Chicago Cubs learning the hard way to “assume nothing”

We all make assumptions in life. At some point or another, most of us learn a lesson about the dangers of making assumptions. But when it comes to sports, we’re not always careful when it comes to the assumptions we make, particularly before a season even begins. Sometimes, making these assumptions can leave us puzzled as to what went wrong. Few teams have exemplified the dangers of pre-season assumptions than the 2017 Chicago Cubs. 

The Cubs dominated the NL Central in 2016 on its way to the team’s first World Series title in more than a century. With the core of the roster in place, most expected more of the same in 2017. But expectations and assumptions are two different things.

It wasn’t just that fans and pundits expected the Cubs to breeze through the NL Central in 2017 (and many years to come), but it was assumed that they would. The four other teams in the division were written off before the season even started. Of course, that is not how the season has unfolded.

“I love the word expectations, I do, but on the flip side of that, it’s going to be a different path this year. It is. It just has to be.”

Joe Maddon

Chicago’s starting rotation, which is almost identical to the one that carried them all last season, including the postseason, has drastically underperformed compared to last season. The four starters the Cubs have relied on the most are all established veterans. But for one reason or another, all four have posted an ERA more than a point higher than they did last season. This speaks to how fickle and unpredictable pitching can be from year to year, even among veteran pitchers who have performed consistently throughout their career.

Of course, the biggest surprise for the Cubs this season has been the disappointing performance from the team’s position players. Last year’s Cubs had such a perfect blend of young, budding stars and veterans who appeared to be very much in their prime. As a result, most assumed they’d be even more potent this season.

However, youngsters like Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber have taken a step backward. Meanwhile, Ben Zobrist is finally showing signs of aging, and Jason Heyward is still not living up to his massive contract. The result is a lineup that is not nearly as balanced or terrifying as most assumed it would be heading into the season.

The Cubs, of course, are not the only team in baseball history to fall short of expectations. However, in the case of this year’s team, expectations took a backseat to assumptions that the Cubs would be the new kings of the NL Central, a division that has long been controlled by the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals. There are other teams this season, such as the Mets, Indians, and Giants, that have fallen well below expectations. But it was the assumption that the Cubs would cruise to another division title, if not a second straight World Series, that has people surprised and talking.

“With what we accomplished last year, obviously the expectations are really high, and they should be.”

Jake Arrieta

The moral of the story is that in sports, particularly baseball, you can’t make assumptions. Any team that steps on the field has a chance to win, no matter the perceived difference in talent. That’s why almost the same Cubs team that sprinted to a division title a year ago has struggled to this just to stay above .500. That’s why in baseball, like in life, you should never make assumptions.

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