Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams. The team later added Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez to try and sustain their run, but they couldn’t do so, winning only one more time (2009) despite a decade of success.

For 14 consecutive seasons, the Atlanta Braves won their division. During that period, they made the World Series five times but won just once. In the Cardinals’ run from 2000 to -15, they missed the playoffs four times, lost twice in the World Series, and missed the playoffs in three out of four seasons between their two titles in 2006 and 2011. The Phillies won their division five straight times and won an average of 95 games during that timeframe, but they claimed just one title.

Other clubs have featured sustained success without ever earning any hardware. Cleveland averaged 93 wins a season for seven years in the late ’90s and early 2000s and won six division titles. They reached the World Series twice but still didn’t win a championship. The Indians have also averaged 96 wins over the past three years but remain without a World Series win. AL Central rivals Detroit won the division four straight times earlier this decade and made one World Series but lost it. The Rangers lost two World Series in a row. The Blue Jays, Mets, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Reds, and Twins have all seen windows open and close in the past decade without a title.

Now compare the Cubs to those most similar teams over the past few years in terms of talent and finances. The Washington Nationals have failed to make the playoffs twice in the last four seasons despite loads of talent. They’ve won at least 95 games in four of the past seven seasons but haven’t won a single round in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers just wrapped up their sixth straight division title. They’ve averaged 94 wins during that time, boast the greatest pitcher of this generation, and have advanced to the NLCS three times, but they have just one World Series appearance and no wins.

It’s important to acknowledge that, yes, the Cubs were constructed in about the most ideal way possible. That said, it’s also necessary to recognize that most franchises — even when produce a roster of young stars and have enough money to address whatever weaknesses remain — don’t end up with multiple titles and a resulting dynasty. What the Cubs have accomplished to this point is rare. Here are the teams that have won a title and made the playoffs in at least four consecutive seasons:

  • Atlanta Braves – Title in 1995 and playoffs through 2005.
  • Chicago Cubs – Title in 2016 and playoffs from 2015 to 2018.
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Title in 2011 and playoffs through 2015.
  • New York Yankees – Title in 2009 and playoffs through 2012. Titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and playoffs from 1995 through 2007. Titles in 1961 and 1962, and playoffs from 1960 to 1964. Titles in 1956 and 1958, and playoffs from 1955 to 1958. Titles from 1949 through 1953. Titles from 1936 through 1939.
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Title in 2008 and playoffs from 2007 to 2011.
  • Oakland A’s – Titles in 1972, 1973, and 1974, and playoffs from 1971 through 1975.
  • New York Giants – Titles in 1921 and 1922, playoffs in 1923 and 1924.

In the Wild Card era, only three other franchises have pulled off what the Cubs just accomplished. It’s fair to say the Cubs earned and deserved a title in 2016, but it’s also fair to say they got lucky. The Houston Astros might have the makings of a dynasty right now, but our Playoff Odds give the club only a one-in-five shot at being the last team standing. It’s okay to be disappointed about the way the season ended this year. It’s okay to be upset about falling short a year ago. That’s what fandom is. Rooting for the victory necessarily translates to some sadness in defeat. What it doesn’t mean is that the Cubs have failed these last two years, that the club isn’t on the right track, or that wholesale changes are necessary.

Getting to the playoffs every season, earning a shot at a title: that should be the goal for every team. That wasn’t the Cubs’ goal back in 2013 and 2014, but the team is now on a path to sustained success. The team could roll out the ball in April without making a single change and compete for a title. A rotation featuring Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and a potentially declining Jon Lester is still a good one. If Yu Darvish is healthy, it could be dynamic. A healthy Kris Bryant would more than make up for some regression from Javier Baez or a decline from Ben Zobrist. The bullpen is better than it showed in the latter part of the season. Albert Almora, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber are all quality contributors. And that’s all without accounting for the kind of signing or trade which the organization’s resources allow.

Go ahead and be disappointed with this season and the dynasty that didn’t quite materialize. Look to the roster and speculate on what outside help might be necessary to get the team back over the top next year. But don’t forget the good fortune that brought the Cubs to this point and has them so well set up for the future. It’s still a really good time to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs.

We hoped you liked reading The Cubs Aren’t a Dynasty and That’s Okay by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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LofSkrif
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LofSkrif

Yanks won in 2000 too!

oozyalbies1
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oozyalbies1

Two obvious, if unspectacular, HOFers in Jeter and Rivera and two border-liners (at best) in Pettite and Bernie.

No one who ever won an MVP. Or even hit 30+ HRs during their runs (Tino did have 40+ in 1997 and 34 in 2001 non-Championship years).

