As soon as the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, the dynasty talk began.
You remember it, don’t you? Every magazine, newspaper, blog, etc. suggested that this Cubs team was the beginning of something special, something consistent, something dynastic (wow – can’t believe that’s a real word, but cool).
And, yet, here we are, just one year later, and the Cubs are without a second-consecutive World Series crown. So … uh, was the Cubs dynasty just really short-lived? Or did it never happen at all? I don’t think either of those questions are fair, but maybe I’m in the minority.
For one example of this discussion, at ESPN, Buster Olney asks if the Houston Astros are doomed to follow the same path of the Cubs:
It’s worth remembering that a year ago the same conversation hovered over the Chicago Cubs in the afterglow of their championship. The Cubs were and still are young, talented and loaded with high-end athletes like Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Javier Baez. But now the Cubs are in the midst of enormous change, with signs that the team’s front office was deeply dissatisfied with the progress of this group.
Now, before I respond or go further, I first want to say that the definition of a dynasty is CLEARLY subjective. There are no checkboxes, thresholds, or specific, objective accomplishments qualifying a team as a dynasty, so there’s no reason to take this too seriously or get too upset. I simply think this could be an interesting (albeit nuanced) conversation and I’d like to hear your thoughts. First, let me share mine.
NOW – here’s my question: If this is not what the beginning of a dynasty looks like, then what is?
One of the biggest problems I have as a guy who writes and talks about the Cubs for a living is bridging the narrative gap between statistical results and expectations. That problem is evident throughout the game (most notably in the traditional v. advanced stats debate (is it even still a debate?)). And while I almost always lean heavily towards the advanced stats, I can of course sometimes see the benefit in the alternative.
For example: if I’m trying to predict which player is likely to perform better over the next few weeks, I’m going to use the MUCH more predictive advanced and peripheral statistics – they simply do that job much better. If I’m going to vote on a World Series MVP, however, I might be partially swayed by the guy with a ton of homers and RBI (or clutch rating, or whatever), because that’s sorta the point.
In other words, sometimes examining what actually did happen is a useful part of the equation. And in the case of the Cubs … how could things have realistically gone any better?
Ignore the regular season for a moment and let’s just hit the headlines of 2017. We (the internet/world) came into the season shouting that the Cubs looked like the beginning of a dynasty – after having gone to the NLCS in 2015, and then won a World Series in 2016 – and then the team came within just three wins of returning to another World Series. Three wins.
An NLCS appearance, a World Series win, and another NLCS appearance. That’s the end of a dynasty?
By this logic (and the results-focused approach), the ONLY way your favorite team can be considered a dynasty is if they go to the World Series every single year. Three straight NLCS appearances and a World Series win? Nope. Good team, not a dynasty. Win three more games in the NLCS, though? Boom. Dynasty. That’s pretty silly, right?
And it’s especially silly, because baseball isn’t football, and it isn’t basketball. The best teams don’t just coast through the playoffs and into the championship year after year. But the Cubs, for all their warts, became one of the final four teams playing for the third consecutive season and won a ton of playoff games against REALLY good teams during that stretch:
In the last 3 years, the Cubs have eliminated the Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Indians, and Nationals out of the playoffs. Awesome.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 23, 2017
So, again: if this were to be the beginning of a dynasty and we were just measuring accomplishments, I think the Cubs check all of the right boxes.
But that’s obviously not the only way to think about it.
After all, there’s more to consider: at 92-70, the Cubs had just the seventh best record in baseball this season, had the lowest win total of any divisional leader, and fought an unexpectedly tough NL Central race against teams that should not have come nearly as close as they did.
Heck, the Cubs were below .500 in the first half of the season, and entered the All-Star break 5.5 games out of first place. That sure doesn’t look like a team in the midst of a dynasty.
Then, again, we know they were coming off back-to-back deep postseason runs and a long, drawn-out World Series celebration. And on top of that, manager Joe Maddon mentioned on many occasions that was purposefully keeping his foot off the gas in the first half.
And then, in the second half of the season … the Cubs (49-25) were the single best team in the National League and were second in MLB only to the Cleveland Indians (55-20), who happened to win a historic 22 games in a row. Suddenly, the second-half Cubs look a whole lot like a “dynasty-type-team” don’t they? After all, they were playing like a team that could go all the way (predictive perspective), and then got really damn close.
NOW, did this season expose some holes? Yes, of course. And do the Cubs clearly have some work to do over the winter to be great AGAIN in 2018? Definitely. But you could argue that their abundance of young position players, solid front three of the rotation, quality manager, fantastic front office, and abundant resources put them in as good of a position as almost any team in baseball heading into next season.
In all likelihood, they’ll make the necessary improvements and continue to succeed. And, for the official record, a team that returns to the playoffs consistently and lasts deeper than the first round is a dynasty in my book.
The Cubs may have not done it enough times YET, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t exactly what the early stages would look like, right?*
*What I’m otherwise completely open to is that a dynasty is really only something you can look back on and pick out, not something you can really identify in the moment. If the Cubs stop being good next season, well, then, yeah, they were definitely not a dynasty. HOWEVER, as of this precise moment, they’re looking like they’re on their way.