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2021 in review: Cubs' winding road in 'whirlwind' season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Of course it ended this way.
The Cubs wrapped up their 2021 season with a win Sunday in St. Louis — but not before two rain delays, the second of which ended the season two innings short of the finish line.
The Cubs opened the year still reeling from the cost-cutting move of trading ace Yu Darvish days earlier — weeks after non-tendering 2016 champion Kyle Schwarber.
Their 2021 campaign started off with promise — the Cubs led the NL Central in late June — before a long losing streak knocked them down the standings and into sell-mode at the trade deadline.
Another lengthy losing streak followed in the aftermath of the deadline before they finished fourth in the division for the first time since 2014.
"It's been a lot of ups and downs," Cubs starter Alec Mills said. "It's been a whirlwind, especially going from 60 [games] to 162."
Here's a timeline of the season from start to finish.
April 10-21 — The Cubs deal with a COVID-19 scare as first base coach Craig Driver and bullpen coach Chris Young test positive. Four players go on the COVID-19-related IL, and Kyle Hendricks is scratched from a start out of an abundance of caution while feeling under the weather. None of the players test positive.
April 18 — Hendricks becomes the first pitcher in Cubs history to allow four home runs in the first inning. He finishes the month with a 7.54 ERA in five starts — the worst April of his career.
May 17 — Schwarber and Jon Lester return to Wrigley Field for the first time with the Nationals. Kris Bryant leaves Schwarber a welcome back gift on the grass in left field: a pile of candy.
May 25 — Patrick Wisdom makes his Cubs debut, going 0-for-1. He hits his first home run two days later and nine total in his first 20 games.
May 27 — Javy Báez catches the Pirates sleeping on one of the most bizarre plays in Cubs history, running backwards from first base to bring home a run. Pittsburgh first baseman Will Craig, a culprit in the play, is released two months later and eventually leaves the country to play in Korea for a fresh start, citing the play’s attention.
June 11 — The Cubs host their first full capacity crowd since 2019 on the same day Anthony Rizzo becomes the highest-profile player to publicly reveal he is unvaccinated.
June 13 — With a three-game sweep of the Cardinals, the Cubs reach 11 games above .500 (38-27), their high-water mark of 2021.
June 24 — Zach Davies, Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin and Craig Kimbrel throw the first combined no-hitter in Cubs history (MLB’s seventh overall in 2021), blanking the Dodgers in Los Angeles. The bullpen is unaware of what is transpiring during the game.
June 25-July 6 — The Cubs lose 11 straight games, their longest skid since dropping 12 straight games in 2012.
July 15 — In a sign of things to come, the Cubs trade Joc Pederson to the Braves, kick-starting their selloff leading up to the trade deadline.
July 26 — Báez gives Cubs fans a lasting memory before the trade deadline, driving a walk-off single to center field and taunting long-time nemesis, Reds reliever Amir Garrett, during his celebration.
July 29 — Rizzo and Bryant don't play against the Reds, which manager David Ross says is unrelated to the trade deadline. They trade Rizzo to the Yankees shortly after the 7-4 loss in a stunning deal of the face of the franchise.
July 30 — The Cubs purge their roster in a flurry of moves before the 3 p.m. CT trade deadline, moving Bryant (Giants), Báez and Trevor Williams (Mets), Craig Kimbrel (White Sox) and Jake Marisnick (Padres). They follow trades of Rizzo, Chafin (A’s) and Tepera (White Sox) earlier in the week.
“Difficult? No question,” team president Jed Hoyer said. “And emotional. But to me there was really no reason not to be as aggressive as possible to do that. There was no reason to go halfway.”
Aug. 5-Aug. 16 — The Cubs go on a second double-digit losing streak, dropping 12 straight games in the aftermath of their deadline selloff.
Aug. 6 — Hendricks picks up a no-decision in a quality start vs. the White Sox, his 16th straight outing without taking a loss, going 11-0 with a 2.79 ERA over the stretch. He hits a rough patch over the next few weeks, finishing strong in his final start.
Aug. 11 — The Cubs release Jake Arrieta within an hour of him telling a senior reporter to take his mask off on a postgame Zoom session, ending the 2016 World Series champion’s second stint on the North Side in which he sported a 6.88 ERA in 20 starts.
Aug. 23 — The Cubs win their first game at home since Báez’ walkoff vs. the Reds, snapping a franchise record 13-game skid at Wrigley Field.
Aug. 31-Sept. 5 — Perhaps more surprising than either losing streak is the Cubs’ seven-game winning streak, tied for their longest since 2016 (also done in 2017, ’18 and ’19).
Sept. 6 — Frank Schwindel hits a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning, his fourth straight game and fifth out of six with the game-winning hit. Schwindel mania hits the North Side.
Sept. 10 — Bryant returns to Wrigley Field for the first time since being traded to San Francisco, getting emotional during a pregame video tribute. The 2016 NL MVP receives standing ovations each plate appearance in the three-game series.
Sept. 19 — Wisdom sets the Cubs’ rookie home run record, breaking a tie with Bryant, with his 28th home run. He finishes with a 40.8 percent strikeout rate — the highest in MLB this season, minimum 250 plate appearances (153 strikeouts in 375 plate appearances).
Sept. 19 — The Cubs snap an 11-game losing streak to Brewers, who nonetheless go 15-4 against the Cubs in the season series — by far the Cubs’ worst showing in a season against Milwaukee.
Sept. 29-Oct. 2 — Five Cubs players go on the injured list for undisclosed reasons in an end-of-season COVID-19 outbreak.
Oct. 3 — The Cubs set the MLB record for most players used in a season at 69 when catcher Tyler Payne and reliever Joe Biagini take the field in St. Louis. After two rain delays, the Cubs win 3-2 in seven innings against the Cardinals.
The Cubs finish 71-91, their worst record since going 66-96 in 2013, Dale Sveum’s last season as manager.
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