2019 Chicago Cubs Have Alarming Number of Similarities to 2004

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(Editor’s note: this originally ran on the eve of the final home series vs. St. Louis, but we’re re-publishing it here and now as sadly, the prophecy has come true.

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes,” as Mark Twain is often reputed to have said. While the final chapter is yet to be written, the story of the current Chicago Cubs greatly mirrors the narrative of the 2004 vintage.

Hopefully, for all those involved the ending is different i.e. better this time around, but as it stands now, the tale of these two seasons reflect one another; even on a more significant off-the-field dimension.

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That all could change with the team set to begin the first of two de facto pre-NLDS series against the St. Louis Cardinals today. Heading into the final ten games of the season, the Cubs will face the first place St. Louis Cardinals, whom they trail by 3 games, seven times. The Cubs are currently tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild Card.

Looking back on the 2004 Cubs, they were a team that was coming off a breakthrough season, and thus brimming with optimism.

The previous October, the Cubs had won both the division crown and the first postseason series since Orval Overall and Three Finger Brown were pitching. And the squad was strengthened in the preseason with the additions of Greg Maddux, Derrek Lee and Todd Hollandsworth.

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Can you say “championship window?”

2004 Cubs final record: 89-73, 3rd in the NL Central

2019 Cubs (currently 82-70) final record projection: 88-74, 53% of reaching postseason, 23% via 538.com, 88-74, 3rd place via Roto Champ

The current Cubs are just three years out from the biggest breakthrough of all breakthroughs (2016), and despite the ups and downs of this season, remain in the midst of a championship window…(although not for too much longer, especially if they have another bad offseason).

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Remember, no analogy is perfect, but there are lots of similarities.

Power Supply

Kris Bryant went deep on Sept 14, giving the Cubs their 235th homer of the season, matching the club’s single-season record set in 2004. They’re currently into the 240s, and when all is said and done will have put that record in a place where it probably won’t be broken for a very long time.

Unfortunately, both teams sort of specialized in solo shots, had an all-or-nothing kind of offense for much of the year and often times struggled with RISP.

Here’s another interesting stat- the 2004 team had a final run differential of +124 (789-665). This year’s vintage currently sits at +115 (774-659).

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First You Squander the Division then You Lose the Wildcard

In midsummer 2004, the Cubs were still in the NL Central race until the Cardinals got on a hot streak late in the second half (sound familiar?). Once the division hopes were gone, it was time to settle for the Wild Card, which they held by 1.5 games over San Francisco and Houston on September 25th.

Both of those teams lost that day, giving Chicago a chance at increasing the lead to a commanding 2 and a 1/2 games with only eight left in total, but closer LaTroy Hawkins (a bit more on him in a bit) blew a save that Saturday afternoon at the New York Mets, allowing a three-run game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth.

The Cubs lost in extra innings, a defeat that still stings to this day because it started the downward spiral.

A dejected Cubs team then proceeded to drop six of their final eight and Houston took the Wild Card.

I really hope the 2004 prophecy turns out to be wrong, as I hate to be Captain Bringdown and the Buzzkillers, but now you do have another devastating home series loss to the Reds down the stretch of the season. It jsut makes the 2004 to 2019 Cubs pairing currently feel like the end of the old 8-bit Nintendo game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.

The final obstacle of that video game was to fight the dark shadow version of yourself. Which seems pretty deep for a kids’ game right? (And a template for what big tech is doing these days when they collect our data and then create a digital replica of ourselves for whom they aggressively market to)

Making Themselves Hard to Root For, East to Dislike 

Both the 2019 and 2004 Chicago Cubs gave/give you plenty of reasons not to root for them, albeit in very different ways. And this right here, is where the analogy between the two teams is at its strongest.

Today’s Cubs team, in regards to the player roster, is for the most part very likable, with one notable exception- Addison Russell.

On the business side of things however, today’s Cubs are about as likable as Tomi Lahren; and many at the top of the Cubs food chain share her deplorable world views.

Also, if you’re someone who just read that and said within your inner monologue “stick to sports,” well

a.) the Ricketts family hasn’t, so therefore I will not and

b.) in the words of Outkast “from here on out, it only gets rougher,” so click away if you must.

As for 2004, there was a high amount of internal dysfunction, with a bunch of thin-skinned characters who committed malfeasant acts that seem, at least today, trivial by comparison to what the front office is doing, and whom they have gone out of their way to protect.

Back in ’04. broadcaster Steve Stone’s criticism of the club got under the skin of manager Dusty Baker and his players. The feud escalated on July 22nd when outfielder Moises Alou called Stone and his broadcasting partner Chip Caray “too negative.”

Baker defended Alou the next day, and GM Jim Hendry defended Baker. The snowball effect started.

Then on August 27th pitcher Kent Mercker called the press box, during a game no less, to complain about Caray and Stone praising Astros ace Roy Oswalt during a Cubs loss.

Getting back to Hawkins, this season saw him engage in the most shopworn of all thin-skinned athlete cliches.

The old and tired “I’d like the media to try and do what I do” bit. This routine much like the “do you know who I am?” routine, never works out well.

Oh and Sammy Sosa ducked out early on the final day, ditching his teammates. The identity of who then smashed his boom box once he was gone, remains a mystery to this day.

Flashing forward to 2019, the year began with Chairman Tom Ricketts crying poor, and therefore restraining GM Theo Epstein from making any major signings.

All the while the team raised ticket prices (which were already among the most expensive in MLB to begin with) and eliminated the one time that Ricketts actually faces the fans every year in public view (the Cubs Convention Ricketts family session).

Meanwhile the supposedly hard up for cash Cubs then donated to the politician challenging the incumbent alderman of their ward, Tom Tunney, of whom they do not much care for.

Tunney won, much to the chagrin of the Ricketts family.

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Then you had the leaking of Papa Ricketts’ egregiously offensive homophobic and Islamophobic emails, the use of Wrigley Field for a Trump re-election campaign fundraiser, and the devil’s bargain with Sinclair Broadcasting company, a network that is to the right of FOX News Channel.

At this point, the ruling family of the Cubs might as well ditch the blue baseball caps with a red C on it, and wear a red hat with a four word catch phrase in white lettering on it.

Also, their tribute to WGN, given the context of how the business partnership will end, comes off as extremely plastic and shallow.

Oh, and Addison Russell is still here (until management finally realizes that Nico Hoerner has made him obsolete. Russell is a man who stands accused of committing horribly deplorable acts.

The excruciating details of these acts have been well chronicled.

At no point has Russell publicly owned up to what he has been accused, truly acknowledged the seriousness of it or shown any real contrition.

And the Cubs have protected him every step of the way.

We still don’t know how his story or the story of the 2019 Chicago Cubs ends. (Although losing this next home series to St. Louis would give us a pretty good idea).

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We do know that the term “lovable losers” is one that has been applied to the Cubs for a majority of their history. The shoe certainly didn’t fit in 2004, and it definitely does not now.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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