CHICAGO – It began in April with the hope of competitiveness and it actually came to fruition for the first two-and-a-half months of the season.
There was a combined no-hitter at its peak, but that’s all it would be, as a losing streak triggered a selloff at the trade deadline that brought an entirely new group of players into the starting lineup.
Early excitement turned into emotional goodbyes that brought out bitter sentiments as an era closed with a championship yet the desire for more at the same time.
Being a Cubs’ fan in 2021 was a journey of early highs and lows with a few fun moments with a new group of players at times in the final two months. Who would have ever thought that Frank Schwindel, who wasn’t even with the team till late July, would arguably become the team’s most positive story as the season came to an end?
But that’s how it went the past six months as the team concluded their regular season on Sunday with a rain-shortened win over the playoff-bound Cardinals. Fittingly it was Schwindel who had two doubles and an RBI as he finished hitting .342 with 13 homers and 40 RBI in 56 games, which all came after the trade deadline.
Fans can look to him as a bright spot or even the finish of Ian Happ, who hit .317 with eight homers and 24 RBI in September and three games in October, as reasons for optimism. Yet there is still plenty of uncertainty for a club that finished 71-91, their worst record since 2013 when they were deep in the early part of the rebuild under Theo Epstein.
Now comes the question if that’s on the horizon for the club, who will likely return Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras, and Jason Heyward as the main players left from the 2016 World Series championship team. The rest of the roster consists of a record number of young players and free agents who took the field during the 2021 campaign.
The team had 69 players take the field for them this season, an MLB record that was previously held by the Seattle Mariners of 2019. Will these be players that will be used for the team to do another lengthy rebuild as they did under Epstein in 2012, or will the club be a major player in free agency?
All are questions to be answered as a new era of Cubs’ baseball begin, with no guarantee of success ahead that seemed to be a given for a lot of the last decade. That security disappeared during an emotional 2021 season, where one group of players gave way to another in a changing of the guard.