The 2016 Cubs Weren’t Supposed To Happen, But Did … What Does 2017 Have In Store?

I wanted to write something big and meaningful, but that will have to wait until Opening Night at Wrigley. (Tease.) Instead, here are various scattered thoughts I’ve pieced together that I’ve been wanting to share.

I’m having trouble deciding whether or not it’s easier to forget the amount of doubt that was cast from all angles throughout the Cubs’ tear down and rebuild or if it’s actually easier to remember the hurdles the team cleared to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.

In any case, the Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champions and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Kris Bryant completed his journey from being the best player in college, to being the best in the minors, to the best among NL rookies, to the best in the National League. If you blinked, you might’ve missed a dinger or two. Anthony Rizzo is a clubhouse leader and face of the franchise. He’s come a long way from the Padres prospect who struggled to hit a good fastball. Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist proved that big-money free agent acquisitions can pan out, while Jason Heyward’s deal reminds us that teams can overcome the sunk cost of a bad contract if the surrounding pieces are superb. And I suppose Gold Glove defense at the position helps, too.

So what’s next for the Cubs?

 

So much of being a Cubs fan was building toward winning a World Series, that you almost felt as if would all end when it did happen. It didn’t baseball goes on. And that’s great. The Cubs have a lot of winning to do to catch up to baseball’s other elite franchises, and I’m looking forward to it.

That is the beauty of baseball. It’s 162 games in 183 days. Its daily inclusion makes it a fabric of our lives for three of the four seasons. From early March through late October, baseball is there for you. And there is no wrong way to baseball. You can enjoy Javier Baez’s enthusiasm, Willson Contreras’ never-ending energy, and Pedro Strop’s hat as much as John Lackey’s old school, all-too-serious, us-against-the-world snarling mound presence. The regular season features 2,430 games, so there is plenty of time to enjoy it all.

Baseball doesn’t stop. There will be new mountains to conquer in 2017 — and beyond.

Albert Almora Jr. was the first draft pick of the new regime and his development is instrumental in replacing Dexter Fowler, a fan favorite who was one of baseball’s most productive lead-off hitters. Will he take full control of center field or will he enter a timeshare with veteran Jon Jay?

Kyle Schwarber became a postseason legend (.364/.451/.727/1.178 in 51 plate appearances) before he played his first full season. But where does he slot in as a lead-off man splitting time between the outfield and the team’s third catcher?

Who’s gonna pitch? Postseason included, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, and Kyle Hendricks have logged more than 1,750 innings since the start of 2015. The health of a pitching arm is the hardest thing to pin down in sports, so who knows how these guys hold up again. As for the relievers, we know that bullpens are fickle, even ones as deep with options as the Cubs.

I don’t know how things will unfold, but I’m very much here to watch and find out.

After all, what you saw from the Cubs in 2016 wasn’t supposed to happen.

Theo Epstein wasn’t going to leave his hometown Red Sox in 2011. Joe Maddon wasn’t using his newfound escape clause to go to Chicago in 2014, either. The prospects the Cubs acquired weren’t going to pan out because, you know, they never do.

The Cubs weren’t overcoming a 2-1 deficit after back-to-back shutouts in the NLCS, which prompted a Los Angeles Times columnist to write the Cubs were choking. And when they proved not to be choking dogs, it wasn’t enough anyway because they didn’t have baseball’s of LeBron, so they definitely weren’t coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series — as James’ Cavaliers did approximately four months prior that June en route to winning the NBA title.

The 2016 season was a culmination of improbable things that came together to make the impossible dream happen. Now, let’s win two.

 

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