Back to Good? Cubs Listed Among Most-Improved Teams This Winter

My wife and I were supposed to see Matchbox 20 and The Wallflowers in concert last summer, but the date got pushed back to 2023 due to various complications. Rather than drawing out an analogy about paying a bunch of money for tickets and not getting what you expected or finding out you had to wait till next year, I found myself thinking of a particular song when I saw the piece from Anthony Castrovince about MLB’s most improved teams of the offseason.

As the title indicates, Back to Good struck me because the choruses offer painfully apt metaphors for the winter. You can easily imagine the front office harmonizing the lyrics to the first chorus before heading into the meeting to sign Dansby Swanson, then the second is how a broad swath of fans have viewed the last several weeks.

Everyone here knows everyone here is thinking about
Somebody else

Well, it’s best if we all keep this under our heads
I couldn’t tell if anyone here was feeling the way I do
But I’m lonely now
And I don’t know how
To get it back to good

Because everyone here hates everyone here for doing
Just like they do
And It’s best if we all keep this quiet instead
And I couldn’t tell, why everyone here was doing me like they do
But I’m sorry now, and I don’t know how
To get it back to good

The part about Jed Hoyer and Co. leans more toward facetious, but there remains a strong sense among supporters that the team can’t or won’t do what it takes to win. At the risk of confusing both readers under the age of 40, the Cubs’ machinations — or lack thereof — have brought Charlie Brown, Eeyore, and Schleprock to the forefront of comments sections.

Or maybe we should reference the Rolling Stones instead of the Flintstones since so many folks out there can’t get no satisfaction.

I’m not so big a shill for the Cubs that I’m willing to sit here and tell you they’ve done enough to put themselves firmly in the playoff discussion, but their improvements are tangible and they could yield a big jump in wins. A lot of that is predicated on the idea that they’ll add another bat and at least one high-leverage reliever, plus they’ll need a bounce from Cody Bellinger and consistent pop from Matt Mervis.

Castrovince listed the Cubs as one of MLB’s 11 most improved teams, placing them alongside the Angels and Rangers as having playoff aspirations. He even went so far as to say the Cubs “might just rank as the most improved team of all” if Bellinger plays like an MVP. Unrealistic as that is to hope for, it’s within the realm of possibility. Much more likely is the idea that Bellinger, Swanson, Nico Hoerner, and the catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart give the Cubs what could be the best up-the-middle defense in baseball.

The pitching staff is better with the addition of Jameson Taillon alone, then you consider the potential for Hayden Wesneski to improve over his impressive debut. Justin Steele could be an ace if he can stay healthy, Keegan Thompson is a lights-out swingman, and Kyle Hendricks may flash increased velocity if his shoulder holds up. Marcus Stroman can opt out after this next season, so he will effectively be pitching for a new contract. He might also want to curb some of his social media activity.

That’s a lot of uncertainty, only some of which can be removed with the addition of another bat to round out the lineup, but the roster looks more balanced if you view it objectively. As Dan Szymborski put it for FanGraphs, “it’s close enough that if the right cards flip over, the Cubs could make things interesting.” Is that just damning with faint praise? Perhaps, but that’s two outside parties who see things similarly.

Even though this team isn’t close to great, it’s starting to feel like the Cubs could be getting back to good.

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