Admit it: You are hooked. This season, Major League Baseball has provided fans with the most thrilling players, the strangest games and the most unpredictable outcomes.

But despite all this excitement, there still exists one universally disappointing question this season: What in the world happened to the Chicago Cubs?

The 2016 World Series showcased a vibrant young team that seemed to epitomize the future of baseball. With the help of outgoing veterans such as former catcher David Ross, the Cubs’ many young stars seemed not only extremely talented but also a guarantee that the Cubs would be a major World Series contender for seasons to come.

Thus far, however, the creation  of a Cubs legacy has fallen flat. Though not the worst team in baseball, the Cubs are no Dodgers either — as of Tuesday morning, they are sitting in the somewhat hopeful, but mostly disappointing, 11th spot of the Sports Illustrated weekly power rankings, just a hair over 500. 0000

And the biggest flaw in the team — the aspect of the club that proved such an asset last season — is the Cubs’ currently deteriorating starting rotation. Jon Lester’s painfully mediocre 4.07 ERA leads a struggling group of lackluster, tired pitchers.

The most notable struggles the Cubs’ pitching staff is encountering now, of course, are injuries. Midseason injuries are common throughout the league, but it is possible that the Cubbies have just seen yet another stroke of bad luck. After all, none of the injuries seem serious, but all seem to arrive at the same time: Kyle Hendricks had battled a finger issue, Jon Lackey plantar fasciitis and Jake Arietta a thumb issue.

While none of these injuries are season-ending, it is no secret that any minor ailment can severely affect a pitcher’s performance. And these ailments have.

But the Cubs’ problem is far from a coincidence. In fact, the injuries plaguing their pitching staff and the ensuing lack of dominance can be attributed to one phenomenon in particular: the 2016 World Series.

The Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff simply is overworked.

The mounting age of the Cubs’ pitchers undoubtedly plays a role in the injury epidemic — but even the pitchers’ ages cannot solely explain why the Cubs pitching just is not there this season.

In 2016, Hendricks pitched a whopping total of 215 innings — 20 more than he had ever pitched in past seasons. John Lackey also logged over 200 innings to bring the World Series home. Both have been injured and have largely underperformed this season.

This injury fiasco is the very reason Cubs manager Joe Maddon received such reprimanding for his overuse of former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, who has blown numerous saves for the Yankees since his return from an injury. Brendan Kuty of reported Saturday that Yankees manager Joe Girardi admitted that sometimes pitching overuse “does catch up to you the next year.”

The Cubs do not deny their exhausted pitcher problem either. Before spring training, rumors began of consideration for a six-man rotation to rest exhausted arms. The aggressive — almost desperate — trade of starting pitcher Jose Quintana illustrates that the Cubs themselves feel anxious for fresher pitchers.

It is important to keep in mind that pitching is not the only problem with the Cubs. They lost former catcher David Ross’ intangibles to retirement and Kyle Schwarber’s bat to a maddening slump.

Despite these minor factors, however, the 2017 Cubs are illustrating the epitome of a World Series hangover — a struggle that might be out of the team’s control, unless it wants to replace its entire pitching staff.

To win the World Series, the 2016 Chicago Cubs needed to overload their pitching staff — at least in the eyes of Joe Maddon. And in retrospect, the strategy is hard to criticize because it worked.

Now, however, the Cubbies are paying the price.

The strategy was detrimental to individual pitching careers, but in the end, can anyone say the 2017 demise of the Cubs was not worth it?

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