In the final month of the season, Cubs fans learned a lot about their team and got a glimpse of what they might see next season. The Cubs played a lot of teams in the thick of the playoff race and held their own, finishing with a 12-13 record without much help from Starlin Castro who was out with an ankle injury and Anthony Rizzo who returned for the final few games of the season from a back injury. Because of this, the month was all about young Cubs players and how they fit in with a struggling Cubs offense.
Let’s take a look at them and how the rest of the squad fared in the month of September.
- Team Record: 12-13
- Team Average: .236
- Team ERA: 4.62
- Top Hitter: Chris Coghlan
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
- Team Record: 9-18
- Team Average: .233
- Team ERA: 4.12
- Top Hitter: Wellington Castillo
- Top Pitcher: Carlos Villanueva
As with any September in baseball, the expanded rosters make it an auditioning ground for young prospects to get a chance at making the team the following season. Thanks to the aforementioned injuries to Castro and Rizzo, a lot of players got that chance. Cub fans got to see a lot of good and not so good things from the much talked about Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Mike Olt. Soler spent much of the month in the cleanup spot and slashed .243/.284/.432 with two home runs and 13 RBI. The average may not be the prettiest, but Soler showed the ability to hit in the clutch, get on base and be a dangerous hitter. Another bright spot for the offense from a young player standpoint was Mike Olt who looked much better in his second go-around, as he hit .263/.370/.368 filling in for Rizzo at first and looked a lot less lost at the plate.
Other good months came from veterans Chris Coghlan, Luis Valbuena and Chris Valaika who have likely played their way onto next year’s squad as bench players. Coghlan had some big games and slashed an impressive .318/.378/.500 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Valbuena paced the team with 18 walks and Valaika proved to be a solid fill in batting .276 while playing every position in the infield. Another player who may have bought himself more time on the Cubs roster in a starting role was Welington Castillo who hit .286/.333/.492 with three home runs and 12 RBI after being in the center of speculation that the team may be looking for an upgrade at catcher in the off-season.
However, there were definitely some players who disappointed this month and Baez and Alcantara immediately come to mind. Both players got some big hits at times, but both also struck out a lot and looked way out of their element. Baez managed a meager .149/.239/.228 with two home runs, five RBI and a staggering 46 strikeouts in 101 at bats. Alcantara showed versatility in the field playing centerfield and second base, but not at the plate as he managed a terrible .176/.195/.341 with three home runs, 10 RBI and 36 strikeouts in 85 at bats. With both players expected to play major roles in the upcoming season, some major adjustments need to be made if they expect to be contributors moving forward. Other young players who the team hopes can compete for bench spots also struggled including Logan Watkins and Junior Lake who hit for a combined .164.
Speaking of struggles, the pitching staff posted its second worst ERA at 4.63 thanks to some awful starting pitching from some players the Cubs had some high hopes for. Case in point, waiver wire pickup Jacob Turner posted a 2-3 record in five starts, but a putrid 6.07 ERA in 26.2 innings. Some other letdowns came from Dan Straily who managed to give up 13 earned runs in just 8.1 innings in relief and Felix Doubront and Arodys Vizcaino who posted identical and awful 5.40 ERA. However, the pitching was not all bad this month as Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have seemingly nailed down their starting rotation spots for next season. Arrieta was the most impressive starter and made the Scott Feldman trade with Baltimore last season seem like grand larceny. Arrieta almost pitched a no hitter and gave up just three earned runs in 28.1 innings while striking out 32 batters. Arrieta also had an impressive September last season, giving up 10 earned runs in 29.2 innings and striking out 20 batters, but it’s clear that he made a big leap in dominance this year over last season. Hendricks was no slouch, coming down to earth some with a 3.77 ERA, but showed the Cubs that despite not having overpowering stuff like Arrieta, he can give the Cubs a chance to win anytime he is on the mound. Another bright spot this month was the consistency between the team’s top four relievers in Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon. Between all of them they posted a 2.02 ERA and Rondon notched seven saves in 11 appearances.
All in all, there has been a lot of change from last season to this season. Of the 15 hitters, only seven remain on the roster and of the 18 pitchers only nine remain. The turnover matched with the improvement in record suggests that this team is getting better in terms of overall talent and perhaps next September will be less about developing young players for next season and more about competing for the playoffs.