By Bruce Levine–
MESA, Ariz. (670 The Score) — There wasn’t much Cubs manager Joe Maddon could do to lift his team out of a listless 43-45 slog in the first half of the 2017 season. As the Cubs struggled for half a season, Maddon didn’t see the the swagger and energy that was a hallmark in the Cubs’ run to a championship in 2016.
And while the Cubs surged in the second half to win the NL Central and reach the NL Championship Series, they never truly rediscovered the mojo of a championship season. So as spring training starts now, the Cubs are ready to find their vibe once again. Some position players reported as early as Feb. 1, and the team that was embarrassed by the Dodgers in a largely non-competitive NLCS is once again hungry.
On Tuesday, the same day the Cubs introduced Yu Darvish after he signed a six-year deal, Maddon showed up to his first spring press conference wearing a T-shirt that read “the process is fearless” in Japanese.
“I thought this shirt was appropriate,” Maddon said. “I got to meet him earlier, and he is really an ingratiating young man. He speaks English very well, and we are very excited to have him here.”
The same Cubs who were perplexing in 2017 are now on a mission to regain the World Series trophy they relinquished last season.
“The attitude of this group cannot be better,” Maddon said. “I don’t know if you have seen our guys walking around? They can’t be in better shape. It is ridiculously wonderful how our guys have reported both physically and mentally. Talk to them, hear the excitement in their voices. The energy in their voices and enthusiasm is there. This is all really good stuff. When you sign a Yu Darvish, it just lends to that moment. We still have to play the games on the field. I am really excited to see out product.”
The Cubs return all their position players save for Jon Jay, Alex Avila and Rene Rivera, who all played part-time roles. The team was also enthused to add pitching through free agency and not have to part with any young position players on the trade market to fill other needs.
“I could not be more proud of our group from last year,” Maddon said. “You can talk about the hangover. We got to a couple games of going to another World Series. That is three years in a row (in the NLCS). There is nothing negative about last year whatsoever. I will really verbally battle anybody that wants to dispute that. Last year’s group was probably more impressive than the group from 2016. How we started regrouped and then got to that point.
“Coming into this year, I think we have a little more time to get our stuff together. I really believe our guys did not like the way last year ended. We are looking forward to playing the last seven games of the year and winning the last game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.