Beyond the Bison: The hunting party

Doug Hendry, Senior Writer

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Major League Baseball (MLB) has seen its dynasties through the history of the league. The San Francisco Giants have won three of the last six World Series, the New York Yankees won four titles from 1996-2000, and the Brooklyn Dodgers made it to the World Series six times from 1947-1956.

One team that hasn’t seen that share of the spotlight is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs haven’t made it to the World Series in over 70 years, and their last World Series title came in 1908. Talk about a drought.

But in today’s game, Chicago has the unique opportunity of being its own dynasty amid a change in the game of baseball, as we see some of the franchises that struggled in the 2000s finally returning to the top of the standings.

Last season was the beginning of the revival for the Cubs as an influx of young talent and the addition of Joe Maddon as manager turned the team around. Despite losing in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), the Cubs finished atop the National League Central with 97 wins, the club’s highest win total since winning 97 in 2008 and 98 in 1945.

Do the Cubs have a shot at winning the World Series this season? Yes. Could they continue to do the same for the next five or even 10, years? Absolutely.

It’s rare to have a combination of young talent with both hitting and pitching, but the Cubs have it. Through its first 20 games, the Cubs Chicago had a +69 run differential. The next closest team? The Washington Nationals, at +33. The Cubs have been far and away the best team through the early season.

As far as what fans can expect from the Cubs the rest of the season, through its first 20 games, the Cubs’ offense leads the MLB in runs scored (123) and walks (103), and are second in OBP (.356). Even more impressive is the pitching staff, who leads the MLB in wins (15), ERA (2.58), BAA (.199), WHIP (0.96), and shutouts (4), and are second in walks issued (45), and slugging percentage (.434).

Even the defense has stepped up, ranking eighth in field percentage (.987).

So who have been the major players in this resurgence? The go-to names that will most likely be staying in Chicago for a long time are Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

First baseman Rizzo has been a mainstay in the MLB for a few years now, while third baseman Bryant burst onto the scene last year in his rookie season. The duo have combined for 12 home runs, 37 RBIs, and 29 runs.

Dexter Fowler has also been reborn in the outfield, playing like a complete five-tool athlete. Munenori Kawasaki leads the team with a .500 batting average. Jason Heyward joins Fowler in the outfield, while Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist have manned the middle infield positions. All around, this is a lineup to be feared.

Chicago pitchers have also done their fair share, as starters have earned quality starts in 16 of the first 20 games. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks round out what may be the best starting rotation in baseball. But there is one that stands above them all—Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta threw his second-career no-hitter on April 21 against the Cincinnati Reds, striking out six in a 16-0 demolition of the Reds. Through four starts, Arrieta already holds a 4-0 record to go with 26 strikeouts and a 0.87 ERA. But Arrieta has been a torrid streak dating back to last season.

And just how unbelievable has his performance been? See for yourself: in his last 24 starts, Arrieta is 20-1 with 173 strikeouts and a 0.86 ERA dating back to June 21, 2015. He almost has the same number of no-hitters (2) as starts in which he allowed earned runs (3).

If that doesn’t convince the average MLB fan that the Cubs are for real, I’m not sure what will. All I can say is, without a definitive leader from elsewhere in the National League, the Cubs may be looking at their first World Series appearance since 1945.

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