Will History Repeat?
After a three plus month lockout, the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks tore through the regular season, hung on in the playoffs, and won their second Stanley Cup in three years. Many fans wondered if they could win again after losing some key players to trades, and free agency, after the 2010 winning season. The players never doubted though.
The 2012/13 campaign was shortened from 82 to 48 games. When the mini preseason got underway you heard stories, from the players, of how captain Jonathan Toews held team practices, and meetings, and really kept the players focused and ready for when the season would start.
And ready they were. They started the season with an unbelievable run, going 21-0-3 before finally losing to the Colorado Rockies, in the second of back to back games, on March 8th, 6-2. They ended the season with a sparkling 36-7-5 record. Importantly, they crushed their division and conference, going 16-1-1 within the division and matching 10-3-2 records versus the Northwest and Pacific divisions in the West.
It was a sprint season, full of excitement and drama, and every fan knew they were going to win the cup once they went on their big run early in the season. The players were ready, the coaches let them play, and the season was magical.
Now we are in July of 2020, and I'm hearing the same things from the Chicago Cubs as they start up their mini summer camp, after being shut down by the Covid virus for three plus months. The starting pitchers seem to be ahead of other teams already. This weekend, four of the five starters, went multiple innings in their first intrasquad games while other teams are still throwing bullpen sessions only.
New Cubs manager, David Ross, has been gushing about how prepared the team is, how they held meetings during the off time, and how the players are ready physically, and mentally, for this season. The players came prepared.
This will likely be the last time this core of players, from the 2016 world series winning team, will be together before trades and free agency break them up. They seem like they want to make the most of it, one last time.
There are really only two spots still up for grabs and that is second base, where David Bote, Jason Kipnis, Daniel Descalso, and Nico Hoerner are battling for the starting spot. Kipnis and Hoerner are the front runners right now but if Kipnis doesn't have a great three weeks, Hoerner will get the call.
Center field is the only other spot still being fought over, between Ian Happ and Albert Almora. Almora is the better fielder, and Happ might be a slightly better hitter, but it is still too early to tell what David Ross is thinking here. Personally I see Almora getting the nod but wouldn't be surprised to see some form of platooning here.
Like the Hawks 2013 season, this year will be a sprint also. The season has been shortened from 162 games, to just 60 regular season games. 40 within the division, and 20 against the American League central teams. Beating your division will be the key, obviously, and for the Cubs to win, they will need to dominate like the Hawks did in 2013.
The Jose Quintana injury threw a monkey wrench into the rotation plans, but the Cubs have enough depth to overcome this. If they stay focused, start strong, and keep the pedal to the metal, we just might be looking at a scene like this once again.