The Chicago Cubs and their fans are learning about the frustrations that occur during the introductory phases of a rebuilding project. The Cubs have a 20-40 record as of June 11. They're on pace to finish with a franchise-worst 54-108 record. The Cubs don't appear like they'll be a National League pennant contender anytime soon.
That's probably true with the current 25-man roster. However, numerous teams during the 21st century have gone from worst-to-first in a matter of seasons. The Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays are some of the most-recent examples. The Cubs can experience a similar turnaround.
The magic year: 2015.
The 2003 Detroit Tigers finished their season with a 43-119 record. The 119 losses were an American League record. The Tigers came within one loss of tying the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) for the most losses in modern major-league history. The Tampa Bay Rays had the second-worst record with 63 victories. The Tigers finished the 2002 season with 55 victories.
Who would've predicted after that season that the Tigers could've won the American League pennant by 2006? They did just that. The Tigers clinched a wild-card berth with 95 regular-season victories. They upset the World Series favorite New York Yankees during the American League Division Series (ALDS). They swept the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series (ALCS). The St. Louis Cardinals defeated them in five games during the World Series.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays struggled in the first decade of their existence from 1998 through 2007. The Rays finished the 2007 season with MLB's worst record at 66-96. The Rays were regularly amongst the teams with the lowest team payrolls. They didn't have the luxury of improving themselves through free agency as their American League East rivals did. Those rivals included the Boston Red Sox and Yankees.
The Rays experienced a 31-win turnaround in just one season after they won 97 regular-season games in 2008. The Rays literally went from worst-to-second as they won their first American League pennant. They lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games during the World Series.
The Washington Nationals had back-to-back 59-win seasons in 2008 and 2009. They capitalized on their misfortunes by drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in the ensuing drafts. The Nationals also stockpiled talent from years of futility that dated back to their days as the Montreal Expos.
The Nationals have MLB's second-best record as of June 11. They've had to overcome injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Adam LaRoche. Their farm system includes top prospects such as Anthony Rendon, the sixth-overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft. That's a testament to the depth in their organization.
The Cubs are restocking a farm system that was basically emptied when they acquired Matt Garza in 2011. Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Brett Jackson, Albert Almora (maybe) and Jorge Soler are amongst the first-round picks and most-intriguing prospects who will play a key role in the Cubs' future.
It's not farfetched to believe that these players could start contributing in 2015. This doesn't include prospects who are acquired in potential midseason deals for Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair.
Alfonso Soriano should be long gone by 2015. However, his $144-million contract expires after the 2014 season. That's approximately $18 million that can be re-invested into free agents or a long-term extension for Starlin Castro.
That doesn't include money that will be saved from other departures. Carlos Marmol is a free agent after the 2013 season as he signed a three-year, $20-million contract in 2011. Ryan Dempster probably won't be around by then.
The Cubs have lost 12 consecutive one-run games. They have a 6-16 record in one-run games. Those numbers are the results of poor clutch hitting and an unreliable bullpen.
Bad teams find ways to lose games. They had the same problems in 2011. Carlos Marmol couldn't close games and Carlos Pena struggled with runners-in-scoring-position. The Cubs will win more of these games when they add some better arms in their bullpen and they get some better RBI-producers.
At least they're not getting blown out every game.
I suppose if one believes in ironies… or prophecies.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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