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.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.