By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) — No National League baseball team has won back-to-back World Series championships in 41 years. Will the Chicago Cubs break that trend in 2017?
The franchise has only three back-to-back postseason appearances since 1900. After a trip to the National League Championship Series in 2015 and a championship in 2016, the Cubs are now looking to go to the playoffs in three straight years for the first time since 1906-’08.
It took seven games, 10 innings and a famous clubhouse speech by Jason Heyward to help break a 108-year championship drought. So how confident are top executives and the coaching staff that a second title can become a reality?
“That is Cub,” manager Joe Maddon said about his team’s new slogan and its resolve to win again. “You of course were happy, impressed and loved what you had done. You still have to move it forward. You are never going to do it in the same manner. The approach will be the same. Emphasis on defense, the emphasis on pitching. To continue and improve on offense, because we are both young and good. That message will be the same as last year in many ways.”
The Cubs were the dandies of the offseason awards dinner circuit and other big-time functions around the country. After winning a title, there’s a media and fan watch always on the champion of the previous year.
Maddon believes his group has gained, rather than lost, a step from the experience.
“The difference I would like to believe is confidence,” said Maddon, who’s entering his third year leading the Cubs. “That success matters. You certainly want to guard against any little complacency setting in. You can’t go in thinking that since you had done it you expect it to happen again. That would be a bad assumption to make. I don’t think our guys are going to jump there.
“However, it is my responsibility and ours to talk about it. We did that last year, embracing pressure and expectations. You must talk about all the potential pitfalls in advance. You attack them, you approach them, eventually they fall on the wayside. We hope its the same, and we play the last game of the year and win it. Otherwise the path is going to be different.”
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had his own take on motivation after a championship.
“We can’t try to accomplish what we did last year by attempting to replicate anything,” Epstein said. “You can’t try to create something that wasn’t there. You must be authentic and be ourselves. If you try to keep things exactly the same, they will change anyway. That is just life and that is baseball. It’s OK to embrace a little change. That is OK if a lot of the same elements remain the same.”
Epstein and his organization have been extremely proactive this offseason. They have brought 41 pitchers to spring training in hopes of finding a few breakthrough players to help the push for another title.
“We have players with great desire who care about each other and are invested in the organization,” Epstein said. “They opt in to being part of a team, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is huge for us.
“We have a supportive manager and coaching staff around them. That stuff all stays the same. The relationships will be different. Everyone is at a little different stage of their life. The mix will not be exactly the same. We are looking forward to that. We want to see what the new year brings. That is what is great about baseball and life. We look forward tackling that together.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.