By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — From a logical perspective, the magical year of 2016 that began with a hot start and ended with a championship wasn’t expected to be replicated by this year’s Cubs. Of course, anything in the realm of the unique and bizarre can be imagined with the Cubs though.
A 6-5 start to any season is considered, in most corners, to be a decent beginning. That’s what these Cubs are, having played good ball in the early going. Chicago has been competitive in every game, with a chance in the later innings. That’s a statement in itself, forewarning foes of the Cubs’ competitive resolve.
While this team certainly aims to replicate the 2016 end result, competing against the ghost of their own success should be discouraged by all involved with the 2017 Cubs.
“It is crazy, but we could actually be off to an 11-0 start right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We have actually played pretty well. The games have not been bad. That is the razor-thin line between winning and losing. Things have been that close. Every day has kind of been like (Saturday’s 8-7 loss). We have had the lead and given it up. Other games we have been just a little short. I have so much faith in our guys as we kind of catch our second wind post spring training. As we settle down and get our emotions in check from this last week, we will be just fine.”
The 17-5 and 25-6 start of 2016 was a historic beginning to a special season that rarely happens for the best of teams. From the fourth game of 2016 on, the Cubs never vacated their hold on first place.
Being aware of that campaign can be a driving force or a futile attempt at comparisons for this group of players.
“It doesn’t matter to us,” right-hander Jake Arrieta said. “We won the World Series, so there will be questions. That is just natural — it comes with the territory. This is a business of results. Of course, we still expect really good results from the group we have this year. We won the first three series. We will just keep moving ahead. The division games will be tough especially because of the way we played last season.”
The Cubs know it’s just about having patience.
“We had a good team last year and we won,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “This year, I think we still have a really good team, maybe even better. We haven’t won yet. A lot of things have to go right. Everything has to click together in order to get to the end as a winner. If you compare player to player this year to last year, I believe we have a better team this season.”
Maddon believes not enough credit is given to the opponents, in particular those in the NL Central.
“I began looking at that last year — playing against Milwaukee and Cincinnati,” Maddon said. “You could tell both had some really live athletic bodies coming through. With Pittsburgh, as they pitch, they are going to win. They have a really nice team on the field.
“St. Louis is St. Louis — it is starting to become equal all the way around. One of the hardest things to do is win a major league baseball game. It really is. I don’t care where you are playing. The way the game is trending, we are getting back to real baseball. It is not just swinging really hard and trying to hit a home run. Speed is becoming more pertinent. The other groups are getting better. Run prevention is more in vogue. You are now getting a collective clump of the same mindedness.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.