Really not much bold ink on any of their cards really, and yet they were the most dominant team over a five year stretch this side of..err..the Yankees of the late 50s / early 60s. Bernie did manage a good for nothin Batting Title in 1998…

A rare dynasty, for any sport, without an obvious standout where the product really was greater than the sum of it’s parts

And to think, if Rivera hadn’t blown it in 1997 and 2001, they would’ve won six in six years!

hadabadday
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hadabadday

what did Rivera blow in 1997? As I recall the Yankees lost in the ALDS that year

dr. mvn
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dr. mvn

Rivera gave up a game-tying home run in the 8th inning of Game 4. If the Yankees hold on, they were off to the ALCS that evening to play the Orioles again.

oozyalbies1
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oozyalbies1

Right. Sandy Alomar Jr. got him.

But also, I was kidding.

Pepper Martin
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Pepper Martin

There’s… a lot wrong with this post.

First, assuming that we’re talking about the Yankees teams that won four World Series in 1996-2000, those teams already have two Hall of Famers — Wade Boggs and Tim Raines — with Rivera and Jeter to join them shortly. They also had Roger Clemens, which is its own ball of wax, and a bunch of other guys who could at least have Hall of Fame arguments tossed around about them, in Jorge Posada, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, David Wells, Daryll Strawberry, and maaaaayyyyybe Chili Davis.

But I think looking specifically at the 1998 Yankees — certainly there in the running for the greatest team of all time — is really instructive as to what made all of those teams so special.

Ten players got at least 300 PA’s for the 1998 Yankees. All of them — ALL OF THEM — had OBP’s of .350 or higher. The team’s OBP was .364. The Yankees were 2nd in the AL in stolen bases (six players had double digits, and both Jeter and Knoblauch topped 30). They were only 4th in the AL in HR’s, but it came from everywhere — they had 10 players in double-digts. The led the league in runs scored by a wide margin. They led the league in walks by a wide margin. Every single player on the team, top to bottom, could work counts, draw walks, and come around to score, and every player on the team could knock one out when the moment required it. Other than Posada and Tino, every player on the team was a threat to steal at any give moment. Everybody on the team, offensively, did the little things well. They had an OPS+ of 116, easily leading the A.L.

But, of course, it was the team’s pitching that really made them. The team ERA of 3.82 was more than a third of a run lower than anybody else in the A.L. Second-place Boston allowed 73 more runs than the Yankees did — the Yankees allowed more than 10% fewer runs than the next-closest team. The Yankees had 12 pitchers throw at least 40 innings in 1998. 10 of those pitchers had adjusted ERA’s better than league average (the exceptions being Mike Stanton, an excellent leftie setup guy who just happened to have a bad year, and Mike Buddie, whom I legitimately do not remember playing on the 1998 Yankees). David Wells was excellent. David Cone was excellent. Orlando Hernandez was amazing. Andy Pettitte was pretty good. Hideki Irabu wasn’t as bad as everyone remembers. Mariano Rivera was Mariano Rivera; Graeme Lloyd had a monster season out of the pen; so did Jeff Nelson. Ramiro Mendoza had one of the great swing-seasons of all time.

New York was above average at literally every single position, at every single rotation spot, and in every single bullpen spot except Stanton’s down year as the lefty setup guy. Derek Jeter was 3rd in the AL in bWAR, behind Clemens and A-Rod (fWAR is less kind). bWAR shows four different 5-win position players; fWAR drops Bernie to 4.9.

When literally every single player on your roster is above average, pitchers and hitters alike, you’re going to have a good team.

oozyalbies1
Member
oozyalbies1

I didn’t consider Wade Boggs or Tim Raines significant contributors to that dynasty, which is why I didn’t include them, but point taken. It speaks to their depth that they had such greats acting as role players.

Boggs did play 132 games in 1996 and about 100 in 1997 before going to Tampa Bay in 1998. His OPS+ combined over those two years was ~100. Raines was a role player from 1996-1998 who got most of his burn in 1998 (109 games and 382 PAs).

The 3B who most would identify with that dynasty was Brosius, who played for three WS teams and was fantastic in 1998, even winning the ALCS MVP. LF was a revolving door of Raines, Mark Whiten, Chad Curtis, Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, David Justice, etc.

You could certainly have arguments about those other guys that you mentioned, but I don’t know if you’d get very far. Cone and Posada probably have the best cases and neither of them lasted more than a year on the ballot, so, there you go. Maybe Strawberry too, but again, more so for his years as a Met. He wasn’t a regular for any of those teams.

Otherwise, yeah, they were remarkably deep, well balanced and consistent.