By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Their record is just a tad above average at 13-11, but the Cubs are in first place in the National League Central by one game. After one month of the 2016 season, Chicago was 17-5 and on its way to a commanding 25-6 season start.
Most teams would be happy with a first-place standing at the first benchmark of the season. Nevertheless, should the Cubs be holding themselves to the same standards as 2016? Should they be compared to that group?
The questions seem to be a fair ones. While 2017 is a different animal, 20 of the team’s 25-man roster were part of the championship group from last year.
“Every year has its own separate identity,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I love where we are at right now, based on that we haven’t played our best baseball yet. If we had been just kicking it and being in this position, I would be more concerned. Our starting pitching has not been as good as it was the beginning of last year. It will be.
“Offensively, we are still not hitting on all cylinders. Defensively — like yesterday — we make some mistakes we don’t ordinarily make. That will go away. I could not be happier with the way the group has been going about their business. It will just keep getting better.”
The Cubs won 103 games in 2016 en route to a championship. From the last eight games of 2015 through the first seven of 2017, the Cubs had an incredible 116-60 mark. Winning a combined 200 games in two past seasons has set a new standard for Cub fans and, in some parts, for players as well.
“It was a pretty good April,” outfielder Jason Heyward. said “We lost two series and won the rest of them. We have started off playing pretty evenly and playing pretty well. I think it’s a good start considering we played a lot of meaningful games right away.”
Maddon is on record saying he believes he has a better talent to start 2017 than he did the two previous years. You can begin with the premise that the front office added depth in comparison to last year’s unit on Opening Day.
Wade Davis and Koji Uehara have been outstanding. Obtained last July, Mike Montgomery has done a fine job in a couple of different roles — most notably as a long man. The bullpen recently had a scoreless streak of 18 innings.
With Kyle Schwarber healthy again and Albert Almora and Jon Jay sharing outfield time, the loss of Dexter Fowler should be more than compensated for. The Cubs do appear deeper and are definitely more experienced after the ultimate playoff run by their young position players last fall.
“Joe really helps us stay in the moment,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “As far as the standings go, of course we want to win the division. What we have done over the past two years is kind of an identity to our team. We are secure in that fact. The intensity is there. We know where we need to be. I think we are going along that path at this time. This game is a year-to-year thing. Last year we came out of the gate clicking. Some years you are going to have that. Last year was a focus on a goal.
“This team is just as focused, but the fact is we are comfortable with our identity. We are not comfortable where we are at (record-wise). We are working hard. I think we are a confident group. We have been a target for a while. Teams are getting better and better. They are coming for you. You, as a team, must be in every single game. Once we start clicking, you will see some long winning streaks and see us take off.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.