Pam Eggemeier, SVM editorial page editor
The Cubs' season ended Tuesday, but for most fans who followed them closely this season, it wasn't surprising.
While the Brewers' offseason yielded two free agents who would wind up in the thick of the most valuable player conversation, the Cubs' pricey signees Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow were either hurt, bad or both.
The Cubs' MVP from 2016, Kris Bryant, was injured and struggled most of the season. Anthony Rizzo recovered from a slow first half to post another 100-RBI season, but Javier Baez and Albert Almora were the only young guns who didn't take a step backward offensively this season.
The starting pitching was shaky most of the first half, but finished strong with a boost from the late acquisition of Cole Hamels. After injuries to Morrow, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop, Manager Joe Maddon was forced to employ the bullpen-by-committee approach.
The offense just never jelled, and the bigger the game, the more this team struggled to score. The off-the-field problems of Addison Russell were a distraction during a critical point in the season.
Most baseball organizations would be ecstatic over a 95-win season, but the expectations for the North Siders now call for World Series appearances before the young core gets expensive and can bolt for free agency.
The argument could be made that with all of the challenges, this could have been Maddon's best managerial performance. The fan base has been tough on the skipper, however, and the front office could be prepared to pull the trigger.
President Theo Epstein acted quickly to diffuse the "fire Joe" momentum by announcing Wednesday that Maddon would be brought back for the fifth and final year of his deal. Maddon had wanted an extension before this contract expires, but he didn't get it. Who would have guessed during the championship season that Maddon would now be on the hot seat with much to prove?
Ultimately, it's the players who have to execute to get this team to another World Series. The young guys might have won a title too early in their careers, leading them to believe more rings were just a given. The best team doesn't always finish first, and as Theo said, he needs guys who have a sense of urgency.
It should be an interesting offseason for the Cubs. I don't expect wholesale roster changes, but management will bring out the eraser as it sees the gap close between the best team on paper and the rest of its division.