By Brian Harl
It was the worst of times. The walls came crashing down. In the blink of an eye, 75 percent of the Chicago Cubs “core four” were shipped out to the east and west coasts. Just like that, it was the end of an era, and for longstanding Cubs fans, it was time to bear down and grit their teeth as they prepared for the tanking that was to commence.
And boy was there ever some immediate tanking. The team lost 20 games in August including 12 losses in a row from August 3-15. Everyone knew that the Cubs’ postseason hopes were all but gone once Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant were traded, but the falling from the sheer cliff face of competitiveness so quickly very likely caught some fans off guard. What would be left to cheer for? Why should fans even show up to Wrigley Field or even tune in on TV or radio?
Cue the “because baseball” memes.
Take Frank Schwindel, the unassuming fill-in for Anthony Rizzo at first base, as a reason for Cubs fans to cheer. Replacing Rizzo, who was for all intents and purposes the captain of the Cubs squad, was going to be near impossible. And to his credit, Schwindel said he hasn’t set out to replace Rizzo. Which is probably good, because he has instead surpassed all expectations and is putting up numbers that his predecessor had honestly failed to achieve.
Schwindel has put together a massive offensive showing since suiting up for the Cubs on July 30 after being claimed off of waivers from the Oakland A’s. Since then, in all of MLB, he ranks first in batting average (.370), seventh in OBP (.419), second in SLG (.706), and fifth in hits (44) *minimum 100 plate appearances*. Yes, that is a 1.025 OPS with the Cubs this season, which is higher than the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr (1.011), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1.005), Bryce Harper (.993), Shohei Ohtani (.977), and Juan Soto (.966). He also is the first Cubs player since Andre Dawson in 1987 to hit 10+ home runs and 29+ RBI in his first 32 career games with the team (Dawson won the NL MVP that year). Being crowned NL Rookie of the Month for August was a fairly easy decision, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Meanwhile, another Cub continues to solidify his spot on the roster heading into the 2022 rebuilding process. Patrick Wisdom has become more of a household name throughout the season, stepping up to fill in at third base earlier this year and not looking back since. Wisdom has the difficult task of trying to hold down the hot corner for the long haul now that 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant has been dealt out the San Francisco.
He has done a heck of a job so far. In 300 plate appearances, he has smashed 25 home runs, which not only leads his team but also all NL rookies, and is one away from tying none other than Kris Bryant’s franchise record for most home runs by a rookie. When the season is over, he might end up having a better season on paper than any of the Cubs’ core four. If not that, he is definitely in the argument for NL Rookie of the Year, and seeing a Cubs player in the top-five for such an award should comfort Cubs fans as their big-name yet aging stars were shipped out in the same season. If the 30-year-old can mature at the plate and cut down on his strikeout percentage, he could find his name on many more fan’s shirseys in the Wrigley bleachers going forward.
The Cubs also still have Kyle Hendricks anchoring their rotation, Willson Contreras finally back behind the plate, and several bright spots showing promise in the farm system. Heck, even Ian Happ seems to be figuring things out after an alarming subpar season for the most part.
All of this will not, and should not, assuage all concerns and dissolve all frustrations that Cubs fans have felt after a disappointing 2021 and departure of some beloved household names. This team is a far cry from threatening to win their division. And this article isn’t meant to make excuses for some questionable front-office planning and decision-making. One could easily argue that retaining a known commodity in any of the three of Bryant, Rizzo, or even Baez to build around going forward is a better decision than rolling the dice on a lot of unknowns.
However, all of that said, the Cubs have won six games in a row and are having a lot of fun heading into the final few weeks of the regular season. 2021 may be lost, but for now, Cubs fans can sit back and enjoy some hard-fought and very fun baseball before the season fades away and they wait again until next year.
Brian Harl is a freelance baseball writer, SABR member, editor for the IBWAA Here’s The Pitch Newsletter, and host of IBWAA’s Retired Numbers: Baseball History & Trivia Zoom meet-up. He is a lifelong Cubs fan - come rain or shine. You can find him on Twitter @cubs_corner.
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