The Chicago Cubs started the following infield on Tuesday, with the recall of Addison Russell:
1B Anthony Rizzo: 25 years old
2B Addison Russell: 21 years old
3B Kris Bryant: 23 years old
SS Starlin Castro: 25 years old
Russell went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his major league debut, but the game turned into a dramatic win for the Cubs, as they scored three runs off Pittsburgh Pirates closer Mark Melancon for a 9-8 victory. Rizzo led off the ninth inning with a single, then Jorge Soler -- himself a 23-year-old rookie -- doubled. Bryant walked -- that's five walks in his first five games, giving him a .583 OBP -- and then Castro, who hit a long home run to center earlier in the game, chopped a two-run single over the third baseman to tie the game. Welington Castillo's infield out then plated the go-ahead run.
ESPN Stats & Info reports that no team has started four infielders 25 or younger this early in the season since the 2003 Tigers -- a team that finished 43-119 (Carlos Pena, Ramon Santiago, Eric Munson and Omar Infante, in case you were interested). Before that, the 1999 Expos and Twins also started 25-and-younger infields in April. Neither of those teams contended, although those young Twins became contenders in 2001 and made the playoffs in 2002.
Anyway, in what's shaping up as a National League with an unusual number of bad teams -- especially if the Brewers and Giants are really this awful -- the door is open for the Cubs to be playoff contenders. The projection systems actually had them as borderline wild-card contenders before the season, seeing them with wins in the low 80s.
Assuming Russell lasts the season at second base, that would give the Cubs five regular position players 25 or younger. How unprecedented would it be for a team with that many kids to contend or make the playoffs? Let's do a search on Baseball-Reference.com.
I went back to 1961, using a minimum of 400 plate appearances to define "regular." Going back to 1961 takes us to the first expansion era. In the first half of the 20th century, players generally skewed much younger anyway, so that period isn't relevant in saying anything about the 2015 Cubs.
There were actually six teams that had six young position players. One of those teams is very interesting:
1961 Phillies: 47-107
1966 Astros: 72-90
1970 Indians: 76-86
1973 Indians: 71-91
1975 Expos: 75-87
1979 Expos: 95-65
The six youngsters on the '79 Expos: Gary Carter (25), Rodney Scott (25), Larry Parrish (25), Warren Cromartie (25), Andre Dawson (24), Ellis Valentine (24). The team fought the Pirates for the division title before falling short on the final weekend. The difference between that group and this Cubs group, however, is they had more experience. Carter had been a regular since 1975, and the outfield trio since 1977.
Thirty-four clubs since 1961 had five 25-and-younger regulars. I won't list them all. Their average record: 74-88. Only eight finished with winning records:
2008 Twins: 88-75
2007 Brewers: 83-79
1980 Tigers: 84-78
1979 Tigers: 85-76
1974 Rangers: 84-76
1973 Giants: 88-74
1967 Red Sox: 92-70
1963 Reds: 86-76
Those were the Impossible Dream Red Sox, who won the AL pennant. Their young guys were George Scott, Mike Andrews, Joe Foy, Rico Petrocelli and Reggie Smith. Four infielders and an outfielder. Unfortunately, the Cubs don't have their Carl Yastrzemski, the Triple Crown winner and MVP in 1967.
Those 2008 Twins are an interesting comparison. They had Joe Mauer, Alexi Casilla, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Delmon Young. The positions don't line up -- Casilla was the only infielder -- but they tied for the AL Central title, losing the tiebreaker game to the White Sox. They did, however, win the AL Central title the following two years (with 87 and 94 wins).
That seems to be the consensus opinion on the Cubs, that they're still at least a year away, especially if you figure the Cardinals and Pirates are going to be tough to beat in the NL Central.
But how many playoff contenders are there in the NL? If you say the Nationals, Cards and Dodgers are the division favorites, that leaves the Mets, Pirates, Cubs and Padres fighting for the two wild cards. Sure, it's too early to write off the Giants, and maybe one of the other teams I'm ignoring plays better than projected.
The Cubs are young. They may also be good. Yes, it's almost unprecedented for a team with so many young players to make the playoffs. But Rizzo and Castro already are established veterans, and Bryant and Soler don't look like your typical rookies. No matter what happens, it's going to be an exciting summer at Wrigley.