Chicago Cubs: Team could be first NL repeat world champs since ’76

Nov 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs fans celebrate after game seven of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians outside of Wrigley Field. Cubs won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs fans celebrate after game seven of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians outside of Wrigley Field. Cubs won 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Cubs will look to become the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.

Last season, Joe Maddon‘s Chicago Cubs made history.

They broke the Curse of the Billy Goat, ending the franchise’s 108-year World Series title drought, defeating the Cleveland Indians in a dramatic seven-game series that came down to extras in Game 7.

Now, they turn their attention to the next goal: repeating it all again in 2017.

History isn’t on their side (not that it matters much to this team). It’s been over four decades since a National League team won back-to-back World Series titles. Those came in 1975-1976 when the Cincinnati Reds and the ‘Big Red Machine’ dominated opponents.

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That’s not to say there hasn’t been impressive runs by NL teams since that point. Most recently, the San Francisco Giants put together even-year magic, winning titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 before running into the Cubs in the NLDS last season.

But, at least for one member of the Big Red Machine, there’s no comparing his club to the reigning World Champions.

"“Our team had speed, power, speed,” 1977 NL MVP George Foster told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was a very balanced lineup. You had speed at the top, then you had power in the middle, then you had speed at the bottom. But a lot of our guys had both. Joe Morgan. Pete Rose. Ken Griffey. Great players."

Talk about a star-studded lineup.

Cincinnati won 210 games between ’75 and ’76. By contrast, the Cubs accumulated 200 victories, including 103 en route to a title last year.

The game has changed over the past 40-something years. There’s no debating that fact. But, while Foster believes the Reds are leaps and bounds ahead of last year’s Cubs team, there are more similarities than he himself may like to admit.

Big Red Machine or Do Simple Better?

In the 1976 season, Cincinnati had three of the top four vote-getters in the National League MVP race. Joe Morgan, the team’s second baseman, won the honors, with Foster himself finishing second and Pete Rose finishing fourth.

This group was gritty, perhaps the grittiest team we’ve ever seen in the game. They were a hard-nosed veteran bunch who did anything to win a baseball game. But, again, this was a veteran team that had learned how to win over the course of their respective careers.

Last year’s Cubs team didn’t enjoy that luxury.

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Chicago Cubs /

Chicago Cubs

Chicago had only a handful of players over 30 years of age, with the entire starting infield 26 or younger throughout the postseason with the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez holding down the fort.

Still, Bryant won the MVP in the National League last season – following up his Rookie of the Year 2015 campaign. Rizzo, meanwhile, finished fourth – putting together an MVP-caliber season by any measure.

Foster told the Sun-Times he has a specific measure as far as determining a team’s value.

"“But my measurement is which guys have Hall of Fame potential. We had a lot. We had more of those guys than the Cubs. Kris Bryant, I like him. He hits for average, power, drives in runs. He has Hall of Fame potential. I don’t know about those other guys.”"

I can’t help but think Foster, a five-time All-Star, is a teensy bit biased in this assessment. Rizzo definitely has Hall of Fame potential; although it’s still too early to judge the careers of guys like Russell and Baez – or even Kyle Schwarber, who hasn’t even played his first full season in the big leagues.

Different styles for different eras

Foster isn’t shy about his wanting the Cubs to fall short of repeating as World Series champs in 2017.

"“I’m pulling against them,” he said. “I don’t want them to break our record.”"

Despite what he may want, Chicago is favored to do just that, according to oddsmakers around the country – who also picked Maddon’s club to win it all last season before Opening Day came around.

The team returns virtually the entire starting lineup, minus leadoff man Dexter Fowler. In his place, Maddon is looking to Schwarber as the team’s next table setter at the top of the lineup card. The value a full season of his bat brings to the table remains to be seen, but the early returns have certainly been promising.

Next: Op-ed: Time for the Cubs to do right by Szczur

The 2015 NL Manager of the Year defended his young team. Coming off back-to-back deep postseason runs, Chicago has a lot of things going right for them these days. Add in the monkey that’s finally off their back and it’s easy to see why the team is favored again.

"“A seven-game series? Anything can happen. But I would say one thing: They were more experienced than our group is, there’s no question. See, if you want to make that comparison, let us be that age, let us have that many years of experience, and then play. That’d be interesting.”"