Against the odds, competitive September baseball is back at Wrigley Field

Whichever way you look at it, the Chicago Cubs are one of the feel good stories of the 2023 season.

Projected to win just 77 games this year (they picked up their 77th win on Sunday), they’ve exceeded all expectations, overcoming numerous rough patches, injuries to key players and frequent bullpen issues to somehow put themselves in the playoff picture come September.

This is by no means an insignificant achievement either, given that this was supposed to be a transition year for the Cubs.

Ever since the trade deadline sell off of 2021, the timeline has been uncertain for this team.

Their attempts to extend the World Series winning core’s window of competitiveness left their farm system seriously depleted and while trading Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez, among others, went some way to replenishing it, many felt it lacked the kind of stars-in-the-making that helped prise that window open in the first place.

In reality, things haven’t been anywhere near that bleak though. Just look at Justin Steele, who’s currently one of the frontrunners for the National League Cy Young award. Or Adbert Alzolay, who’s become one of the game’s most dependable closers. Or Christopher Morel, who’s developed a tendency to deliver thrilling, game-winning hits on demand. And then there’s Javier Assad, Jordan Wicks, Miguel Amaya, Hayden Wesneski, Daniel Palencia and Luke Little – all of whom have emerged from the minor leagues to offer major league support this year.

What’s more, of the prospects Fangraphs named in their Top 100 Prospects List heading into this season Pete Crow-Armstrong (14) has just been called up, while Kevin Alcántara (73), Hayden Wesneski (88) and Cristian Hernandez (100) remain in the system, ready to help out down the stretch, next year or beyond, while the Cubs also added shortstop Matt Shaw, who’s already been promoted from High-A to Double-A, via this year’s draft.

As Patrick Mooney wrote in his most recent piece on The Athletic, “The future is now. And the future could be blindingly bright,” referring, of course, to the fact that in addition to an array of young players and prospects, the Cubs have a strong core comprising Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner, Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ all locked into deals that will keep them at the Friendly Confines until at least 2026.

These players have all been instrumental in helping the Cubs overcome the odds this season, providing stability and leadership while they endured a May that saw them go 10-18 and a tough stretch coming out of the London Series.

It’s Cody Bellinger’s return to MVP-calibre form that’s really elevated them to contender level though, giving them something it looked like they’d have to get through this season without – a star.

All this combined has created a perfect storm for the Cubs, putting them in a position where they have an 85.3% chance of making the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. While their chances of winning the World Series stand at 2.2%, the same site has them winning 87.1 games, which would be a huge success given what they’ve had to overcome to get here.

While fans will spend September dreaming of postseason baseball, it’s exciting just to have reached this point. I was at Wrigley Field a couple of weeks ago for the Cubs-Brewers series and can’t reiterate enough how good it was to see this team go head-to-head with a divisional rival in a meaningful series at such a late stage of the season.

The pandemic-shortened 2020 season notwithstanding, this is the first time that’s happened since 2019, when the Cardinals swept them in a painstaking series at Wrigley Field that all but eliminated the Cubs from playoff contention.

So whatever happens between now and the end of the season, 2023 is already stamped in Cubs fans’ collective consciousness as one of the most unique and unusual seasons in recent memory. And while the Summer of Mike Tauchman may now officially be over, who knows what autumn has in store for this team.

Featured image: Author’s own

Sean Guest is the Chicago Cubs correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @SW_Guest

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