Not so long ago, three recently acquired Cubs peered across the field from the opposing dugout and witnessed it firsthand: the opening act of the Cubs’ rise to power.
Two of these players enjoyed moments of success against the Cubs.
One was on the receiving end of a call that signaled a changing of the guard in the National League Central.
They’re all Cubs now, and they’re seeing that things are all they’ve been cracked up to be.
Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs on July 25, 2015, a day when trade rumors swirled about Hamels being traded from the Phillies, possibly to the Cubs. He wound up with Texas, who traded him to the Cubs this year on July 27.
Daniel Murphy torched the Cubs in the National League Championship Series in October 2015, ending the upstart Cubs’ dreams of a World Series.
Jaime Garcia found out firsthand what was coming when he lasted only two innings in Game 2 of the 2015 division series, won by the Cubs in four games.
Now all three have converged and are trying to help the Cubs get to the World Series again.
How did it look from across the way, seeing the Cubs on the ground floor to their rise?
“I think you have to really admire the young talent they had that came up and played ready to go and put up really great numbers,” Hamels said. “That sometimes is tough because guys come up and might have a good week or two or a month, and then the league kind of figures them out. They just kept coming. You really have to look at the veterans that they had. Utmost respect for those types of guys.
“You just knew that something was cooking. When you get [general manager] Jed [Hoyer] and [team president] Theo [Epstein] together and what they were able to accomplish in Boston and how they were able to build a team up, they were doing the same with the Cubs. Obviously, they put together this amazing team that now a couple years later I get to be a part of.”
The Cubs acquired Murphy in a trade with the Washington Nationals on
Aug. 21. In the 2015 NLCS with the New York Mets, Murphy went 9 for 17 against the Cubs with four homers and six RBIs in winning MVP honors for the series.
He signed with the Nationals the following offseason and played in the NLDS in 2016 against the Dodgers and last year against the Cubs.
Although the Mets dominated the Cubs in ’15, Murphy could see something coming, as well.
“I think it was a really talented group of guys, offensively and defensively,” he said. “They had [Jake] Arrieta and [Jon] Lester and [Kyle] Hendricks leading the rotation. Then [Kyle] Schwarber and [Anthony] Rizzo and Kris [Bryant]. Javy [Baez] had a good series against us, too. I thought it was a really young and talented group.
“The cool part from a competition standpoint is we got to see them mature almost right in front of our eyes into the 2016 world champions.”
Garcia signed a minor league deal with the Cubs on Aug. 31, and he had his contract selected from Triple-A Iowa last week.
Pitching for St. Louis, Garcia got to see plenty of the Cubs on their way up, and he knew what was on the horizon.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “I think being with the Cardinals for many years and playing against this team a bunch of times, I’ve seen the direction they’ve gone in the last three to four years. It’s for sure something special. I’ve had a lot of really good friends that are playing here, and everybody said great things about the coaching staff and the players, just the culture of this team. When I saw that they were interested in bringing me here, it was an honor for me to be considered for that.”
Hamels, Murphy and Garcia have been with the Cubs for only a short time, but each said he feels welcome and that things are as advertised.
“It’s been amazing,” Hamels said. “The warm reception from the fans has been outstanding. This clubhouse has been so much fun to be a part of, the way that they do things and the attitude that they have, the fight that they have to the bitter end. It’s just good to be around. And it really brings you up a notch in trying to compete and being the best and trying to win.”
Murphy’s hot hitting early made him an instant hit with the Cubs.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I can speak from my experience. The organization from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff to the players – my teammates – have been as welcoming as they could possibly be. They made a transition that could be very difficult very seamless. I can’t say enough about how I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
Garcia cites as friends pitchers who have played for both the Cubs and Cardinals: John Lackey and Jason Motte.
“You can see it from the other dugout,” he said. “You can see the fun they’re having. You can see what they’ve done. You can see winning a World Series a couple years ago and the direction the team is going.”
The other half of the equation is that players a club brings in have to fit in well in addition to performing. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he believes the front office has hit with these players in addition to others, such as relievers Brandon Kintzler and Jorge De La Rosa.
“It’s been outstanding,” Maddon said. “It’s tough when you bring somebody into the room in the latter part of the year. The rest of the group has to know that it is beneficial, that these guys are good, that they do make us better. I think in every situation that’s been the case.”
“Conversationally, they’ve all been first rate. They’re always engaged in involved conversations in a good way. It’s been kind of seamless. That’s a credit to them, but it’s also a credit to our guys, the way they welcomed and accepted these players as they walked in the door and made them feel like Cubs from the very first moment. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”