108. It took the Chicago Cubs 108 years to end their World Series drought. And what a magical year it was for the lovable losers. After all the pain and suffering the Cubs and their fans have been through over the years, they were due. They were due for some good breaks and good fortune. They were due for some young stars to perform and live up to expectations. The Cubs got those things in 2016, and so much more.
When Theo Epstein was hired in 2011, his single goal was to bring a championship to Wrigley Field. And just like he ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” in Boston, Theo went to right work to put an end to “Curse of the Billy Goat” in Chicago.
After a surprising NLCS appearance in 2015 and a few offseason additions, the Cubs of 2016 came out ready to rock and roll. After a historic regular season that was filled with individual and team accolades, they put together an exciting run through the playoffs. And finally, they capped it off with an exclamation point by winning Game 7, in one of the greatest championship deciding games of all time. With that victory, the Cubs made history. But the lesser known facts about these Cubs are the ones that should interest you. The most dedicated of Cubs fans may have heard these before. But for 90 percent of you, you have either forgotten these 17 things or they will completely shock you to find out. Here are the 17 things about the 2016 World Series champs that you didn't know.
17 17. They Had The Oldest Starting Rotation In The MLB
Much of the attention towards the Cubs in 2016 was focused on their dynamic offense (and for good reason). However, the real engine behind their World Series run was their starting pitching. The rotation finished the season with a league best 2.96 ERA.
After hearing this, it might surprise you to know that the Cubs also had the oldest starting rotation in all of baseball. With four starters over the age of 30, including John Lackey, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester, their average age was 31.6. The only starter under 30 happened to be the then 26-year old Kyle Hendricks. Their experience worked out too, as they continued to dominate throughout the playoffs as well. Despite John Lackey’s ERA ballooning up to 4.85 in the postseason, the Cubs starters still posted a playoff ERA of 2.98.
16 16. Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester Were # 1 And 2 In ERA
The Cubs league best ERA was powered by the duo of Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester. Hendricks was acquired by the Cubs in 2012 in a trade involving former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster, while Lester was the first major acquisition by team president Theo Epstein before the 2015 season.
Hendricks used a heavy sinker to post a career and league best 2.13 ERA. And the ace of the staff, Lester, was No.2 in the league with an ERA of 2.44. The two combined for 392.2 innings pitched and 35 wins, and were the first Cubs pitchers to finish No.1 and 2 in ERA since 1938. Both pitchers were finalists for the National League Cy Young award, though they lost to Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. In the postseason, Hendricks continued to thrive, posting a 1.42 ERA in five starts. Veteran Jon Lester posted an ERA of 2.02 in five starts and one relief appearance in Game Seven of the World Series.
15 15. Their Defense Was The Best Ever
One of the contributing factors to the Cubs league best ERA was their phenomenal defense. Throughout 2016, a common theme was the talent and versatility of the Cubs defenders. And manager Joe Maddon had no problem taking full advantage of this. Players like Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant were playing as many as four or five different positions during the year. Having this ability allowed the creative mind of Maddon to work his magic.
According to certain defensive metrics, the 2016 Cubs may have the best defense of all time. Their defensive efficiency rating, compared to the league average ranked second of any team since 1900. The Cubs conversion rate in 2016 of balls in play was 74.5 percent, which was the best of any team since 1950. At the very least, this is one of the top defensive squads of all time, if not the best.
14 14. Kris Bryant Joined Ernie Banks In The Record Books
Enough with that side of the ball, let’s talk about some offense. In 2014, Kris Bryant hit 43 home runs and received Minor League Player of the Year Award. In 2015, Bryant hit 26 homers, made the All- Star team and unanimously won the National League Rookie of the Year award. And in 2016, Bryant batted .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI, won the NL MVP and went on to lead the Cubs to a world championship
Along the way he made some history with Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. After an amazing season, Bryant became just the second player in Cubs history to hit at least 39 HR in his age 24 season. The last to do it was Banks in 1955, when he hit 44 HR at age 24. Bryant also scored a league high 121 runs and led the Cubs in hits, slugging percentage and OPS.
13 13. Addison Russell Made History With MR. Cub, Too
So it turns out that Ernie Banks was a pretty good player in his day. Before Addison Russell in 2016, Mr. Cub was the only Cubs shortstop to ever hit 20+ home runs and have 90+ RBIs in a single season. Russell joined Banks as the second Cub to do so in just his 22- year old season.
