Chicago Cubs: Could the pressure to repeat be too much?

Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (right) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo during a Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (right) and first baseman Anthony Rizzo during a Spring Training workout at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs have broken the curse. 108-years of misery has turned into a year of anticipation. No more black cats, goats or Bartman stories. So the only thing that could stop this year’s Cubs from repeating? Themselves.

As you read about this year’s Chicago Cubs team, there are very few that see the team having a glaring weakness. Dexter Fowler has moved on, but the Cubs will have Kyle Schwarber back. David Ross has retired from the game but is still nearby in the Cubs front office. And the bullpen has changed with the loss of Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman. But Wade Davis headlines several new faces that could help lead the way. So what could possibly stop the Cubs in 2017?

Injuries are always the first thing people think off for derailing a front-runner. And why wouldn’t you? I know many of us thought it when Schwarber went down in the first week of the season last year. I’m not afraid to admit that if the Cleveland Indians would have had Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco? The World Series might have been a different story. But this is what sports can be. The best team can have its pitfalls and shortcomings.

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But I that’s not what I’m envisioning slowing the Cubs. To be honest, I don’t believe that this–the point of this article–will be an issue. But I don’t ever like to assume I know everything. Especially in this game. You can look at the numbers on paper. You can scout the players from high school to the big leagues. Joe Maddon has coined the phrase “Don’t forget the heartbeat” for this season. It’s about remembering that they’re human, not machines. But could that human fallibility be what could stop them this year?

Last season, Maddon stressed “Try not to suck” and “Embrace the target”. It was about the team understanding they aren’t just the numbers on a score sheet. They’re human, and they need to be ready for everything that teams look to throw at them. They’re no longer trying to fight off a 108-year-old drought. They don’t have to worry about that damn goat. But they do have to deal with the expectations that come along with being the defending World Series Champions.

Veteran leadership

Ross was a unifying piece for the young guys. While there was the “Grandpa Rossy” and the scooter, he was still a rock for these young players–especially Anthony Rizzo–to help guide them in a place that they had never been to before. While there are still veterans to help lead, the team is still very young. Granted, nearly every player on the team has been part of a champion. But that’s different from understanding what it takes to get back there again.

Jon Lester and John Lackey can use their experience to help the younger players. Even Davis–who won with KC and Ben Zobrist in 2015–can help to offer wisdom to what this journey will take. Is it possible that this young group could collapse under the pressure that they’ve put on themselves?

For many teams, that could be the case. But not this team. Not with Maddon at the helm. They did more than put their teammates and a city on their back last year, but an entire fan base that spreads across the globe. And that was with the added pressure of the 108-years prior.

Next: What will the rotation look like after 2017?

No, this team isn’t going to crumble under expectation created by others–or themselves. It may have to do with how Theo Epstein built this roster. He sold guys on the misery that Chicago had been through–and how great it would be to end that. This group accomplished just that. There are no guarantees the Cubs can repeat as champions. But they aren’t going to get in their own way.