The Chicago Cubs are the best team in Major League Baseball. This was the expectation coming into the season and the Cubs lived up to the hype. Chicago became the first team in 2016 to clinch their division, winning the National League Central for the first time since the 2008 season, and secured home-field advantage for the 2016 postseason. All eyes now focus toward a deep playoff run in October as the Cubs prepare to end the longest championship drought in baseball history.
Hope was restored on the North Side in 2015.
The general assumption around America centered on the Cubs’ return to the limelight following a 2015 season which saw Chicago win 97 games and reach the National League Championship series for the first time since 2003. Almost everything went right for the organization last year: the young bats stepped up and made an immediate impact, the pitching performed at a top-tier level, the defense improved mightily as the season continued and the belief that the Cubs could once again become perennial contenders began to become a reality. The heartbreaking loss to the NL East champion New York Mets, realizing just how close this franchise came to appearing in their first World Series since 1945, provided the organization and fan base with the hope of a future filled with promise and potential celebrations. Key additions to the roster in the off-season, including starting pitcher John Lackey, second baseman Ben Zobrist and outfielder Jason Heyward added to the continuously growing momentum. The mix of championship experience, young talent and sharp-minded thinking from manager Joe Maddon positioned the Chicago Cubs in a category of their own, prior to the 2016 season: prohibitive World Series favorites.
It must happen this season.
It has come full circle for the Cubs organization: 2016 is now or never for this tormented franchise and fan base. Theodore Roosevelt was the President of the United States the last time Chicago’s north side celebrated a World Series victory and World War II recently concluded the last time they appeared in one. 2016 must be the season where the appearance and victory droughts officially come to an end.
This regular season will go down as one of the greatest team performances in franchise and baseball history. 103 victories, an unprecedented run to the National League Central division championship, three starting pitchers competing for the NL Cy Young award, two potential MVP candidates, the best home record in baseball and the obvious Manager of the Year adds up to a campaign placed in the class of the elite right alongside the greatest in history. This was the expectation for the 2016 Chicago Cubs; now they must finish this season off in grand style.
No reason to believe otherwise.
There will be no excuses this year. The Cubs will field the deepest, most talented and most balanced roster of all the contenders in the postseason. The starting rotation’s top three pitchers consist of a former Cy Young winner and two established playoff veterans. These three men will cause trouble for opposing lineups, but the fourth man in this rotation is not to be taken lightly either. Kyle Hendricks put together a magnificent 2016 season and is primed to make amends for his poor playoff performance last year. The bullpen is deep and dangerous. Late-inning relief is going to be the clear strength with closers Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman nailing the eighth and ninth innings and maintaining potential Chicago leads. These two have the pitches necessary to overpower opposing batters; they will be relied upon when Maddon calls their number.
Now, we get to the vaunted offense: the Cubs display the potential to hit for power and average up and down this lineup. MVP candidates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant anchored this unit with all-world performances in 2016. Consistency from the likes of shortstop Addison Russell, second baseman Ben Zobrist, outfielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Wilson Contreras patch up any potential weak spots in a lineup already filled with talent. Bench depth also plays well in Chicago’s favor; the reliable bats of Chris Coghlan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, David Ross and others only add more to an already impressive surplus. Again, the Cubs will field the deepest, most talented and most balanced roster of all the National and American League contenders in this year’s postseason.
No more “wait until next year”.
This drought must come to an end; the days of fans holding up “wait until next year” signs at Wrigley Field need to be finished this year. It took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to finally end the “Curse of the Bambino,” but they got the job done and have been better off because of it. The Chicago Cubs were given high expectations from the baseball media before the 2016 season began. They lived up to their regular season prediction of being the league’s best team, but this organization must solidify this campaign’s greatness by capping if off with the first World Series championship since 1908.