The Cubs are ahead of schedule thanks to their youth movement
THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be a developmental season for the Cubs. Instead, they have the fourth-best record in baseball and a near-lock on an NL wild-card slot.
This isn't luck, and it isn't an accident. Chicago put itself in this position by aggressively promoting top young players to the majors. Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber were just names on prospect lists—though high on prospect lists—five months ago. Now they're core contributors to a team on its way to 90-plus wins.
Bryant, 23, was the first to arrive, promoted the minute he could be brought up without making him a free agent after the 2020 season. The third baseman has hit .262/.366/.481 through Monday with 20 home runs, some of them of the jaw-dropping variety.
Russell came next. The Cubs brought up the Barry Larkin starter kit on April 21 to take over at second base, and earlier this month Joe Maddon succumbed to the inevitable and switched him with Starlin Castro; Russell is not just the better defensive shortstop, he's also the better hitter. While Russell, 21, is hitting just .249/.309/.392, second base was such a disaster for the Cubs last year—their keystoners hit .230/.280/.342—that the rookie has improved things considerably.
The biggest impact may have come last. Catcher Schwarber was called up on June 16 to DH in interleague games and sent down six days later. He returned on July 17 and will likely never go back. Schwarber has 11 home runs in just 134 at bats. When he starts, the Cubs are 24--10, averaging 5.5 runs per game; they are 48--41, scoring 3.7 runs per game, without him.
By remaking their lineup with excellent young players, the Cubs are not only in position to make the postseason but also to be a threat once they get there. The best defense against a curse is talent, and this team now has enough to face down the Cardinals, Dodgers and whatever cosmic forces have aligned against them for more than a century.
YOUNG GUNS Schwarber (above) and company have helped the Cubs to a 95-win pace.