The Chicago Cubs came out of the gate with a fury last season, which helped soften the blow of some poor play later in June. That type of start is what they’ll be looking for again as they open up the season against the St. Louis Cardinals.
For the Chicago Cubs, they aren’t looking for a ‘slow and steady’ to win the race. While that might work, they would rather see a hot start like last season. Of course, the June swoon the Cubs experienced last year could be avoided and that would make everybody a bit more comfortable as well.
The Cubs opened up the 2016 season with a 25-6 record and it seemed like the league wouldn’t be able to catch up. But that “June swoon”–something my father always talks about with the Cubs–was real. And it allowed the rest of the NL Central to catch back up. As late as July 30, the Cubs lead was only 6 1/2 games. But that was also as close as anyone would get as they picked up the pay en route to winning the division by 17 1/2 games.
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs: Adrian Sampson is forcing his way into the conversation
- Projecting the Chicago Cubs bullpen to open the 2023 season
- Cubs fans are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel
- Justin Steele has evolved into a frontline starter for the Cubs
- The future of first base is murky right now for the Cubs
These thoughts are echoed by Cubs’ second baseman Ben Zobrist when looking at what it will take to make another run at the World Series this year.
"“We don’t want to get off to a bad start and then have to push in the middle of the season,” Zobrist said. “It was nice last year that we got off to a good start and so far ahead in the division. h/t Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune"
Some of this is a question of how good will the Cubs be this year. But in reality, did we think they’d be that good last year? With so many young players you have to assume that some will regress to the mean–at least to numbers similar to what they had in the minors, right?
Maybe not. Albert Almora, Willson Contreras and even Kyle Schwarber haven’t played a full season yet. Addison Russell only looks to be getting better, and this Kris Bryant kid is running out of awards to win to astound us (But he can win the MVP again, we’d still be impressed). So why should anyone believe that these young players are going to decline in their production?
A little rest goes a long way
And then the Cubs survived a terrible season at the plate from Jason Heyward. Even if the new swing doesn’t fix everything, I don’t believe he’ll be worse. More fly balls and fewer groundouts to second base would make him that much better a hitter. That sounds silly for a player you spent so much money on, but it is what it is. If it’s an improvement we’ll take it.
All of this could lead to an opportunity for Joe Maddon to rest his starters later in the year. This would apply more to the pitching staff but getting the regulars some rest would make a difference. Even Anthony Rizzo–as big an individual as he is–broke down last season. Using Matt Szczur’s bat was never about “good luck”. It was because it was lighter and he could get it through the zone quicker. Rizzo was fatigued, and that’s not unusual.
The rotation for the Cubs last season was healthy for the entire year, minus a few missed starts. But there were no trips to the DL. In one sense that was good. Same guys going out there for Maddon every fifth day. But they tallied a lot of innings last year. Taking some pressure–and innings–off of them would help tremendously down the stretch.
Maddon did what he had to for the Cubs to win the World Series. Now that they have won, it’s possible he might handle things differently this year. But in the end, the goal is still going to be to win it again.
"“We treat the first game like we treat the 162nd game and we want to win them all,” Zobrist said. “But we have to play well at the start if you want to be able to relax at the end.”"
It’s game 163 and beyond that the Cubs and their fans are more concerned about. Nothing is ever promised in the game of baseball. But the Cubs aren’t assuming anything, either.