The Cubs won 95 games in 2018. To put that number into context, in the last 73 seasons, they have won more games than that exactly four times. Only one National League team won more in 2018. That would be the Brewers, who went into Wrigley Field and won their 96th in a one-game playoff that decided the NL Central.
The Cubs won 95 times despite third baseman Kristopher Bryant playing just 32 games after the All-Star break. Despite right-hander Yu Darvish throwing his final pitch on May 20. Despite closer Brandon Morrow missing the entire second half.
Their pitching staff had the NL's second-lowest ERA, and only the Astros in the American League had a lower bullpen ERA. Offensively, only the Dodgers, Rockies and Nationals scored more runs than the Cubs in the NL. That's it. If this is what qualifies as a train wreck of a season, plenty of teams would sign up. But somehow, in the weeks since the Cubs lost the NL Wild Card Game to the Rockies, the narrative has become that they are broken, that significant change is needed. This is silly.
What the Cubs really need is to get the team they planned on having in 2018 back on the field. Put a healthy Bryant across the infield from Anthony Rizzo. Put NL MVP runner-upJavier Baez at either short or second; he's fine either place. And put Darvish in a rotation with Jonathan Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Is there a better rotation in the NL? At this point, only the Cardinals and Dodgers would appear to be in the conversation.
Also silly is the suggestion that manager Joe Maddon deserves to be on the hot seat. Actually, given the injuries and other challenges, this might have been one of his best seasons. That the Cubs decided not to extend Maddon's contract beyond 2019 is not to be ignored, either. That'll be his fifth season, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein clearly wants to keep his options open about changing the voice in the clubhouse.
If there was tension between Epstein and Maddon during the 2018 season, that's what happens in lots of places -- and that's mostly a good thing. Smart, competitive people aren't going to agree on everything, and occasionally a few weeks away from the grind is needed to restore perspective.
Was this a successful season for the Cubs? Of course not. When a team is two years removed from winning a World Series, not getting past the NL Wild Card Game is a disappointment.
And cracks were exposed. The Cubs led the NL with 107 wRC+ and a .332 wOBA in the first half. In the second, they were 10th in wRC+ (89) and 11th in wOBA (.305) as Bryant dealt with a shoulder injury, and teams tempted Rizzo outside the strike zone. He led the Cubs with 33 walks after the break, and only Matt Carpenter drew more intentional walks among all NL hitters.
With that pitching staff and with Bryant, Baez and Rizzo in the prime of their careers, the window is still very much open for the Cubs. But because they've traded away so many prospects to fill needs, there's some urgency to win again now.
There are areas that need to be addressed. How about a right-handed hitter to balance the outfield? Say, Minnesota's Robbie Grossman. Or would Tampa Bay part with Tommy Pham?
Like a lot of teams, the Cubs could use a left-handed reliever to help Maddon maneuver through the late innings.
Just as important is that lots of the Cubs' younger players -- Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ -- experienced some growing pains in 2018.
No big deal there. Happens to almost all of 'em. Patience is required as they continue to figure things out. Maybe not all of them will, but the Cubs' strengths still far outweigh their weaknesses.
As wish lists go, this is a short one. The Cubs did not come up short -- if 95 wins is coming up short -- in 2018 because of some fundamental flaw in the plan.
Instead, the Cubs were reminded of how many pieces have to fall precisely into place to win a World Series. At this point, the Cubs are optimistic that Bryant's shoulder has healed and that he'll be the player he has been for most of his career. Darvish and Morrow apparently will be ready to go from the get-go at Spring Training. As for the kids, that's a work in progress.
Regardless, the Cubs seem almost certain to be favored to make a fifth straight playoff appearance. With a payroll already north of $200 million, they've used their only big-ticket move to pick up Hamels' 2019 option. But they may not need to do much more than that.