In 2015, Russell had just 13 home runs and 54 RBI. Last year, in only his second major league season, he made the leap to 21 homers and 95 RBI. At such a young age, we should continue to see Russell grow as a hitter. Although his average thus far has hovered around just .240, he has contributed by hitting runners in and becoming one of the best defensive shortstops in the league.
12 12. Anthony Rizzo Hit 30 Home Runs For The Third Straight Season
The offensive records continued to pile up for the Cubs in 2016, this time for first base slugger Anthony Rizzo. In 2014 and 2015 Rizzo proved himself by hitting 32 and 31 long balls. And in 2016 he added 32 more to his career total. In doing so he became the first Cubs left hander to hit 30 home runs in three consecutive years.
In 2016 Rizzo also led the Cubs in RBIs, doubles and tied with Kris Bryant for the best batting average. After struggling to start the postseason, Rizzo came up big in the World Series, batting .360 with nine hits and five RBIs in the seven game series thriller. And in addition to his powerful hitting, Rizzo won his first Gold Glove in 2016.
11 11. They Lost 15 of 21 Games Before The All- Star Break
Even with all the records, accolades and wins piling up, the Cubs dream season didn’t come without some struggles. After upping their divisional lead to a season high 12.5 games, the Cubs went on a downhill slide before the All-Star break. This stretch forced the Cubs to play on 21 consecutive days, in which they lost on 15 of them.
The Cubs lost a season-worst five games in a row, and included sweeps at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets. By the end of the nightmare fall, the Cubs lead in the division was down to 6.5 games. If there were any doubters, this was exactly what they were waiting for. Despite the confidence in the locker room, people began to wonder if the Cubs had peaked too early.
10 10. Jason Heyward Was A Historically Bad Hitter
One development that didn’t help the Cubs first half slide was the lackluster batting of Jason Heyward. The $184 million man signed a deal to leave Cardinals before the 2016 season after batting a career high .293 in 154 games for St. Louis. On the one hand, Chicago stole a 27- year-old outfielder from a divisional rival. On the other, that outfielder posted career lows across the board at the plate.
Of 147 qualified hitters, Heyward ranked 145th in OPS. Only two players had a worse On Base plus Slugging Percentage than Heyward. However, due to Heyward’s Gold Glove- caliber fielding and inspiring Game Seven locker room speech, all was forgotten. After all, the man did help bring a World Series to Chicago. Heyward seems to have rebounded well, maintaining a .263 average through 70 games in 2017.
9 9. The Cubs N.L. Central Lead Reached 19 Games
At the All-Star break, the Cubs N.L. Central lead was down to 6.5 games. However, the Cubs wasted no time returning to form in the second half of the season. Immediately after the break the Cubs won 20 of 26 games, including an 11- game win streak, which was their season long. They went on to post a 50-23 record after the break and won the division by 17.5 games.
At their peak, the Cubs lead reached 19 games on September 26th. At the end of August, the Cubs held a 15-game lead, which was the biggest in the division since the Cardinals in 2004. Any doubt that had been cast on them at the break was gone, and the Cubs were looking like a World Series favorite again.
8 8. 103 Wins Was The Cubs Most Since 1910
108 years went by between World Series wins. Now how about 106 years between record setting seasons. The Cubs won 104 games in back to back seasons all the way back in 1909 and 1910. Since then, the century mark had only been reached once more, in 1935.
That is until 2016. The Cubs won 103 games, their fifth most ever. The Cubs nearly reached 100 wins by surprise in 2015, but a 100- win season was no surprise in 2016. Their league best ERA and third most runs scored on offense led them to a league high 103 wins. Which was the most in the league in 2016, besting the next team by eight wins. Since 2000, only one 100- win team actually went on to win it all, so the Cubs have that trend- breaking stat going for them too.
7 7. They Won A Franchise Record 57 Games At Wrigley
With 103 regular season wins and a World Series win, you shouldn’t be shocked by this stat. The Friendly Confines lived up to their name, hosting 57 home wins for the Cubs in 2016. The Cubs home/road splits were rather impressive. Their road record finished tied for second, behind only the divisional rival St. Louis Cardinals. And their home record was four wins better than the next team.
