Wittenmyer: Tanks for worst team in franchise history, Cubs


Congratulations, Tom Ricketts and Jed Hoyer.

You’ve pulled off in a matter of months — arguably weeks — what looked like the impossible based on 145 previous years of National League baseball.

You’ve assembled the worst Chicago Cubs baseball team in the history of a franchise known for most of that history as losers (lovable and otherwise).

And it should be embarrassing as hell for a team that inspired easy talk of dynasties with its youth-fueled championship just five years ago after becoming the first big-revenue team to intentionally tank to build that winner.

It should be even more embarrassing for a league that incentivized that process through collective bargaining gains over the past decade — maybe even a little disquieting for MLB with a new CBA hanging in the balance of potentially contentious talks the next three or four months.

Not that you’ll find a lot of self-awareness for just how bad this look is, or its causes — much less embarrassment.

Hoyer, the team president who “accelerated” a process at the trade deadline that wasn’t a process until Theo Epstein bailed and Hoyer put it into motion, says this rebuild isn’t actually a rebuild (in part, apparently, because “I don’t know what the definition of a rebuild is”) — and further says he doesn’t know what he’ll do next because he has to wait until seeing what’s in the new CBA.

If you didn’t quite follow that, just know that whatever Hoyer’s next move is, he has pulled off a two-month stretch of tanking more thorough and effective than any full season worth of tank he and Epstein oversaw during the three-year lead-up to 2015.

He even has a guy on this roster nicknamed “Tank” (Frank Schwindel).

Somebody say tanking?

Rob Manfred, the baseball commissioner who has been known to deny tanking even goes on in his sport, declined to talk about the subject while in town recently for a Ricketts family event at Wrigley Field, cutting off a brief interview with two reporters when asked about tanking.

Somebody say Ricketts?

Cubs ownership actually staged that recent event at Wrigley in large part to congratulate itself for investing in capital expenditures to help grow its multibillion-dollar enterprise (like most business owners do) — after having started the remarkably fast demolition of its defending NL Central-champion team with a cost-slashing winter that included the salary dump of Cy Young runnerup Yu Darvish.

By Sunday, the Cubs might as well have been playing naked for all the city’s baseball fans on both sides of town to witness their flaws and shortcomings in a 13-1 loss to the White Sox that even their ace Kyle Hendricks — the Game 7 starter on that franchise-lifting night in Cleveland — could not sidestep.

Some may quibble over whether this is the worst Cubs team ever — or perhaps merely the second- or fifth- or eighth-worst.

The dean of Chicago baseball writers, Paul Sullivan of the Tribune, suggested that distinction might belong to the 1999 team.

Jim Riggleman’s woebegone North Siders finished 30 games out of first with 95 losses that year.

In fact, that was the last time the Cubs looked this bad in August. That one finished 6-24 in August, getting outscored by 76 runs in the month; this year’s club is 6-20 with a game left this month and already has been outscored by 79.

And Sullivan might have a point when it comes to the team over a full season.

This year’s Cubs are basically two teams, including the pre-deadline team that overachieved to reach nine games over .500, tied for first, on June 24, despite dumping Darvish and Kyle Schwarber over the winter.

But for the utter dismantling and destruction of almost an entire core, it’s tough to beat the team that manager David Ross got handed after the deadline for the franchise’s nadir:

  • This team had an 11-game losing streak and a 12-game losing streak for the first time in a single season in franchise history (only once before had a Cubs team had two double-digit losing streaks in a season) — and pulled off both streaks during a 53-day span.
  • The second of those streaks overlapped a franchise-worst 13-game home losing streak.
  • They’re 15-42 (.263) since that June 24 high-water mark, 7-21 (.250) since the trade deadline and went 1-5 against the White Sox for their worst season finish against a crosstown rival that used the Cubs’ own tanking blueprint (along with a couple of players acquired from the Cubs) to build this World Series contender.
  • They’ve won only four series since the middle of June, and two were against the team with the worst record in the NL (Arizona) — and another at home against one of the worst road teams in baseball (Colorado).
  • And when they blew a 6-0 lead to eventually lose 17-13 to the Sox on Friday, they became the first Cubs team in 127 years to score 10 or more in back-to-back games and lose them both.

But those are just the miserable numbers that describe the free-fall in what’s now a “race” for a top-five overall draft pick (1 1/2 games out of the top five through Sunday).

The bigger issues for this team without a stated offseason direction:

  • They have one pitcher in the organization (Hendricks) who could make a strong case for the four-man playoff rotation of any of this year’s likely playoff teams. And beyond Hendricks and maybe Alec Mills, they don’t have another bankable (even projectable?) 2022 major-league starter in-house (with rookies Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson proving so far that they still have a lot to prove to reach that level).
  • They don’t have a major-league-caliber everyday shortstop in the organization (which isn’t to say there aren’t some with potential in the lower minors).
  • They might have a capable closer candidate or two in their bullpen in the near term. But who the hell even knows that until the team is playing meaningful enough games again to test the theory?

For now, this is about as bad as the optics get for a big-revenue team charging some of the highest ticket prices in the game (at least the Mets have been trying this year).

And about as bad as Cubs baseball ever has been (or at least this century, according to Sully).

Maybe if they secure that top-five pick the Rickettses can throw another party for themselves.

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