In the days before the wildcard game takes place, most baseball writers are filling out their ballots for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year. It will be a while before these awards are announced but I can tell you mine right now, and three of them are filled with Cubs. It is those 3 Cubs that I’ve been most impressed with all year long.
Jake Arietta – Cy Young
What’s impressed me most about Arietta in his Gibson-esque second half run is his repetitiveness. His ability to repeat his mechanics, pitch after pitch, game after game, and week after week. I could throw a bunch of stats out at you, but the only thing you need to know is that enough since the Cole Hamels no-hitter, Arrieta’s been the most dominant pitcher in the majors. It’s not even close. He may not strike out as many as Kershaw but he doesn’t have to. He can get hitters out with the curve ball, with the cutter, and now he’s added a change up in addition to his fastball.
While his workouts have become legendary and his workout on the field draws pregame attention, I think the mental aspect of his game is quite underrated. In the first half of the year, it wasn’t unusual to see Arrieta flareup in the middle of the game and then see Miguel Montero have to go out to the mound to calm him down. For most of the second-half Arrieta has gone out and been a cool sheet of ice for most of the game. In the second half, I can only remember one game in which Montero had to go out and calm down the fiery right-hander and that was when he had two on and nobody out in one inning.
I am really looking forward to this Wednesday just to watch him pitch. It doesn’t matter this it’s a playoff game. That has no effect on my desire to watch him throw. Everything from my point of view is rooted in the ease in which he throws and the effect that his appearance has mentally on his opposition. It is amazing to watch hitters flail away at a pitch they know they have no chance of hitting out of the infield. That’s what I enjoy most and is easily the most impressionable effect of Arrieta on the hitter.
Kris Bryant – Rookie of the Year
Bryant came up in April and everyone knew that his homeruns would come in just a matter of time. An error or two here and there was going to be overlooked as long as he hit homeruns. Fact is, most people really didn’t care that much about his defense. All they cared about was seeing the ball fly out of Wrigley Field. However, that would take a while. In between there were several aspects of Bryant’s game for which we heard nothing about nor paid attention to while he was in the minors, mainly at AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa in 2014.
I think you have to really be impressed with Kris Bryant’s pride. The pride I’m talking about here is his own pride in being a complete ballplayer. He is not just a guy who hits homeruns. He can work counts; he knows the strike zone. He knows that he sometimes has been called out on pitches that are balls all year long. Yet, he still will not go chasing after a pitch of the outside part of the plate he knows is not a strike. He’s very diligent about the difference between a ball and a strike in that location.
Another aspect of his pride that I’m impressed with is his ability to be a great, not just a good, base runner. I think he might be the best pure baserunner on the Cubs. He doesn’t have the most speed on the team, but he hustles, he makes good decisions, he can get from 1st to 3rd quickly, and he can score. What I like most is he puts pressure on the defense to play at a high level because he’s playing at a high level running the bases.
I’ve also been impressed with the pride that he takes with his fielding. Sunday’s jump throw is not the first time that Bryant has shown his ability to field and throw the ball. When he first came up it was evident that he’s got a rocket attached to his right shoulder. However, that rocket wasn’t always accurate throwing to Rizzo. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play third base because I think he can get to a lot of balls, especially to his left, and make great plays. In the outfield he gets good jumps, takes good routes, and doesn’t miss a play on a fly ball at all.
When Bryant cranked it up a notch in August after a poor July, Bryant put up one of the greatest months I’ve seen for a Cubs’ player since Sosa cranked out 20 HRs in a month. Bryant did hit a few of homeruns (7) and he got a lot of hits (33/100). He also scored a lot of runs and he made this team go on offense (.422 OBP). While Rizzo was slumping, Bryant picked up the slack and was the Cubs offensive MVP for the last 2 months of the season.
Joe Maddon – Manager of the Year
I first became impressed with Maddon at the Cubs convention last winter. I got that he’s an honest ball buster who doesn’t have to yell at his players to get their attention. I think he can sit down and talk to a kid like Bryant or Baez and get through to them without it having to be a negative conversation.
When it came time for Joe Maddon to speak to the convention, I was all in. Whatever he had to say sounded good to me. When spring training came around it was clear that this was the guy who was in charge. He was in charge of attitudes, in charge of ballplayers, and in charge of winning.
As a season wore on, I was impressed with his attitude and that he never got too high, and he never got too low. Everything was always in proportion. Nothing was overblown. Anything that happened got the attention it deserved. And to me that’s very impressive.
Somewhere after the All-Star Break around the beginning of July, Maddon began to manage every game differently than he did for the first half. It was almost as if he was managing the seventh game of the World Series every day. After a while, that urgency began to catch on with his players. This team played the last two months of the season like that and you could easily see the influence of Maddon on the team. August and September were two of the greatest months I’ve ever had as a Cub fan. Every game they went out and competed like it mattered.
And it did! That was most impressive!