Cubs finish with a win, now the real work begins

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Frank Schwindel, right, scores past St. Louis Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner during the fifth inning Sunday in St. Louis.

    Chicago Cubs' Frank Schwindel, right, scores past St. Louis Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner during the fifth inning Sunday in St. Louis. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/3/2021 9:00 PM

The Cubs completed their Year of the Dismantle on Sunday.

They finished with a little momentum, winning their second straight game in St. Louis with a 3-2 rain-shortened victory. Going back to the Pittsburgh series, the Cubs won four of the last five to go 71-91 on the season, their first losing record since 2014.

 

But the real momentum heading into next season will be powered by the Ricketts' Family checkbook. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has said the Cubs plan to stay competitive, and that will necessitate either some new additions this winter or bringing back some old, familiar faces in a free-agency.

"I think it will be a really interesting offseason from a bunch of different perspectives," said outfielder and player rep Ian Happ. "Not only with this group, but the entire industry I think, it's a big free agent class. It will be really interesting just to see how things shake out."

While this was a season of change for the Cubs, they are ending with some momentum as far as finding guys who could back be in the starting lineup on Opening Day 2022.

Over the final month of the season, four Cubs hitters posted an OPS above .900 -- Happ (.981), Matt Duffy (.969), Frank Schwindel (.955) and Willson Contreras (.919). Patrick Wisdom set the Cubs rookie record with 28 home runs. Rafael Ortega hit .281 on the season.

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Plenty will depend on what players are brought in, but it's easy to imagine Contreras signing a contract extension and any or all of the guys listed above being regulars at the start of next season. The Cubs have found some role players, now need a few stars.

"I thought there were a lot of moments where in the middle of things not being great big-picture-wise, there were a lot of fun, cool moments within our group that I'll hold onto and am thankful for," manager David Ross said. "It's a good group to root for. These guys worked their tails off and are lot of fun to fun to come to work with every day."

Pitching-wise, Ross has said he expects the team to add two starters in the offseason. Kyle Hendricks, Adbert Alzolay and Justin Steele are likely to be in the rotation next year, with maybe Alec Mills, Keegan Thompson, Adrian Sampson adding depth.

"I think it was fun to watch us bring the intensity every day and just have fun in the dugout," Mills said Sunday after his final start. "It was a blast, honestly. I know we weren't winning a whole lot and at the end of the day, that wasn't fun. But coming to the ballpark every day was still a lot of fun and I felt like we had a chance to win every day."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Happ's strong finish might have saved his future with the Cubs. although he still finished with a career-low .227 batting average. He hit a career-high 25 home runs, but had 24 homers in fewer at-bats as a rookie in 2017.

"One of the efforts of my career I'm most proud of, just the way I worked through it, stayed positive and was able to finally get those results," Happ said.

The season ended with a nice highlight by Happ on Saturday, when with the crowd standing at Busch Stadium in anticipation of the final out, he hit a two-out, 2-run homer to give the Cubs a 6-5 victory.

Duffy and Schwindel had 2 hits each on Sunday and drove in the 3 runs. Duffy finished the season on a 13-game hitting streak.

Another Cubs player made his major-league debut Sunday. Before the game, the Cubs put Contreras on the injured list and added Tyler Payne, who subbed in and got a pair of at-bats. He was the 17th Cubs player to make his big-league debut this season.

Payne and pitcher Joe Biagini increased the Cubs' total to 69 different players used this season, which is believed to be a major-league record, set by Seattle in 2019. The previous Cubs record for most players used was 56 in 2013. Biagini, a six-year MLB veteran, tossed 3 scoreless innings to earn the win Sunday.

Maine West grad Tyler Ladendorf, 33, pinch-hit in Saturday's game, making his Cubs debut and first big-league appearance since 2016.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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