Every sport has an advantage at home, and 2016 proved no different for the Cubs. The player who took most advantage of home field may have been pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who posted a 1.32 ERA in Wrigley and a 2.95 ERA everywhere else. When you are as good as they were, home games should provide a winning platform. After posting a 57-24 record in Wrigley, I’d say it did just that for the World Series champs.
6 6. Their Opening Day Starting Infield All Hit 15 Home Runs
We have already seen that 2016 had the Cubs breaking or matching a lot of individual hitting records. This time, we address a Cubs team record that was broken. For the first time in the franchise’s history their starting infield all hit at least 15 home runs. N.L MVP Kris Bryant spanked 39 long balls. Slugger Anthony Rizzo hit 32. And the battery of Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist had 21 and 18 dingers.
Utility man and second basemen Javier Baez had 14 home runs, nearly making it five infielders for the team. The Cubs 199 homers as a team put them in the middle of the pack as far as the league went. But it did contribute to their No.3 finish in runs scored with 808.
5 5. They Had Nine Players With 10+ Home Runs
As if the previous record was not enough, the Cubs had another home run mark to match. During the 2015 regular season, the Cubs were able set a franchise record with nine players hitting 10+ home runs. With an even better team returning, Cub fans should have been expecting a repeat performance.
In 2016, they matched that total. Many of the names we have already mentioned. The ones that we have not include Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Willson Contreras and Grandpa Rossy. This power paid dividends in the postseason when it mattered most. Three of those players are gone now, which makes it good that they were on the bottom of the list and not the top. It would not be entirely surprising to see that total matched again by years end in 2017
4 4. Their Entire Infield Started In The All- Star Game
We keep talking about records, so why not another? With all the home runs talked about in the last entry, it was inevitable that some Cubs would be in the All- Star game. Not only did some make it, but they made history, becoming just the second team in MLB history to have its entire infield start an All- Star Game.
Big hitters and MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were joined veteran Ben Zobrist and youngster Addison Russell as National League starters. In addition to those four, outfielder Dexter Fowler and pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were also voted in. Despite the Cubs slide down the stretch, the Cubs were still sitting pretty at 53-35, and deserving of the All- Star recognition. Apparently, the players, fans and Commissioner’s office agreed.
3 3. They Had Co-MVPs In The NLCS
Not only had the Cubs failed to win the World Series since 1908, but they had failed to even reach it since 1945. When they finally did, they knew how to put on a show. After falling down 2-1 in the series, they roared back to win the next three games with a total score differential of 23-6 over that stretch.
In the process, they were awarded Co- MVPs after winning Game 6 in Wrigley. Electric young superstar Javier Baez hit .318 with an OPS of .833. While veteran ace Jon Lester made two starts, giving up only two total runs and winning both. In most cases fans do not want to see Co-MVP awards in anything. However, in the rare case that the Cubs actually make it this far, why not?
2 2. Only Three Cubs Players Were Acquired Before Theo Epstein
In 2011, the Cubs signed Boston savior Theo Epstein to a five-year deal. He wasted no time getting work, gradually putting together the powerhouse that is now the Cubs. They Cubbies lost 101 games the year after Theo joined on, however that despair was short lived.
In all, only three players on the Cubs final 25-man roster were acquired by the previous Cubs regime. NLCS Co-MVP Javier Baez was drafted in the first round in 2011, Matt Szczur was drafted and signed in 2010 and catcher Willson Contreras was signed as an amateur free agent. These three players made huge contribution throughout the 2016 season. But when you look at the overall makeup of the team, it is incredible how Epstein has pieced together this championship team.
1 1. They gave out 1,908 World Series Rings
For a franchise like the Cubs, there have been so many people that have made an impact. After winning the 2016 World Series, the Cubs franchise recognized this. They announced that the team would be giving out 1,908 World Series rings. This means the players, coaches, owners, executives, associates, ballpark staff and respected alumni will all be receiving rings.
Virtually anybody who is currently involved with the Cubs or who previously made a significant impact is getting appreciated. This is a nice gesture from a franchise that has endured so much. It surely does not hurt that the ring contains 214 diamonds, 3 karats of red rubies and 2.5 karats of sapphires. Whoever received this baby is flashing some serious bling. And in case anybody wants to sell the ring, the Cubs made a contract that allows them to buy back the ring for $1. Good call, Chicago.
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